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Avatar: Does It Belong in Your Classroom?

Avatar: Does It Belong in Your Classroom?

by Karen Brown

 

karen brown - avatarPhoto: Courtesy 20th Century Fox

(For any readers who have not yet seen the movie "Avatar",  please know that major events in the plot are revealed below.)

I had not seen a 3D movie since I was a kid. But because 3D has become such an influential part of American popular culture, I made up my mind to see the next big thing that came along. That next big thing turned out to be Avatar.

As I waited in line, a group was just getting out of the theater and I tried to gauge by their reaction how much I might enjoy — or not enjoy — the next couple of hours.

Some of the exiting crowd was clearly overjoyed, energized, and wowed. But one teenager, about 15 years old, threw back his head and hooted to the skies, "Two words: lame cartoon!"

If you've seen the movie and had time to reflect on it, what do you think?

I've encountered intelligent, thoughtful people who feel that Avatar contains some of the most compelling ecological messages ever delivered to a mass audience, and others — equally intelligent and thoughtful — who cringe at what they perceive as cheap DayGlo colors overlayed on a cheesy New Age story line.

And then there's Essence Magazine’s question, "Does Sci-Fi Blockbuster 'Avatar' Have a Racist Subtext?"  The Essence piece (which addresses themes similar to those tackled by David Brooks at The New York Times and by hundreds of blogs) posits that the film is an all-too-familiar tale of racial superiority, being the story of a white man who infiltrates a delightfully under-clothed indigenous culture, learns their ways, and manipulates circumstances to become their leader. As my next-door neighbor, who happens to be African-American put it, "If the Na'vi were brown instead of blue, that movie would have been boycotted all over America."

Would it have been? Should it have been? What do you think?

During the climactic battle scenes in Avatar, a sacred tree is destroyed that stands at the spiritual center of the Na'vi world. I watched the movie on the biggest screen in my county, in a town called Corte Madera. The irony was not lost on me. Corte madera, in Spanish, means "cut wood." The exact spot where I watched Avatar is named for the destruction of its old-growth forests, which were extensively logged, beginning in the 19th century. And throughout California, where I live, indigenous people were forced, often at knifepoint or gunpoint, to destroy their own sacred trees for firewood, including their sacred food trees, the oaks.

So as an educator, which story is the right one to share with your students? The 3D story about the destruction of a sacred tree on a "cartoon" planet, or the historical facts about real destruction in our own country? Or are these two stories conveniently linked? If students first watch and feel the conflict as presented in a popular culture vehicle like Avatar, are they then more open to learning and reflecting on the historical lessons from which the film’s storyline was roughly drawn?

Do you, or how do you, bring popular culture into your classroom? Does the film support truly sensitive ecological understanding of the natural world or does it flaunt misconceptions that subvert it? Is it racist? Is it wonderfully innocent? Is it important? Is it just for fun?  Most importantly, what do your students think? Please let us know, below.

 

Comments

33 comments posted

Avatar

Submitted by Chhabil (not verified) on Thu, 2012-09-20 06:33.

Don't hate me for saying this, but we liked it 'cause they did a good job on the fx, plus I'm a nature freak and I would looove to have such a world of which I could feel the tiny heartbeat of a tiny animal miles away because we're all connected.

Great post!

Submitted by blue (not verified) on Fri, 2012-09-07 07:52.

You bring up an interesting topics about Avatar in the classroom.

I was sincerely disappointed.

Submitted by Robert Deen (not verified) on Fri, 2012-06-22 02:22.

I was sincerely disappointed. I was hoping that there would be some alternative to the violent outcome. A discussion about who won and who lost is redundant to me...violence was still prevalent. I didn't have an expectation of outcome I just thought that maybe, just maybe, there might be some new ideas here. Maybe even a resurrection of old ideas; say Ghandi-ism. My 9 year old daughter told me emphatically that it was "real". 3D on realism...interesting. My friend thought it was entertaining...Dances with Wolves with blue people. I agree, it is Hollywood and I would not support its inclusion in the school curriculum...don't you remember getting to watch movies in class..was it ever really learning until you were in university in a film studies class?

Avatar Story for Kids

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2012-05-31 21:48.

Avatar Story for Kids

The person that wrote the Avatar film is James Cameron.

The story is about humans from earth that invade another planet, because they killed their planet and are seeking a new place to live and riches. The people that live on this new planet are a humanoid race, called the Navi.
The Navi respect the earth and all living things and fought the humans to protect their people and their land. They called these humans the ‘sky people.’

The sky people created ‘Avatars’ which are a blend of humans and Navi people. They thought that the disguised Avatars would trick the Navi to doing what they want. But it didn’t work. The Navi won the war, got their land back and sent the humans back to earth.

This story re-tells the history of North America, (Canada and the United States), when Aboriginal people fought to save their people and land. The war lasted for 300 years and 250 million Aboriginal people died. Aboriginal people today, never got their land back.

Avatar = highly valuable sensitising teaching tool

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on Tue, 2012-05-15 17:16.

Kia ora,

In the current climate of escalating economic, political, social, crises that are symptomatic of the beginnings of ecological systemic collapse, I believe the Movie 'Avatar' provides a very real 'looking glass' for a predominantly disconnected and desensitised Western society. Big words, I know, but it is not rocket science. Like some of the earlier comments, I have observed a swath of accurately portrayed politician-talk, scientist-talk, corporate-mining-talk AND indigenous-peoples-talk amongst typical Western-development-bigoted behaviour within this movie: all a reflection of us in the now as much if not more than in our history. I am an educator who has worked in the upper management and in the labouring ranks of large corporate mining companies, as well as government agencies, as a professional bushman and hunter, as a farmer and as a teacher. I have worked with indigenous peoples, having long ago recognised and understood that the holisitic worldviews and understandings (many of which are of a common sense based on understandings of interconnection, inter-relationship and indterdependency of us all for life and survival) that are very rare in the western perpsective. My mission is to achieve a system of learning and education based upon indigeity, so that my children and their children's children's children have a hope of being, living and loving in an ecologically sustainable future. Avatar (the movie) can be used as a very effective tool, along with candid observation of how we operate in western society, what consequences are for actions (at a personal level), and what options are still open to us, in helping individuals and communities look at ourselves and choose to learn more, change attitudes, values and behaviours.

For those of us who cannot see the connection and usefulness of the move, I am sad, as you illustrate the extent of disconnectedness of which I refer to. Albert Einstein saw all this coming and had a very low opinion of human tendencies, with numerous quotes such as "only two things are infinite, the Universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former".

It would be very nice to disprove his conclusion.

Ka kite
Dave

Avatar is an incredible film.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2012-04-12 07:44.

Avatar is an incredible film. I have noticed many did not dwell on its ecological or cultural meanings. Having worked in a variety of countries and in "international development" I found it heart wrenching to see so many of the sentences I've heard so many times before on a film, without others noticing. It's a touching film, it tackles so many issues at their core and explicitly brings them into light. If some don't notice it's because they have the pleasure to live on this world without the actions and thought processes that go on behind the scenes, to provide us with all the rare earth metals and minerals that we want.
I don't know how effective it will be at sending out its message, but hopefully those who live a bit in oblivion will be woken up by the film.

In the classroom.. definitely! And in homes, and families. Remind ourselves that there are alternative joys and values to shopping, even nowadays.

not impressed

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 2011-12-14 05:42.

I've seen Avatar. Can also say 2 words. But not like that boy :) The two words are : "not impressed" Made awful lot of attempts not to fall asleep. All the people i know who ' ve seen it have the same opinion. I was disappointed. they've spent so much money and time to make it, but it's so incredibly trivial that even hard to imagine.

A warm-up

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2010-09-02 14:06.

Before showing the movie I have my students review the following questions they can answer during or after the movie.I find it helps them make more connections. As you will note they also need help writing sentences in their answers.

My Views on Avatar

1. Describe: The plot of the movie…
2. Describe: The views of the developers/military…
3. Describe how: They are similar or different to past & present cultural views…
4. Describe: The views of the scientists…
5. Describe: The views of the Na’vi…
6. Describe what: Jake learned from them…
7. Describe: The cultural message…
8. Describe: The ecological message…
9. Describe: The overall message of the movie…
10.What did you think of the end? I thought the end…

Recent history supports Avatar

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2010-05-15 19:49.

Saying that this situation has not happened in recent history is not entirely true. Maybe not on this scale but the Soviet Union invading a far primitive, in comparison, Afghanistan. Granted Afghanistan needed modernized technological aid from the west....but didn't Jake bring his "western" technology to the natives to assist them? Again maybe not on the same scale...but Afghanistan did drive the Soviet Union out of their country

AVATAR

Submitted by Kim Polistina (not verified) on Sat, 2010-05-08 10:37.

I know many intelligent people who have seen it and just thought it showed good cinematography but didn't get the story line and others who as you noted felt it was a brilliant portrayal of the centre of our ecological problems - the greed of Western Countries.

I however saw the movie as a fabulous opportunity to narrow the generation gap between myself, the message I am trying to send in my work in education for sustainability and global citizenship and the children I work with.

In my company, Symbiotic and Sustainable Systems in the UK, I work with all age groups. However, the hardest to reach so far have been the 11-18 year olds. I am running a global citizenship project at the moment where I start discussions with the learners who have seen the movie but have a fairly superficial sense of what it all means. Progressively I explain and work through the real underlying issues in the movie around cultural respect, cultural diversity, ecological justice and so on. I hope that by the end of the programme in July when the students have to provide their final performance on global citizenship to their peers and teachers that they will be discussing the movie with a higher level of understanding, awareness and knowledge of what it means to be a true global citizen and to live in a just and diverse world without economic greed affecting our values, behaviours and attitudes.

cheers

AVATAR as a Medium for Thinking

Submitted by ChinaMovieMagic (not verified) on Thu, 2010-04-01 01:44.

Here in Shanghai, I have all my classes in one of the Video Screening rooms, with access to Internet, so we are able to switch back and forth between:
(1)movie
(2)movie reviews--www.imdb.com and www.metacritic.com
(3)homework assignments...sent to the class GMail account and audio assignments sent to www.voxopop.com >>MovieMagic

At this point we are NOT focused upon OPINIONS/DISCUSSIONS, but upon expanding perceptions, via reading many movie reviews, and doing Role Plays
(Here's are 2 interesting Avatar-China stories. (1)www.huffingtonpost.com/.../china-pulls-2d-avatar-fro_n_428798.html (2)http://www.thechinabeat.org/?p=1391

Our work with AVATAR follows the standard pattern BELOW:

Learners (L) view brief movie segments---usually 5 minutes or less (or...see much of the movie on Fast Forward)
Teacher (T) then summarizes what was SEEN and HEARD, in a sequential fashion.
L then work in pairs, in 2 lines of chairs facing each other, and:
*tell the story...with one student speaking in Chinese and the other translating simultaneously into English
AND/OR
*both L pairs tell the story...taking turns
AND/OR
*L pairs do role plays from the movie sequence
AND/OR
*L pairs discuss the movie, based upon their homework>>reading movie reviews from www.imdb.com and/or www.metacritic.com
and their translations of difficult/interesting words into Chinese

L circulate systematically around the lines of chairs...moving one or more chairs ro their right...then perform ABOVE with new partners.

Each class, L:
*listen to L's PBL (Project-based learning) from Voxopop...T mentions positive elements of their audio assignment, and offers suggestions for improvement
*read aloud/discuss one or more movie reviews (with translated difficult/interesting words) done by L for homework
*test each other on new vocabulary words, from the movies and/or from the movie reviews

For Homework:
*(As described ABOVE)L do different Movie Reviews for the assigned movie, linking their Student Number with the number of the movie review they do
*L then read their list of English--Mandarin words into the MovieMagic page at www.voxopop.com, and list these words in the page.
(So these materials are suitable for both English as well as Mandarin learning.)

My video of the model ABOVE is being considered as a presentation at the upcoming Multiple Intelligences World Symposium in Beijing May 31--June 1, with Prof. Gardner. Certainly AVATAR can be used to promote development of the Naturalist Intelligence...as well as all the others.

Finally, next week I'll show the STUDENTS the final segment of Tezuka Osamu's animation masterpiece: Legend of the Forest, in which The TAO/MotherNature/LifeForce/SatyaGraha overcomes the TECHNO-EMPIRE...organically...magically...QIfully...Zi Ran de

Here at Shanghai Industry and Commerce Foreign Languages College, we are developing a MovieMagic SummerCamp/Learning Community, for English/Mandarin/Spanish, in conjunction with the nearby Shanghai EXPO. Contact me for more INFO.

Avatar

Submitted by Maddy (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-29 12:12.

I was sincerely disappointed. I was hoping that there would be some alternative to the violent outcome. A discussion about who won and who lost is redundant to me...violence was still prevalent. I didn't have an expectation of outcome I just thought that maybe, just maybe, there might be some new ideas here. Maybe even a resurrection of old ideas; say Ghandi-ism. My 9 year old daughter told me emphatically that it was "real". 3D on realism...interesting. My friend thought it was entertaining...Dances with Wolves with blue people. I agree, it is Hollywood and I would not support its inclusion in the school curriculum...don't you remember getting to watch movies in class..was it ever really learning until you were in university in a film studies class?

Avatar

Submitted by Logan (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-15 14:51.

This film, though elaborate, is a good example of an enduring theme and should be subjected to the individual scrutiny of all, both young and old. It can only be a good exercise.

Unobtainium and Current Day Genocide

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 2010-03-14 00:00.

I rarely see movies, but I saw Avatar twice. And I'd see it again in a heartbeat. I do alot of work in the coal fields of Ohio, and this struggle between those who want resources and those who live on top of them is very relevant today. The 'Unobtainium' mineral looked to me suspiciously like Coal, a mineral that is right now being mined by the hundreds of thousands of tons, to maintain electricity for most of the country. The same electricity that ran many of the Avatar movie screens. Peoples and lands are being poisoned, now, here. Avatar is a spring-board to launch this kind of discussion as well: when is it okay to poison land and displace people to get what 'society' needs. And we are all implicated because we contribute to it everyday. For students to realize we ARE the sky people here and now, would personalize the conversation to consider what we do when we are bound in a system that forces this kind of destruction.

Nor is it just appalachia. There are genocides happening all over the world -- right now -- because of the desire for diamonds, gold, uranium, etc. I respectfully shine the light on an earlier comment that reflects what many of our students learn in school: that the only "real" genocides were the N. Americans and the Holocaust. It is still happening, in Africa and Appalachia. Those are the conversations we need to have because THOSE are the ones that we and our students can ACTUALLY impact, by reducing if not eliminating our dependence on electricity, by refusing gold and diamonds, by not buying sweat-shop produced clothes (slave labor), by not supporting companies that exploit farmers and land, etc. Historical Analysis is great, but it should always be in an attempt to make sense of the present and help guide humane and intelligent actions

Avatar inspiring extra credit writing

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 16:44.

I had students who already saw the movie on their own write essays answering exactly the questions Karen Brown poses here. "Is it an eco-movie?" They are seeing the movie, sometimes 3, 4, 5 times. They know the issues. Reading Karen's blog and any related links then writing a response seems like the perfect assignment for already Avatar-obsessed teens to wrestle with.

Would love to know the results

Submitted by karen on Thu, 2010-03-11 18:13.

If you give an assignment like that in your class, I would love to see some of the results. Thank you for writing!

what about the violence?

Submitted by lindsay (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 15:22.

While the ecological message of Avatar highlighting the power of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all things is significant and an important one for schoolchildren to learn, I am shocked that anyone would find this an appropriate film for a classroom setting.

The underlying message in this film, as in all other Hollywood flicks, is that violence will prevail. The movie was full of big machines, guns, death, and destruction.

Since when have we become so desensitized to violence??? And since when could it even be questionably appropriate to screen a violent movie in school?

If we want to teach our children about ecology and the natural world, let's teach them positive ways of interacting with both the environment, and with people as well. For ultimately it is our ability to work together, make decisions together, and develop solutions as a global community that will save our planet.

There are plenty of wonderful stories out there of actual people of all colors and backgrounds doing incredible work to heal the planet and restore our communities. Without violence. How about showing some of those movies instead?

Violence

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 2010-03-12 03:36.

Maybe we should start facing the reality that violence is a inherent part of human nature and the natural world. It is not by hiding it from our kids eyes (and our own) that we will be able to learn how to deal with it. There will never be a world without violence, the problem is this overwhelming, chronic, paralyzing violence that is all around us.

Of course kids are easier to impress and will act according to. But instead of hiding it from them by not bringing it to a class room (what is of no use, they end up watching it anyway), we should be willing to open up the discussion in a smart way. It is not an easy task, awfully smart people will be needed for this.

Not all school teachers out there have neither the capability nor the will to do that, but we must be willing, and breed the courage, to develop a smarter society. A society that instead of hiding its problems under the carpet faces and debates them out in the open, together.

Congratulations for this blog. It is my first time here and I'm looking forward to make this as an habit.

Critics fail to convert Avatar's momentum into action

Submitted by Billie Best (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 14:44.

Every popular mainstream movie is subject to intellectual snobbery, accusations of sexism/racism/agism/species-ism, criticism of simplistic character motivation, unrealistic plot lines and dumbed-down treatment of the issues. Avatar is no exception. Art is subjective. Yet through its simple emotionally compelling story, Avatar has awakened mainstream audiences, millions of people of all ages, to the complex set of issues facing planet Earth. The movie is popular because we see ourselves in the story. Instead of spending energy criticizing the film for being too pedestrian, green preachers and NGOs should be looking for opportunities convert public awareness of the issues into public action.

meeting and then pointing

Submitted by Jessica Rios (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 14:21.

In order to guide any individual or system to a more Life-honoring way of being, we must first *meet* that entity where it is, and then point it to that more Life-honoring place. Avatar was created for the masses, and it did a beautiful job meeting and then pointing.

Focusing to what I perceive as flaws would deplete my deep sense of appreciation for a movie whose clear intention was to influence great, positive change -- whether on conscious or other levels.

Focusing on what we want brings more of it. Focusing on what we don't want brings more of that. I invite us all to pay close attention to what we tend to focus on.

Thanks for your article Karen, and specifically for its sense of curiosity and invitation.

I am so interested in what you all are saying...

Submitted by karen on Thu, 2010-03-11 15:10.

Thank you, Jessica. I noticed in my own circle such a diversity of opinion about Avatar that I thought I would open the topic to the Center's community. I am so impressed with the continued diversity (and intensity!) of well-informed thought. Thank you all for participating and keep going! I'm riveted by what you are exchanging.

Avatar Avengers

Submitted by Tone (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 14:16.

The colonization of Turtle Island is oft compared to that other historic era of genocide, the Holocaust. And so I think it is apt to compare two films that have been released almost side-by side when considering the themes of colonization and the anti-oppressive judgment day brought about in both films: Avatar and Inglorious Basterds.

Oprah recently talked about how it is difficult for senior generations to understand how today's youth find the reclamation of racist terms to be empowering. She was referring specifically to the 'N' word - to her, to hear it conjures those self-same images invoked in Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit. And she has a point. I would imagine that both films speak differently to the two different levels of generation, so to speak - those who experienced somewhat directly the ramifications of genocide, and those who came later, learning about it through books and stories.

The North American generations who come later have the privilege of knowledge without the pain and trauma of experience. The experience of those farther removed is something more akin to being empathetically indignant for injustices done to their forebears, their fellow citizens, or perhaps orchestrated by their own ancestors. Whether descendents of oppressors, the oppressed, or both, films today are a canvas upon which to re-write history the way current generations may wish it had happened: and this, the ultimate fantasy. Through film, youth can become Avatars of previously oppressed generations, going back in time to overturn the oppressors and bring society and nature back into balance. And is it coincidence that justice, in Avatar and Inglorious Basterds, is brought about by Americans?

Previously oppressed generations may find such mere explorations into their experienced histories offensive. Why? It is fantastical heroism and a turning of the tides offered as a supposed solution to problems that, in actuality, completely obliterated any sense of hope, empowerment, justice, honor, integrity, identity...for generations. (If only it could have been so easy.) I think that in a classroom, that for children, it is important not to only teach heroism, and how to be a hero, but, what if you fail? What if you are conquered, battered, torn down? What if you make a decision in life that you realize is wrong? What then? Perhaps an education about how to move from the independent hero to the interdependent community member is in order.

That would be a more suitable lesson for the times. Youth today, particularly youth in North America, have the privilege of witnessing extreme injustices in the past and present, yet not being directly disempowered by them. Films like Avatar can bring the catharsis home, creating a moment of deep empathy...a teachable moment, if I can be allowed the cliché. From there, I think it is important to compare heroism to reality. I think it is important to reveal both the utter fragility as well as the miraculous strength of humanity, if possible. Children won't need to know how to be heroes, as much as they will need to know how to survive and heal from hardship, for themselves as well as for those who surround them. They will need to know this to be humble, to find compassion, and in order to aid in the real history that is going on now: Indigenous people left and right are still coping with the damage passed down through history, and the holocaust still rings clear down generations of Jewish people.

Feature films belong in theatres. But discussions about them should occur in the home and in the classroom. Avatar creates a grand plot packed with wonderful messages, but a Hollywood film has its frameworks, its tropes, its tickets to sell: such that what it sells cannot be a true reflection of reality. This is where children need adults and educators to help them bridge the gap between their dreams and fantasies, and real life. Another film which sheds light on the issue of intergenerational experience of historic events, but which could not be a contender for the classroom environment (at least not before university), is The Reader. I believe that these three films together make for a very enlightening debate.

Avenging Avatars

Submitted by Xiao Lan (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 14:04.

The colonization of Turtle Island is oft compared to that other historic era of genocide, the Holocaust. And so I think it is apt to compare two films that have been released almost side-by side when considering the themes of colonization and the anti-oppressive judgment day brought about in both films: Avatar and Inglorious Basterds.

Oprah recently talked about how it is difficult for senior generations to understand how today's youth find the reclamation of racist terms to be empowering. She was referring specifically to the 'N' word - to her, to hear it conjures those self-same images invoked in Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit. And she has a point. I would imagine that both films speak differently to the two different levels of generation, so to speak - those who experienced somewhat directly the ramifications of genocide, and those who came later, learning about it through books and stories.

The North American generations who come later have the privilege of knowledge without the pain and trauma of experience. The experience of those farther removed is something more akin to being empathetically indignant for injustices done to their forebears, their fellow citizens, or perhaps orchestrated by their own ancestors. Whether descendents of oppressors, the oppressed, or both, films today are a canvas upon which to re-write history the way current generations may wish it had happened: and this, the ultimate fantasy. And is it coincidence that justice, in Avatar and Inglorious Basterds, is brought about by Americans?

Previously oppressed generations may find such mere explorations into their experienced histories offensive. Why? It is fantastical heroism and a turning of the tides offered as a supposed solution to problems that, in actuality, completely obliterated any sense of hope, empowerment, justice, honor, integrity, identity...for generations. (If only it could have been so easy.) I think that in a classroom, that for children, it is important not to only teach heroism, and how to be a hero, but, what if you fail? What if you are conquered, battered, torn down? What then? Perhaps an education about how to move from the independent hero to the interdependent community member is in order.

That would be a more suitable lesson for the times. Films like Avatar can bring the catharsis home, creating a moment of deep empathy...a teachable moment, if I can be allowed the cliché. From there, I think it is important to compare heroism to reality,to reveal both the utter fragility as well as the miraculous strength of humanity, if possible. Children won't need to know how to be heroes, as much as they will need to know how to survive and heal from hardship. They will need to know this to be humble, to find compassion, and in order to aid in the real history that is going on now: Indigenous people left and right are still coping with the damage of colonization passed down through history, and the holocaust still rings clear down generations of Jewish people. Not to mention our damaged ecosystems.

Feature films belong in theatres. But discussions about them should occur in the home and in the classroom. Avatar creates a grand plot packed with wonderful messages, but a Hollywood film has its frameworks, its tropes, its tickets to sell: such that what it sells cannot be a true reflection of reality. This is where children need adults and educators to help them bridge the gap between their dreams and fantasies, and real life. Another film which sheds light on the issue of intergenerational experience of historic events, but which could not be a contender for the classroom environment, is The Reader. I believe that these three films together make for a very enlightening debate.

Movies, coaching, learning

Submitted by Anil Paranjpe (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-18 15:34.

This is a fascinating conversation for someone sitting out here in India. The movie was a big hit here. And yes the action and animation impress the most but it does open up the questions that need to be joined --- this hunger for more which is central to today's economics is affecting the Indian middle class as well.

Affluenza and its consequence of the need for ever more resources mean that in a finite world collapse happens. And like all cancer we will die, with the host or by the host. I hope the later, actually I hope we wake up, if it is not already too late.

So schools themselves the way they are mostly run are extremely machine like, so sometimes i sit and wonder will industrial age infrastructure ever result in ecologically sensitive actions? Can it? We even call people resources in our companies, where as they/we are the source!!

Ah such is Life on this madhouse village called Planet Earth

fact and fiction

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 2010-03-12 13:14.

Brilliant comment!
The messages of the movie can be used as a starting point for discussions in classrooms and a good way to show the difference between fact and fiction:
Hollywood simplifies "messages" to suit their economic interests. The message is for the movie not the movie for the message (it would be a interesting task for school children to calculate the amount of rain forest/trees that ware destroyed by making this movie ...). Heroism is not the solution for ecological problems and the struggle of indigenous people is never won by violence against their invaders. On the contrary, people using violent means were simply massacred.
Let's ask Cameron to donate 10% of the profit to save rain forest and indigenous people, even if their not blue ...

The planet won the war.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 13:42.

The planet won the war. The natives were losing, remember? It was the other animals, the rest of the planet's inhabitants that fought back and helped win the war. Our earth, too, is fighting the battle and winning in many places in the sense that drought, flooding, radical changes in weather all over the world are adversely affecting how people can or can't live. To me, that was the biggest message. The earth will fight back, animals will disappear or multiply, food sources will be affected unless all people--blue, green, black, white, it does not matter what color or culture we represent--help protect it. Avatar gets people talking and thinking, that is a good thing. Framing the conversation for young people can make for an incredibly powerful learning experience because as many of the above have pointed out, there is a lot to talk about.

avatar

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 12:58.

I can't understand some of these recurrent comments about the film being a cartoon about a white guy saving the natives, and about how the natives never win. Yes it's like a cartoon. The Odyssey and Iliad are like cartoons, all "epics" are like that. No, the white guy doesn't save the natives. He joins them and he is saved BY them. And the natives never win? Well, history isn't over yet. As in the film, our techno-industrial empire seems to win the battles but—isn't it obvious that we can NOT win our long Battle with Nature? And do the critics REALLY miss the reference to the US military defeat in Vietnam or to wars now underway and threatening to break out in the future? The USSR crushed Hungary and the Czechs, but where is the USSR now?

I wouldnt waste my time introducing the movie to anybody.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2010-03-11 12:43.

As outlined in Richard Louv's Last Child in the woods- children more and more are getting sucked into the digital world of fantasy land. The movie is the biggest example of such trend. It doesn't leave anything to the imagination- everything is spelled out and the patronizing relationship with the indigenous is quite disgusting. It is a reflection of the American mentality towards the "developing" world and the "poor" people.

Instead kids should be exposed more to the actual natural and cultural corners of the world. There should be more thought given towards that..

Appropriate for the classroom?

Submitted by Michael G. (not verified) on Tue, 2010-03-09 01:57.

Avatar is the highest-grossing film release to date. It belongs in a survey course on Hollywood hits.The animation is impressive, the entertainment value is high, and sociology students can learn something by deciphering the secrets of Avatar's international success.

As model of the patterns of confict and resolution between a primary, collective society and a high-technology authoritarian one, Avatar has nothing to offer (in the classrom or beyond). The film's director tries to show us that nobility, virtue and eventual victory are the destiny of those who keenly observe and deeply understand the essential nature of life and the eternal forces which guide the universe. Has Mr. Cameron honestly observed the world around us? Does he understand how things work? I agree with the previous comment that the core fallacy of this film is that the natives win.

Yea to bringing "Avatar" into the K-12 classrooms!

Submitted by Linda Slater-Gilbert (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-08 19:32.

Has a curricula been written yet to help teachers to integrate all of the ecoliteracy standards found in the film with the state learning standards? If not, I'd love the job!

I just saw Avatar yesterday

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-08 11:32.

I just saw Avatar yesterday, March 7. The connections to ecoterroism, racism and white superiority over a native culture you so aptly outlined are very obvious.

The fallacy, as I see it, is that the natives win the war. No where in recet history has the predominate, industrialized, mechanized machination lost a war. The natives have been decimated in America, Africa, Europe, Tibet, the list goes on. Only with the passing of geological time and the advent of a meteor or huge earthquake will destroy our over bearing, mechanized culture.

The sequel of the Avatar movie would likely unfold with the return of the Earth Aliens (Sky people) with a huge megaton bomb to destroy the planet,then coming down to take the natural resources or just move in.......

This movie does belong in several classrooms, including: history, medicine, sociology, ecology, biology, physics to name a few. Discussions can be extrated regarding quantum physics, energic systems, historical perspectives of aculturation, use of native medicine versus modern applications of surgery and condensed medications, to name only a few.

"Nowhere in recent history..."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-08 20:51.

The author of the previous comment misses an important point about "winning the war" in Avatar. While it is true that "No where in recet history has the predominate, industrialized, mechanized machination lost a war", it was necessary for someone from the industrialized, mechanized world to develop a new world view and realize that pursuing the same objectives (of resource acquisition no matter the cost), was misguided at best, or more realistically genocide.

This theme of realization, transformation, and recognizing interconnectedness, is a theme that is core to the film (and really a modern day myth). This gives the viewer insight into what it will take for today's serious problems to be overcome. While this storyline does have shortcomings, it expresses well whose responsibility it is to take accountability and change.

Avatar absolutely belongs in history, sociology, and contemporary environmental issues classes.

message not equal message

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 2010-03-12 13:35.

Without doubt, there are messages in this movie:
The greedy corporation with only shareholder values in mind, protected by the military exploiting resources at the expense of the indigenous population.
Interconnectedness of all things, Sacredness of all Nature, higher spirituality of native people compared to the white man, etc.
However, the white man can learn all in just three months, beat the indigenous in their own field (by capturing Toruk) and become the leader of the indigenous community. Even if the people themselves do not win, and nature fights back collectively, it portrays a "winning by force". This is Hollywood.
And last but not least, do we really want to give Hollywood the lead in saving the world? The message is secondary for Hollywood, profit comes first. The former has to serve the latter!

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