“Robust Moral Reasoning” with the Aid of Classic Film
By Dr. Micah Watson
Over this summer I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know the Love and Life at the Movies curriculum and other resources put out by the Educational Guidance Institute, http://educationalguidanceinstitute.com/. This institute (EGI) was founded by my friend Onalee McGraw, who kindly invited me to get to know the work of the Institute better.
And I am glad she did. It is no secret that I am a fan of movies, and I’m also persuaded that stories shape our morals and our character in remarkable and sometimes mysterious ways. There’s a reason that Jesus spoke in parables, and Plato includes stories in his dialogues. We remember the examples, and we identify with the characters in ways that are much harder when we just have a moral syllogism or argument (though those have their place of course!).
This is certainly true with movies as well. The corner of the academy that I work is the subdiscipline of political theory in the field of political science, and can tell you that the etymology of “theorist” comes from the Greek for “seeing”. Political theory originally consisted of people traveling to other places, seeing how they did politics there, and coming back and reporting on what they had seen. When we see important truths lived out in stories on the silver screen it has a way of sneaking past what C.S. Lewis called the “watchful dragons” that rear their heads when we are told that we should do the right thing because we are “supposed to”.
What EGI has done is to prepare a curriculum to be used with school-aged kids pairing classic movies with study guides for conversation and teaching. They’ve chosen movies that are classics for more than one reason: they are great movies, but they also exhibit moral truths and character virtues organically in their stories. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Raisin in the Sun, Key Largo, and 12 Angry Men are just some of the films that EGI have written study guides for and used in classrooms.
As a professor and as a parent I’m concerned not only with the quantity of time we spend with screens, but with the quality of what we’re looking at on the screen. Hence my pleasant surprise at an oasis of robust moral reasoning and virtue cultivation provided on screen and via study guides through the work of EGI. I heartily recommend them to you.
Micah Watson is a political scientist, professor at Calvin College, and co-author of C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law.