What movie clip could I show my students to start a conversation about the Constitution?
December 4, 2007 2:50 PM   Subscribe

What movie clip/s could I show my 8th graders that would make them say, "Damn, I really do need to care about the Constitution!"?

I would prefer something under 10 minutes that could at least start a conversation where they could make connections between what it says in the constitution and their own lives.

p.s. they are inner city Chicago students...
posted by allthewhile to Education (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I was growing up in the stone age (1970's) there was a great series of public service announcements that taught basic grammar and stuff like what a bill was. They were on Saturday mornings sandwiched between the cartoons. Conjunction, junction, what's your function; a noun is a person place or thing (it was a song) and there was one about how a bill travels through the system. They were very entertaining and engaging for kids. I am sorry I don't recall what outfit did them (School House Rock-- is that it??), but maybe someone else will remember.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2007

That was in fact, School House Rock.

I'm Only a Bill, for example.
posted by elendil71 at 3:11 PM on December 4, 2007

The Preamble is also a good School House Rock offering.
posted by elendil71 at 3:20 PM on December 4, 2007

Not sure exactly what you mean, but I bet you could edit a good section out of Gideon's Trumpet.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:21 PM on December 4, 2007

Maybe something from "The People vs. Larry Flint"? Or, if that's not too touchy of a subject, how about something from "America Freedom to Fascism"?
posted by parilous at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2007

Maybe consider some part of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, towards the end? Might be too kitschy, though.
posted by Rallon at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2007

Instead of going the usual route and showing them a clip that sings the praises of the Constitution -- which I'm sure they'd find pretty dull -- you could take a different tack and show them how much worse their lives would be without it.

There was a compelling series of PSA's produced by the Ad Council after 9/11 that did this very effectively. Called the "Campaign for Freedom", they depicted an Orwellian America where ordinary citizens were arrested for reading certain books and who had to secretly go to church in their basements. Unfortunately, the original Ad Council page is down, and so far I've been unable to find a copy of the videos online. I'll post again if I find anything.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Please, please, PLEASE don't do schoolhouse rock if you really want to engage 8th graders. They will think it is corny and dated.
posted by piratebowling at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2007

It probably depends on how you want to present it. Do you want to say "Look, the constitution is important because it guarantees you certain rights and freedoms. Without it, life wouldn't be so good"? Or do you want to tell it like it is: that the constitution only establishes a bare minimum of rights (and a pretty low minimum at that), that the current Supreme Court takes a dim view of expanding those rights, and that ultimately enforcing those rights depends upon the police -- all of which is bad news if you are poor or a minority, and many of these kids are probably both.

If you are going for the former:

The 13th amendment abolished slavery, so you could start with a clip showing the brutality of slavery. The whipping scene from Roots, maybe. Something from a documentary about Japanese internment camps. The entire "I have a dream" speech, not just an excerpt.

If you are going for the latter:

The Rodney King beating followed by the LA Riots. Point out that the constitution is important because that's what happens when it is ignored. Pictures of lynchings. Point out that this was still a regular occurrence just 50 years ago. Show them this map of botched paramilitary police raids. Tell them this will only get worse with the allowance of 'no knock' searches in Hudson v. Michigan.

In general, though, just a few observations on what the constitution does not do may be enough to get a conversation going. For instance, the constitution does not protect against discrimination on the basis of economic status.
posted by jedicus at 3:27 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Harrison Bergeron, the Showtime television version, has a "New American Constitution," in which the first amendment is "All men are not created equal, it is the duty of the government to render them so." It might do the trick.
posted by InnocentBystander at 3:44 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a little corney, but I liked it in high school.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:46 PM on December 4, 2007

(YouTube clip.)
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:49 PM on December 4, 2007

Response by poster: A lot of these suggestions are awesome.

I was thinking of a scene a movie where someones rights were being violated. I think particularly if its a scene with the police, a judge (or the man in general) I think it would resonate with my kids.
posted by allthewhile at 4:04 PM on December 4, 2007

Not a movie clip, per se, but advertising - Osocio is a blog that features ads/PSAs about human rights, politics, etc. Check out the categories on the side to find what you want.

Here's a Dutch PSA you could use to talk about, say, the right to a trial.
posted by mdonley at 4:09 PM on December 4, 2007

The internet fails at holding on to old videos. I'm finding scattered references to the "Campaign for Freedom" television spots all over the net, but no video links. The best I can do are some transcripts of the videos, and an archive.org copy of the original campaign page with downloadable links to the video files. Of course, this was back in 2001, so the videos are in RealPlayer format (.smi) and cannot function without a connection to the hosting site, which is long gone.

Apparently all Ad Council PSAs come with expiration dates, after which they makes every effort to scour them from existence. You can't even purchase copies on their online store after they expire. This puzzles and frustrates me...

But anyway, sorry for the dead end. The videos really werre quite good.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:16 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

A choice section from Oliver Stone's "Nixon" might get them perky.
posted by rhizome at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2007

It might be too hard to get a copy (you'd probably have to borrow one from an ACLU office) and it might be too explicitly educational and propagandistic, but the ACLU has done a TV series about some of the cases they've brought. One of the episodes is specifically about cases where the clients are kids and each client segment is about 10 minutes long. I have to say that the Youth Speak video isn't really the one that's most exercising, because the kids are generally threatened with suspension from school rather than being sent to jail for 25 years or whatever...although there one where a white suburban kid who writes a battle rap is charged with making terroristic threats.
posted by phoenixy at 4:31 PM on December 4, 2007

These clips and these articles.
posted by iviken at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2007

I think that the key point that needs to be made is not that the constitution is good nor that rights abuses can happen (they already know that), but that a democracy that respects human rights is not humanity's natural state -- it takes hard work to reach and maintain that position. That's the part that the kids don't already know/get -- if it's all they've known, they probably don't really get that things could change if that work stopped being done.

I'm not coming up with any movie clips for that, though. (But one or more talks from people who have experienced life under governments who don't respect human rights might be good).
posted by winston at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2007

Perhaps a segment from the First Amendment Project?
posted by fvox13 at 5:11 PM on December 4, 2007

I was thinking of a scene a movie where someones rights were being violated.

There's a scene in the movie Panther where a member of the Black Panther Party talks down a group of police officers by pointing out the group has a Second Amendment right to own firearms.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:55 PM on December 4, 2007

Have you / they read "Twelve Angry Men"? It might be really awesome to do a play reading together. There is a movie of it, also. It doesn't address the constitution directly, if I recall correctly, but it does illustrate why the rule of law is important. I honestly don't remember whether the right to a trial by a jury is part of the constitution (I *think* it is), but this shows how delicate and important the process is. And how it's important not to just rule by what "most people think".
posted by amtho at 6:47 PM on December 4, 2007

Parts of To Kill a Mockingbird might be good for this. Or maybe Philadelphia, though that's more about rights generally than the Constitution specifically.
posted by Go, now. Go! at 8:32 PM on December 4, 2007

There's a bunch of Ad Council 'Freedom' stuff on Youtube.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:27 AM on December 5, 2007

Beyond Guantanamo
posted by chunking express at 7:48 AM on December 5, 2007

I learned a LOT from these videos.

So will your students. Even 8th graders dream of driving:

posted by iam2bz2p at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2007

posted by iam2bz2p at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2007

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