Q: When is a fact not a fact? A: When it’s in a film.

An excellent article in the New York Times on Friday reminds us history teachers of the dangers of films both when we are using them in class and when our students see them without us to correct misconceptions. The pervasive nature of sight and sound in our evolutionary history seems to have made us keen to recall key information but not so keen to recall where we got it from. This opens up huge opportunities for the brain to pass off as fact gained from a reliable source fact that was actually gained from a movie playing fast and loose with the truth. In my own teaching Mississippi Burning is a powerful way of introducing the Civil Rights movement and the profound sense of injustice it provokes in the students is something I draw on repeatedly, but the flaws in the films portrayal of the FBI are a danger that I’m not exactly sure I successfully quash year in year out. What this means for examination grades is minimal provided the selection of films and clips that we use are made with these thoughts in mind. What it means for the wider understanding of history is more of a concern.

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