Using Movie/Television Clips to Teach Philosophy

I have a friend, Julie Akaret, who is a documentary filmmaker, and she is working with a professor at Mount Holyoke College to develop a website called What’s the Big Ideas? that will help teachers introduce basic philosophical ideas through the use of Hollywood movie clips and network television shows. Right now, they have content up there around bullying and lying, with additional topics to come.

The other day, as my students were finishing up the wonderfully different novel, Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, we were tackling the idea of lying, so Julie visited our class as we unpacked what it means to lie, when it seems OK to tell a lie, and when (as with the book) a person using their political power or government post to tell a lie for personal gain. My students really got into the discussion, and the film clips we used at the What’s The Big Idea? site (from Liar Liar, Jaws, Freaks & Geeks, Seinfeld, and Breaking Away) perfectly hit on a lot of our discussion points.

See this sample:


All the materials at the site are free (thanks to a grant) and I encouraged Julie to develop the topic of Environmental Ethics next, as I personally would love to use that part of the site for our environmental writing unit, and I think that the connections between media, writing and science could be a benefit to a lot of teachers now considering shifts into the Common Core curriculum. I also like that each video clip has an introduction to the concept, and sets the stage for the video. Julie is also developing handouts and resources related to the content for teachers to use as guides.

What’s The Big Idea? is worth your time and another way to engage our students in critical thinking skills that moves beyond the black/white of important issues by leading them into the grey area, with movies and television shows as another way to engage them in these important conversations.

Peace (in the big ideas),



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