Month: September 2012

Does movie violence affect the viewer?

Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Does movie media violence desensitize?

I heard this question asked the other night.  They didn’t ask me, but if they did, I’d have said, I didn’t think so.  The reason is that I have been exposed to a lot of media violence.  I have played Counter Strike and Call of Duty for over 10 years and have watched a lot of movie violence.

Even after all this, when I see an actual act of violence, I have an instant significant emotional, even physical, reaction to it.  The 1968 execution of Captain Bảy Lốp is one example.  I saw it once.  It affected me profoundly and I will not willingly see it again.

Based on this evidence, I would suggest that all my exposure to game and cinematic violence has not desensitized me to real violence.

The person to whom this question was actually addressed claimed there is no doubt that movie violence affects the viewer.

In one sense this is certainly true—one of the purposes of film, indeed all art, is to affect the viewer.  I think, though, that behind the statement was the tacit assumption that movie violence has significant negative effect.

I wouldn’t have been too worried about this claim except that it wasn’t about the violence in John Wick or The Walking Dead.  It was about the action sequences in The Avengers.  I wasn’t so sure about that.

Who is most affected by Media Violence?

James Potter brings together many studies on the effects of violence in On Media Violence.  Ted Turnau summarizes Potter’s findings in his book, Popologetics.

The data suggests that media violence can have an effect of viewers, “but the kinds of effects and the depth of those effects vary greatly depending on the individual viewer and his or her contexts.”

Those who are most affected media violence are:

  • those who watch a lot of television;
  • those who cannot differentiate between types of violence (small children or the mentally disabled);
  • those who already have an aggressive personality;
  • those who are already emotionally upset or angry when they see an episode of violence.

According to the research, “Family background seems to play an important role as well.  Children who come from strong families that teach children that violence is not acceptable do not act out aggressively after seeing media violence.”

Portrayal of Media Violence makes a difference.

How violence is portrayed also makes a significant difference as to how much it will affect a viewer.

Violence seems to have more of an effect

  • when the violence is portrayed realistically;
  • when violence is seen by the viewer as justified;
  • when the violent act seems to have no consequences;
  • when the violent act goes unpunished;
  • when the violence is done by an attractive person or a person who is demographically similar to the viewer;
  • when violence in linked to erotic content.

When violence has no effect

Violence seems to have little or no effect on the viewer:

  • when the violence is portrayed in a humourous fashion;
  • when violence is seen as having specific negative effects, such as pain to the victim, or when the perpetrator is punished;
  • when violence is done without malice or a revenge motive by a professional, such as a policeman or a soldier in a war movie.

The research seems to suggest that violence does, in fact, affect the viewers.  But it matters a great deal who the viewer is and the nature of the violence presented.



Sometimes “Restricted” Means True

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

It happened again today. I sometimes show movie clips to show that literary devices used in great poetry and prose are used in movies as well.  Today’s lesson was Allusion.  I had just hit play on the movie There Will Be Blood (2007) and the big “R” shines on the screen.  From some dark corner of the room, a student utters a mock gasp and says, “My mother won’t be happy I’m watching this.”

It suits my educational purposes to show only the first 10 minutes of the film until Daniel Day Lewis holds up his oil covered hand in Macbethian fashion and my point is made.  We never get to any of the R-rated content.

An R rating is given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to a film if the language, sexuality or violence is considered inappropriate for children under 12 years of age and it recommends parental guidance for those under 17.

The student comment was a joke, but it indicates the reality that the MPAA rating system is being used by parents, even Canadian parents, to decide what movies they will allow their children to see.

This makes some sense since the purpose of the rating system is to give parents some idea as to the level of language, sexuality, and violence in the film.  And we ought to be concerned about these things.  Harsh language, sexuality, and violence are unsuitable for children.

The problem here is that the rating system assumes that language, sexuality, and violence are all that parents should be concerned about.  There are a few things that I think Christian parents would hold higher that the trio of cinematic vice.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”The movie rating system assumes that language, sexuality, and violence are all that parents should be concerned about, but isn’t the truth even more important that the absence of this trio of cinematic vice. #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies” quote=”The movie rating system assumes that language, sexuality, and violence are all that parents should be concerned about, but isn’t the truth even more important that the absence of this trio of cinematic vice. “]

Some parents restrict their viewing, and that of their older children, according to the MPAA rating system.   But when the MPAA rating system is the guide,  some movies are being watched that shouldn’t be, and some are not, that should be.  A “G” or “PG” rating doesn’t mean it’s good and an “R” rating doesn’t mean it’s bad.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”When the rating system is our guide, some movies are watched that shouldn’t be, and others are not, that should be.  A *G* or *PG* rating doesn’t mean good and *R* doesn’t mean it’s bad. #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies” quote=”When the rating system is our guide, some movies are watched that shouldn’t be, and others are not, that should be.  A *G* or *PG* rating doesn’t mean good and *R* doesn’t mean it’s bad. #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies”]

Let me illustrate what I mean using two movies: Remember the Titans, rated “PG” and Crash, rated R for language, sexual content, and violence.  Both of these movies seem to explore themes related to racism.

Remember the Titans

Dove Foundation reviewers have no problem recommending Remember the Titans to families.

“Well hurray for Hollywood! At last – here’s a story about overcoming bigotry told without profanity, exploitive sex or excessive violence. What’s more, it’s downright entertaining. . . .  If a film is done right, no one is going to leave the theater let down by its wholesomeness.”

One of the things the reviewer got right is that it certainly is entertaining.  And if they are saying that we ought not to indulge in movies where profanity is pointless, sex exploitive and violence excessive, I also agree with them.  But, I would object if they were suggesting that profanity in a movie is inherently wrong, that all sex is exploitive and that any violence is excessive.  They go on:

“[W]e approve of [Remember the Titans] because it represents a concerted effort to tell an uplifting story without the usual ratio of obscene and profane material. If that sounds like a Hallmark card commercial, well, what’s wrong with leaving the theater feeling hopeful and satisfied? Isn’t that the purpose of art – to uplift the spirit of man?”

 Actually, it’s not the purpose of art.  There are two limited understandings of the role of art.  One is that it must contain some moral instruction and the second, it must be beautiful.  Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit of man, but it ought never to do so at the expense of the truth.  If it does it will legitimately be labeled “bad” art.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Do you like feel-good movies? Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit, but it ought never to do so at the expense of the truth. Some movies are fluff disguised as truth. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies” quote=”Do you like feel-good movies? Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit, but it ought never to do so at the expense of the truth. Some movies are fluff disguised as truth. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies”]

Why is this movie “uplifting”?  It’s quite simple.  We feel good after viewing it.  The movie begins with a few “good” people and a whole bunch of “bad” people.  The good people are not prejudiced and the bad people are.  The audience, very early on, is led to identify with the good people.  That’s why we feel good after viewing it.

Through the course of the movie we shake our heads at the close-mindedness and cruelty of those racist people, but feel uplifted as more and more characters see the light and join our team of the generous and open-minded non-racists.  This movie reinforces our simplistic preconceptions of the world in general and racism in particular.  Worse, it reinforces, rather than challenges our simplistic preconceptions of ourselves as “good.”

This movie draws too clean a line between good and evil which is not representative of reality.  It suggests racism is simple and easily overcome.  It denies the reality every human being is a racist.  Granted, there are degrees of racism, but to claim one is without any prejudgment on the basis of race, is like claiming one is without sin.

Remember the Titans tells us that there are many people who aren’t racist—most particularly the movie’s audience.  This movie allows the audience to sit comfortably in the knowledge that they are good and open-minded citizens of the world and if the world were full of people like themselves, there would be no racism (and perhaps no sin) in the world.  Certainly an uplifting message.

Sure, one function of art is to “lift up the spirit of man,” but it ought never to do so by lying.  If you are going to take Philippians 4:8 at its word, you are not going to allow your children to watch this movie alone without someone to help them see where this very entertaining movie falls short of the truth—even though there is almost no language, sexual content or violence in the film.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”A movie ought never to *lift up the spirit* by lying.  Philippians 4:8 means to help our children to see where a movie falls short of the truth, even though there’s no language, sex or violence. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies” quote=”A movie ought never *lift up the spirit* by lying.  Philippians 4:8 means to help our children to see where a movie falls short of the truth, even though there’s no language, sex or violence. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies”]

Crash (2004)

Another of art’s aims is to challenge our faulty preconceptions of the world and ourselves.  Crash won the academy award for best picture in 2005.  Like Remember the Titans, this film deals with racism.

Although commending this film for its acting and cinematography, a reviewer at the Dove Foundation criticizes it because it “generates a very negative perception of America and its inter-racial relationships.”   In other words, Crash does not present a view of the world (or of America) consistent with that of the reviewer.  In this case, this fact ought to commend the movie rather than earn the critic’s castigation.

The Dove Foundation website gives a detailed description of all the sexual content, both shown and talked about, and it describes the acts of violence in the film.  It also itemizes the language:

87 F, 17 S, 11 A, 10 N, 8 H, 3 B, 2 J, 3 C, 7 G/GD, 1 D, 2 OMG, 4 P.

I’m not even sure what all of these mean, but I think it would be a sin for me to sit and try to figure them all out, so I accept that there is strong language in this movie.   For all these reasons, the film does not earn Dove Foundation Approval Rating. Granted, this rating is based on suitability for families, and it is not that.

I want to be clear, this movie is completely inappropriate for younger children.  But, I recommend this movie to any adult who can see past the content.  Why?  Because it’s “excellent” and “praiseworthy”—it’s very well crafted—but it is also “true.”  It gives us a picture of the world in that we see good and evil, not clearly embodied in individual characters, but all mixed together.

The characters I initially judged as “good” do bad things and “bad” people, good things—eventually the categories don’t work anymore.  When you get to this point, you have taken some important steps toward understanding racism.  I came away from this movie convinced that racism isn’t simple, nor is it a problem only out there somewhere, but resides in every human heart, most significantly in mine.

This movie doesn’t uplift the viewer but challenges his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good.

And true.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Some movies don’t uplift the viewer but they challenge his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good. And true. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies” quote=”Some movies don’t uplift the viewer but they challenge his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good. And true. #RemembertheTitans #parentaladvisory #parenting #truthinmovies”]

There are many movies out there that ought not to be viewed by anyone, let alone children—some of them are rated G.  It is likely that more of them are rated “R,” and ought to be avoided for their treatment of language, sexuality, and violence.  But there are also those that are not only well crafted but also tell us the truth about ourselves.  And sometimes they have content that earns them the “R” rating because the language, nudity, and violence actually help the film to deliver the truth in a meaningful way that changes us for the better.

Dog Poop in the Brownies: How to read Philippians 4:8

Photo by Michelle Tsang on Unsplash

“You must destroy your secular music!”

The speaker told us we had to get rid of all of our “secular” music.  I was in high school, and the speaker at the youth event was a youngish, cool youth pastor.  He said we had to destroy our albums; selling it or giving it away would just spread the evil.

He mocked the counter arguments leveled at him by those who loved the pagan lyrics and musical brilliance of Led Zeppelin and The Who.  One argument I remember, perhaps because it was mine, was that, although there might be some “bad” content in it, there was much that was good in the songs of my favorite artists – especially Pink Floyd.

His response to this argument was the dog-poop-in-the-brownies analogy.  It went something like this:

If I offered you a plate of brownies and I told you that I mixed a tablespoon of dog poop in the batter, would you still eat it?

I didn’t like this analogy.  For one thing, it seemed pretty convincing and I didn’t want to be convinced.

But, I also sensed there was something inherently wrong with this analogy.  I knew that Pink Floyd’s songs were artistically beautiful, which is more than could be said of most Christian Contemporary Music of the day.  What’s more, some of what the secular artists said was true.  I had a hard time reconciling the truth and beauty with the analogy.

I wasn’t so clever to reframe and ask, “Would he eat a plate of tofu and Brussel sprouts soaked in cod liver oil just because it had no dog poop in it?”

[click_to_tweet tweet=”He said we were supposed to destroy our secular music, but I inherently felt that there was something wrong with his demand. I now know what it is. #Philippians4:8 #secularmusic #sacredsecular” quote=”He said we were supposed to destroy our secular music, but I inherently felt that there was something wrong with his demand. I now know what it is. #Philippians4:8 “]

Philippians 4:8

I still encounter this issue in my personal and professional life.  My musical tastes are now acceptable to most people except, possibly, my children.  Nowadays, I find myself in conversations around literature and movies like Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter; Shawshank Redemption and No Country for Old Men.

Those who question whether Christians should read/watch these often use an argument similar to the dog-poop analogy and they do so by invoking Philippians 4:8.

“[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I am almost certain the youth pastor who wanted us to burn our secular music used this verse as his scriptural back up.

After all these years, I can now declare confidently that I agree with Philippians 4:8 while at the same time I dismiss the dog-poop-in-the-brownies analogy.

Sorry, but there are no Poopless Brownies

Foundational to the analogy is the notion that there are things in this world that are purely good, and true and beautiful–chocolate brownies–and other things that are thoroughly evil, false and ugly–dog poop.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”It is possible to agree with Philippians 4:8 while dismissing the *dog poop in the brownies* analogy. #Philippians4:8 #secularnusic #sacredsecular” quote=”It is possible to agree with Philippians 4:8 while dismissing the *dog poop in the brownies* analogy. #Philippians4:8 “]

This is a false dichotomy; not only logically, but also biblically.

All things were created by God and he declared it all, very good.  Later, with the Fall, the same “all things” were distorted by sin.  If this is true, then we don’t live in a world full of clearly evil things and clearly good things.  We live in a world where everything is fundamentally good and also profoundly distorted by sin; in other words, everything and everyone, is both good and evil.

When Paul tells us to think about things that are true and noble and right, we are doing so in a world where it’s all mixed together.  And it’s not simply that one song on the album is good and true and beautiful, and the other is not; the blending happens within the same song.

This complicates life, but complicated is good in this case.  We can end up doing a lot of harm when we start seeing the world in terms of good and evil.

I think the speaker of my youth was wrong when he suggested the Christian life meant burning all my secular music.  If he had understood Philippians 4: 8 in the light of Genesis 1-3, he would have told us to burn some of our “secular” albums, and we knew which ones he’d have been talking about, and then he’d tell us to listen to our Christian music and burn all the trite, simplistic and sentimental gunk that was far from true, excellent and admirable.  Which, at that time, would have been most of it.

Finding Nemo in the Belly of the Whale

My students use the word epic to describe anything that they think is really awesome.

An epic, really is a long narrative poem with a hero fighting a battle of universal significance.

You might be surprised to know that Finding Nemo has a lot in common with some of the stories which are legitimate epics.   Like the Aeneid and Odyssey, Finding Nemo is about a hero on a journey.  Maybe calling it epic is a misnomer, but I will certainly call this story mythic.


Toward the end of the movie, Marlin finds himself in the belly of a whale.  What happens to Marlin there is an archetypal event.  It’s archetypal in that it is a type of event that turns up again and again in stories across a broad range of times and cultures.  One of the most familiar, of course, is the biblical story of Jonah.

The Hero’s Journey

In his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell identifies the “belly of the whale” experience as one of the stages of the hero’s journey.  He says that this sort of event can occur just as well in a temple as a whale, but wherever it occurs, it is a necessary step in the hero’s journey as he strives to complete his mythic quest.

The “belly of the w hale” experience is one where the hero does not conquer, that comes later, but is instead swallowed into the unknown.  Here he contends not with external enemy, but part of himself, and in this encounter, something must die; it is “a form of self-annihilation,” says Campbell.  This is a painful, but necessary process, for if the hero encounters his enemy or attempts his great task before he has dealt with himself, the quest would end in failure.

Marlin’s Heroic Journey

Before his adventure began, Marlin could not venture away from the safety of the reef.  Not since his mate, Coral, and all their offspring, except Nemo, were killed by a predatory fish.  This tragic event shapes his entire life and he believes that world beyond the reef was hostile, evil even.  His worldview profoundly affects his parenting and Nemo is beginning to strain against his father’s over-protectiveness.

Marlin’s paranoia precipitates an uncharacteristic act of defiance by Nemo which results in his capture by divers.  He is taken away to far off Sydney.  Marlin goes after him.  He leaves the reef because there is only one thing he fears more than the open water—losing Nemo.

But just because he leaves the reef, doesn’t mean that he’s found any kind of courage or that he has changed his mind about the dangers of the ocean.  He’s still at the beginning of his adventures.  Marlin enters the phase of the hero’s journey that Campbell calls “The Road of Trials.”  World literature is full of these tests and ordeals.  Often with a supernatural helper, the hero begins to understand that “there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage” (Campbell).

Although Dori isn’t necessarily supernatural, somehow Marlin has a helper which couldn’t be better suited to guide him.  Dori is Marlin’s opposite.  She has what Marlin lacks.  Their difference is symbolically represented in colour.  Marlin is white and orange; Dori is black and blue (blue is opposite orange on the colour wheel).  More importantly, Dori has no short term memory.  Dori can’t remember; Marlin can’t forget.

The Road of Trials

On the perilous road of trials the hero learns a great deal.  And Marlin has a lot to learn.

Marlin’s world is simple—too simple.  He sees the world in the simple terms of safe and dangerous—good and evil, if you will.  The ocean beyond the drop off is simply a very dangerous place and you just don’t go there.

On the road of trials, Marlin learns that his worldview is not adequate and that the world is more complex than he always believed.

His first lesson is that what appears dangerous isn’t necessarily so.  The three sharks are actually very nice fellows.  But they do have some very dangerous weaknesses.  This encounter seriously challenges Marlin’s binary thinking.

The next encounter on the watery road of trials is with the mindless malevolence of the abyssal angler fish.  This encounter, although confirming Marlin’s paranoid worldview, shows Marlin that evil can be overcome.  Not only does he overcome evil, he actually uses it against itself when he employs the fatal lure to shed light for Dori’s reading of the Sydney address on the ski mask.  He had to overcome evil in order to acquire essential information for the completion of his quest.

Then next trial follows the conversation with a school of fish that teases Marlin.  Felling slighted he wants to move on as quickly as possible.   Because he’s not in the mood to listen, he misses vital information.  Dori hears, but, of course, forgets the warning the time they get to the rock.  She doesn’t know why, but she thinks that they should go through a cleft, and not over the rock.  Marlin ignores Dori’s input and chooses the latter route based only on appearances—the cleft looks more perilous, but again, appearances deceive.

Because of his impatience and arrogance, he is forced to deal with the jellyfish—evil here is passive.  It is Marlin’s foolishness that places them in peril—he’s responsible for this one.

The road of trials has problematized Marlin’s worldview.  Good and evil are not nearly as simple as before—he learned that what looks evil might not be, what seems good might be dangerous; he learned that good isn’t the same thing as safe.  He also discovered that sometimes we are a bigger problem that what we call evil.

The Meeting with the Mentor

Marlin and Dori have earned a rest and they find it on the EAC with a bunch of sea turtles.  This is actually a time of preparation that often precedes the greatest trial the hero faces on his mythic journey.

The most important part of this preparation is instruction on parenting from Crush, the turtle, who functions as mentor.  Marlin observes Crush’s parenting in action.  Squirt, Crush’s son, accidently drops out of the current.  Marlin is alarmed and ready to solve the problem for the young turtle.  Crush stops him saying, “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo.”

The young fellow regains the current on his own and is ecstatic. “Whoa, that was so cool! Hey Dad, did you see that?  Did you see me!?  Did you see what I did?”  This is the feeling of accomplishment that can only come with facing and overcoming difficulty.  This is something that Nemo has never experienced, and likely won’t unless something changes.

On the journey the lessons have been taught, and this last piece of wisdom imparted by Crush applies all the lessons to an act of parenting.  Marlin now has the knowledge, but this knowledge has not been internalized.  Marlin still hasn’t really leaned—knowing is not the same thing as doing.  Before Marlin can rescue Nemo, let alone be the father that Nemo needs, the fear resulting from the death of Coral and family must die.  This happens in the belly of the whale.

The Belly of the Whale

Marlin bashes his head against the baleen wall.  He can’t get out. He blames Dori.  He has no hope.  The quest is doomed and he will not be able to tell him how old sea turtles are.  He laments, “I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.”

Dori says, “That’s a funny thing to promise.” She explains, “You can’t never let anything happen to him then nothing would ever happen to him.” This is essentially what Crush told him, but his fear will not allow him to live it.

The whale stops and the water begins to drop.  Dori trusts her partial understanding of the whale’s instructions go to the back his throat.  Marlin has a lot more difficulty trust.  He is convinced the whale is eating them.

Hanging onto the surface of the whale’s tongue above the abyss of the whale’s throat, Dori tells Marlin, “He says it’s time to let go.”  Literally, let go of the tongue, but also to let go of the tragedy in the past that has shaped his view of the world.  His history must no longer define his life, and it certainly can’t define Nemo’s.

“How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” he asks Dori.

She replies, “I don’t.”

He releases his hold on the tongue and plummets into darkness.  The downward movement is symbolically toward death, but the fall changes into the upward movement of resurrection.  He and Dori are propelled out of the whale’s blowhole in a spray of water.

They are in Sydney.

Campbell says, “Allegorically, then, the passage . . . through the jaws of the whale [denotes], in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”  The hero’s emergence is a rebirth.    

We know what happens next.  The hero is now ready to complete his quest and after the belly of the whale, success is virtually assured. Marlin, with some help, successfully rescues of Nemo.  This is a victory, but the real battle had already been won in the belly of the whale.

Master of Both Worlds

We know Marlin has truly been transformed for on the journey home, he allows Nemo to risk his own life to save many fish caught in a net.

There is a moral to the story; this movie offers some pretty good advice on parenting.  But, like all the great stories, it bears far deeper truths than this.  These are universal truths that are repeated in the world’s literature, significantly the Bible.

Here’s the beginning of a list:

  • Things in this world are usually too complex to reduce to simple categories like good and evil.
  • Although it doesn’t make sense, by opening your hands, you can gain so much more.
  • Significant transformation occurs through suffering and times of despair, and these can be followed by a profound joy.

What is the mechanism behind this these universal ideas being found in the world’s literature, and Finding Nemo?  Some say these are evolved patterns, but I’m living as if the mythic truths in all stories echo the Creator’s one story that culminates with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.

Either way, I don’t think you can deny that this film is far more than a morality tale about over-protective parenting.


Zeroes in School Teach Life?

stevepb / Pixabay

An Edmonton teacher feels so strongly about the importance of giving zeroes to students who don’t complete work, that he is putting his job on the line.

The “Hero of Zero” is 35 year veteran physics teacher, Lynden Dorval.  [Read more]  The public is behind him. The CTV news poll on the webpage carrying the story revealed that 93% of readers answered the question, “Should students who don’t complete their schoolwork be given zeros?” in the affirmative.  The reasons behind the 93% are perhaps represented in the comments.

Not Giving Zeros Makes Students Weak

Many felt that to not give a zero was coddling people who ought to have a good hard dose of reality.  Janet B. says,

“if <sic> the prevailing attitude were <sic> education over self-esteem we’d actually have some winners joining our workforce. instead <sic> we get these snivelling <sic>, whining, self-absorbed, loathsome creatures that demand equal pay for inferior work.”

Most of the many comments assumed that to not give a zero meant giving points for work not turned in.  They thought this was absurd—and it is.  Here’s Ted:

Zero work equals Zero mark. What’s the problem? It’s so simple (almost) any idiot could figure it out.

What is a No Zero Policy?

I don’t have all the information regarding the EPS’s no-zero policy, but I understand why we don’t give zeroes at my school. I suspect the reasons are the same.  Almost every comment on the CTV piece indicates a complete misunderstanding of the reasoning behind not giving zeroes.

Fundamentally, the no-zero policy means that students are not allowed to decide they won’t do the work.  And it means that teachers are not allowed to let children get away with deciding not to do the work.  But it’s more than that as well.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”A no-zero policy means that students are not allowed to decide they won’t do the work.  And it means that teachers are not allowed to let children get away with deciding not to do the work. #NoZeroPolicy” quote=”A no-zero policy means that students are not allowed to decide they won’t do the work.  And it means that teachers are not allowed to let children get away with deciding not to do the work.”]

It all comes down to what the marks mean.

What do you want the marks to mean?

Do parents want the physics teacher to give a mark that tells us the percentage of assignment turned in?  It wouldn’t matter if you understood a thing, if the assignment was in you get a 100% and if you don’t turn it in you get a zero.  Only under this scheme do zeroes make sense.

This is not what marks mean.  Marks are supposed to reflect the knowledge/skills/abilities of a student in a specific class. If this is what you are measuring, what does a zero mean?  It means that the student has no knowledge, no skill, and no ability.

But this is not true, or it’s likely not true.  We have no idea, actually, because the kid didn’t turn in the assignment.  We don’t have the necessary data, the data we need is in the missing assignment, so we cannot generate a mark–we cannot give a zero; we cannot give any mark.

The problem is that we’ve been measuring both the quantity and the quality of student work on the on the same scale.  Measuring two different things on the same scale gives us useless information.  And that’s not the worst of it.  Some teachers measure a lot more than two things on the same scale.

Along with measuring knowledge/skills/abilities, marks have also included:

  • attitude (which often translates into,
  • “teacher’s-pet” bonuses,
  • participation (this makes sense in some courses, but to arbitrarily reward extroverts isn’t supportable,
  • the skills and abilities of other students (remember how unfair those shared mark for “group work” were),
  • extra-credit (so we didn’t measure just what the student knows, but how many times they tell us what they know),
  • neatness,
  • practice assignments (does it make sense to include marks for practice assignments in a final mark),
  • attendance,
  • and of course lateness (deduction of 3% per day late) and zeroes for assignments not turned in at all.

For the mark to mean anything, all these things must be removed so that it indicates only what the student knows and what she can do at the time of the assessment or the test is given.

This is not to say that turning ones work in on time (or anything else on the list) is not important, but only that it not be included in the mark.

Theoretically, zeroes can be used under the no-zero policy if it is an accurate representation of what the student knows.  But, it is highly unlikely that the student knows absolutely nothing.

No Zeroes!

The teacher is expected to assess what the student knows or what she can do.  Without data, this is impossible.  The teacher must get the data.  No data, no mark.  Not a zero,  NO MARK!  No mark means no credit. Thanks for coming.  Try next semester.  Try summer school.

Many of the comments scoffed at the official line: “missing assignments are a behavioural issue.”

Those commenting seemed to interpret this line as letting the students getting away with something.  This isn’t the case at all.  The missing assignment is a behavioural issue.  It is unacceptable behaviour and needs to be dealt with like all other unacceptable behaviors: like bullying, vandalism or littering.  We don’t take off marks for littering.  To take marks off for late or missing assignments would amount to the same thing as deducting points for dress code violations.  These are not academic issues, but behavioural ones.

Real World Consequences

A No-Zero Policy is more “real world” than giving zeroes.

If I’m lazy my job at the grocery store, my boss will not deduct from my wages for neglecting to stack the cans of peaches.  He will not smile and suggest I try stacking bananas instead.  He will make me do the peaches, with some additional instruction if necessary, or he will fire me!  A No Zero Policy is like firing a negligent worker.

Those who oppose the No-Zero Policy want to allow children to get away with not doing the work?  Do they think it’s OK for a kid to just decide to skip the assignment, take the zero and pass the class with a 61% instead of 66%?

Is this real world?  Is this teaching consequences?

If a student doesn’t complete the assignments I need in order to assess her learning, she receives no credit for the course.  They are disciplined–which can include detentions, suspensions, and expulsions.  That’s real life.  And it’s much harsher than a little old zero.

One of the main reasons I am in favour of the no-zero policy is how it motivates students.  I have been a teacher for 30 years and I have never seen students more motivated than when all the things that distorted the marks were removed and student understood what the marks meant and what specifically they could do about it.

In Defence of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption

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“And they lived happily ever after.”  In fairy tales, the good are elevated to their rightful position and the universal longing is satisfied.  So gratifying is the happily-ever-after ending that, not only does nearly every fairy tale end with it, but almost every story we tell.

In Notting Hill, Hugh Grant rushes across town with all his quirky friends to tell the gorgeous superstar, Julia Roberts, that he’d like to date her again and they get married on top of it all.  In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks almost miss each other on the top of the Empire State Building but don’t.

It’s not just the romantic comedies.  In Zombieland, after they escape from thousands of the undead at the carnival, Jesse Eisenberg finally gets the family he’s always wanted and I doubt Emma Stone will fill the role of sister.  And my all-time favourite, in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Bruce Willis shoots Jeremy Irons through a pre-existing bullet hole in his shoulder and wins the day and the girl.

We know it’s going to happen, and we love it every time it does.  The fairy tale “depicts over and over an upward development, the overcoming of mortal dangers and seemingly insoluble problems, the path toward marriage with the prince or princess, toward kingship or gold and jewels.”  The crown and royal robe which we often find adorning the protagonist at the end of so many fairy tales “make visible the splendor and brilliance of the great perfection achieved inwardly” (Lüthi).

The movement of Cinderella from a lowly and hopeless state to that of a princess is a move “from an unauthentic existence [to the] commencement of a true one” (Lüthi).  Through supernatural intervention, she is transformed and ultimately married to the prince.  In this story, as in the best fairy tales, the “conflict is resolved, and happiness, joy, and contentment become the optimistic expression of hope for a world as it should be” (Meider 91).

Not Yet Happy Ever After

Although it is our deep desire, it is not our experience.  Buechner understands that the major difference between our world and that of the fairy tale is that in the battle between good and evil, the good don’t necessarily live happily ever after.

In the Christian worldview, redemption has been achieved, but not yet ultimately fulfilled.  Mankind is not yet living “happily ever after.”

The “sudden joyous ‘turn’” at the end of a faerie story, says Tolkien, does not deny that sorrow and failure are very real, but in the happy ending we get “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world.”   But even so, Tolkien believes that the “The Consolation of the Happy Ending,” is the fairy tale’s “highest function.”  Without it, the fairy tale is incomplete.

The joy we experience is “a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.”  For Tolkien, “all happy endings . . .  give us an underlying glimpse of, the ultimate Creator’s one fairy-story that culminates . . . with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ” (Northrup)—In other words, the Fulfillment all of God’s promises.

Fairy tales return us to reality; the hope of redemption which is rooted in God’s promise that he will renew his creation and his people.

Creation – Fall – Redemption – Fulfillment

In fairy tales, we find the fundamental Biblical truths regarding Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Fulfillment—the essence of the biblical worldview.  This is not to say that reading faerie tales is the same as reading the Bible, or that we can just leave our children alone to consume them.  Who but parents can better make the connections for children that we have made here?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”To declare all fairy tales and fantasy literature as harmful suggests one may hold to a rationalist understanding of reality, rather than a Biblical one. #fantasy #fairytales #creationfallredemption” quote=”To declare all fairy tales and fantasy literature as harmful suggests one may hold to a rationalist understanding of reality, rather than a Biblical one. “]

Fairy tales present a world that inspires awe and wonder and a condition of obedience; they wrestle with the presence of evil in the world, the presence of which evokes a longing for a marriage to a prince; they show that evil can be overcome but not by our own efforts; and in the happy ending, they give us hope that one day all will be restored.  Christians, then, ought not to see fairy tales as a dangerous distraction from reality, but an invitation to reality.

Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (1) – Introduction
Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation
Read In Defence of Fairy Tales (3)Fall



Lüthi, Max.  Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington:IndianaUniv. Press, 1979

Meider, Wolfgang.  “Grimm Variations From Fairy Tales to Modern Anti-Fairy Tales.”  The Germanic Review.  62.2 (1987) : 90-102.

Buechner, Fredrick.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. San Fransisco: Harpers, 1977.

Northrup, ClydeB.  “The Qualities of a Tolkienian Fairy-Story.”  Modern Fiction Studies. 50.4 (2004) : 814-837.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Monsters and the Critics.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

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