In Honor of Betsy DeVos: A Recent History of Teachers Getting Suspended for Showing Students…

By  · Published on February 8th, 2017

In Honor of Betsy DeVos: A Recent History of Teachers Getting Suspended for Showing Students Inappropriate Movies

And a reminder that every one of these people are more qualified than DeVos.

Yesterday afternoon, public school neophyte Betsy DeVos was named the Education Secretary thanks to an unprecedented tie-breaker by Vice President Mike Pence. Now, I’ve made a promise to the editors at Film School Rejects that not every article I write will be some thinly veiled commentary on political headlines, and I plan to fulfill that promise. That being said, should you decide to see some sort of metaphor for the future of public education in this article about the poor decision-making skills demonstrated by these five teachers, I can’t stop you from doing so. I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

Before we get started, though, one quick disclaimer. Occasionally, a teacher will decide to show a film with mature ‐ but not necessarily inappropriate ‐ content, only to come into conflict with a parent over the material presented. In 2003, for example, a Michigan English teacher used edited clips from the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of Dracula to augment his class’s lesson plan on the Bram Stoker novel. While the Huron Daily Tribune notes that the teacher did not clear the selection ahead of time, in my eyes, there’s a huge difference between teachers toeing the line to engage their students and someone simply throwing on a highly inappropriate film to kill some classroom time. This article will focus on the latter.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it, shall we?

January 29, 2006: The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Lexington, Kentucky)

Unlike some of the other news items on this list, this NBC News article takes the time to explain exactly why high school Spanish teacher Fernando Del Pinto was suspended for playing his students a copy of The 40-Year-Old Virgin instead of, you know, teaching them Spanish. The school’s media policy clearly states that “[movies] must be part of the lesson plan with genuine instruction objectives,” and even if Del Pinto decided to play the film with its Spanish subtitles on ‐ what, do kids not watch Muzzy anymore? ‐ it’s hard to see any real educational purpose in this.

Perhaps the best/worst part of the article, though, is Del Pinto’s defense that he decided to show the film sight unseen after a student brought it to class and described it as funny. Just to make the timeline on that perfectly clear: The 40-Year-Old Virgin hit theaters on August 19, 2005, before being released on DVD on December 13, 2005. That means that Del Pinto had nearly six months to do even the most cursory investigation of the film, the actors involved, or the MPAA rating before throwing it into the DVD player on the whim. Apparently, the only Spanish words his students learn are the names of the things he has lying around his classroom.

June 10, 2013: Saw (Paris, France)

Most of the time, when a teacher shows students an inappropriate film, there’s some element of ignorance or apathy in play. Not so with French sixth grade teacher Jean-Baptiste Clément. According to an article on Today, Clément made a conscious decision to show his students Saw, a horror film noted for its graphic violence and brutality. Not only that, the teacher prefaced his selection by telling his students, “This will be your first horror film.” You have the entire history of the horror genre at your disposal ‐ not to mention a native country that just changed the face of horror with its New French Extremity movement ‐ and you decide to go with Saw? Talk about adding insult to injury.

And that punishment! For all of the above, Clément was hit with… a one-day suspension. It’s hard to imagine that sort of thing flying in the United States. Some of the kids went home visibly shaken? A one-day suspension. One of the fathers called the school to complain that his son appeared to be in a state of shock? A one-day suspension. I’m not sure whether I want to celebrate France’s openness or condemn the school district for giving Clément a three-day weekend at the end of the school year. Here’s to the horror fans those kids might have grown up to be if their development hadn’t been rudely interrupted.

May 20, 2015: Fifty Shades of Grey (Hampshire County, West Virginia)

If you read this New York Daily News article fast enough, you might be inclined to feel sorry for the teacher in questions. After all, the teacher was tricked into showing the erotic thriller as a reward for her students’ good work, suggesting that her high school class conspired to pull one over the hard-working teacher and get her into trouble. And yet! And yet, here we have another teacher who can’t be bothered to do the most basic search for a movie before putting it on for her students. The article specifically notes that films are forbidden in the classroom in that particular school district. You want to risk administrative action for an unknown title?

As for the idea that the teacher did not know Fifty Shades of Grey, well, color me fifty shades of skeptical about that. The novel was a worldwide phenomenon before it even had a brick-and-mortar publisher; even if you are morally opposed to erotica, what are the odds that you wouldn’t have seen articles like this Fox News essay condemning the film adaptation for its glamorization of “sexual violence” or this Christianity Today article showing the difficulty evangelicals have in coming to terms with the book? Nobody believes you, Nameless Hampshire Teacher. You’re not fooling any of us.

March 31, 2016: The Passion of the Christ (Little Rock, Arkansas)

Stupidity can be funny; religious discrimination is not. According to local television station WGZR, Wilbur D. Mills High School history teacher Greg Hendrix forced his students to watch The Passion of the Christ, the hyper-violent ‐ and plenty anti-Semitic ‐ Mel Gibson film detailing the death of Jesus Christ at the hands of the Pharisees. According to a local ACLU leader, Henrdix had previously yelled at his students about how “liberals and Democrats” were trying to violate his first amendment rights, making this film selection less about history and more about propaganda.

As if the above were not enough, the article also notes that the film screening resulted in several members of the high school being bullied throughout the week. There is a bright side to all of this: five students refused to stay in class for the screening, choosing to walk out in acknowledgement of their classmates with different religious backgrounds. Hopefully, in twenty years, the only thing these students will remember about Greg Hendrix is that he helped kickoff a lifetime of political activism. It’s not too much to ask that a few of them become teachers, right?

April 27, 2016: The Human Centipede 2 (Jackson, Tennessee)

Tennessee, it’s like you’re not even trying. I can somewhat understand why my high school history teacher chose to show us The Patriot in the middle of a lesson plan on the American Revolution. It may be both a bad and painfully ahistorical film, but at least we accidentally learned something from the costume design and sets. But The Human Centipede 2? A meta-exploitation film about a grotesque shut-in who decides to kidnap and sew people together? Did your lesson plan for that afternoon involve a bunch of day drinking and a winning lottery ticket?

Unfortunately, the logic behind this decision was never actually uncovered by reporters during the news cycle. The most USA Today could offer was a few harsh words from the superintended and confirmation that the teacher had been suspended. I will probably go my whole life without discovering if there is life on other planets or where we go when we die, but this, there’s an answer to this, some lizard-brain logic that drove an otherwise responsible adult to show kids a movie where people’s mouths and rectums are surgically attached. You want a Pulitzer, Tennessee reporters? Give me a reason for The Human Centipede 2. I’m begging you.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)