The Hollywood octopus, through the good offices of the National Council of Teachers of English, has enfolded yet another phase of national life in its ubiquitous grasp. The Council has decided that by attending selected current movies, and by subsequently discussing them in the classroom, school-children can be taught to judge and appreciate the cinema. This opinion is new being tested experimentally on 10,000 children; later, if all goes well, 6,000,000 senior and junior high school students of the country will be allowed to exercise their critical faculties in this manner. The teachers hope for the development of "desirable ideals and attitudes" by this step. "Shall we consider in our schools," they ask, "the ethical aspects of character conflicts depicted on the screens of neighborhood theatres, or shall we confine ourselves to the traditional classics of the printed page?"
The proposed innovation, then, is intended to teach children something of the drama; but it proposes to do this through a medium which has hitherto presented dramatic principles in a form grotesquely distorted at best. Cinematic themes are commonly a patchwork of the efforts of several authors, or have been hacked piecemeal by the rewrite-men. The "character conflicts" are arranged in accordance with the meretricious morality of Will Hayes, and the acting is too often a mere exposition of secondary sexual characters. When genuine works of art are remodeled to conform to the movie-goers taste, the author's subtleties and fine touches are deleted in a surpassingly stupid manner. This was only too painfully obvious to those who saw the screen version of "An American Tragedy" or who watched the final scene in the Hollywood conception of "A Farewell to Arms," where Lieutenant Henry grasps Katherine's corpse in his arms, looks out of the window at an Armistice demonstration, and loudly exclaims: "Peace."
The aim of the English teachers is an excellent one, but their method of attaining their end is questionable. Children, to be sure, should be taught both to appreciate the good and to distinguish the bad in aesthetic matters. But in this instance, they are being introduced to one of the worst of the modern travesties on art, before they have more than skimmed the surface of real drama and literature. They have no foundation on which to base any satisfactory evaluation of the movies' actual place in the history of the theatre. Aside from the harmful effects of regarding the movies as something of artistic value, this new plan indicates a worm's eye view of the eternal verities which if assimilated would mark the present generation of school children with the Hollywood curse for life.