Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Social Justice

Anthony Perrotta Teaches his Students how to Read Movies.


For Anthony Perrotta’s high school class, movies are part of the daily curriculum. Perrotta, who teaches at Chaminade College School in North York, uses popular films as a powerful tool to further classroom dialogue on Catholic values and conscious media consumption.

I’ve been using films as a teaching tool in my classroom for years. If you’re going to be showing a movie in class, I think you had best be teaching it. Technology and media can be used to empower students to be critical, creative, provoking, and active citizens.

We watch movies in my class, and we also head out to the cinema. We’ve watched Iron Man, the new Cinderella and Star Wars: Rogue One. Some of my colleagues might joke in the staff room that we’re watching yet another movie, but this is where students are. Films and popular culture are the literacy that students know, so we have to open up a discussion about values and provide them with the tools to decode meaning, in order to actively produce and provoke change.

In the age of social media and massive online streaming, I want my students to be active consumers and recognize what the artifacts they consume are saying about the world in which they live – whether it’s issues about race, inequality, class, or sexuality. In order to understand media, we need to understand our own values. We need to understand that media constructs values. A lot of the conversation in the classroom anchors popular films in things that are happening in the real world. Some of the subjects we touch on in the lessons can be uncomfortable, so it’s important to be very critically astute and aware of the contemporary issues going on today.

I try to tie the films we watch to exploring Catholic values. With the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, what does Elliot from ET teach us about social justice? At a time where women are displaced from the engineering community, what can we learn about resilience and respect from the female characters at the helm of the new Ghostbusters? After my students view the films, they need to complete a film journal that challenges them to answer reflection questions. The questions act as prompts to help them make connections about how lessons in the film can help them see and understand their own world. We discuss how to apply these lessons in real life. For instance, we can see how The Force in Star Wars is very similar to our faith - if we trust in it, it will help guide us through the challenges we face.

Whenever I can, I also try to connect my students with the people behind the films to discuss what they are learning. With Rogue One, we had the chance to Skype with the screenwriter to talk about how the film introduced war, and related it to the current political space. The school year culminates with students producing their own projects that apply both the technical and values-based lessons they’ve learned throughout the year. This project is really important because it gives students an opportunity to share their voice through new media applications, and to think critically about the content they are producing and the values that drive the decisions their characters make.