My parents sent me to University Private School of Montessori and it was a common thing for Miss Carol, the principal, to collect movies for us to watch. Each movie had an educational aspect but she never chose anything excessively boring for obvious reasons. The amazing part about the “excessively boring” qualification was that these were the same movies that English teachers would like to show that do indeed bore high school students. Miss Carol had a healthy array of Shakespeare plays and biographies, countless videos about ancient Greece, and one or two historical films along with the common place school house rock and peanuts films. I remember watching each and every Shakespeare play but aside from what everything looked and sounded like and the titles of the plays, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the stories. I remember being fascinated by all the images and artifacts of ancient Greece but I learned all my details in high school world history. I can recite the preamble and, Elementary, my dear, 2 times 2 is 4. However, as much and as little as these other videos stayed with me, the one I remember most clear is 1776. So much so that years after the last time I saw it (And I never made it further than the first half of the film before my parents would pick me up from after school care) I looked it up again online searching thoroughly and wading through all other historical films before I came across the one that mentioned a musical and songs with titles I remember.
It’s harder to hear and keep up with songs when we’re younger and they use bigger words than we know. Of all the words I could catch and keep, I never forgot them. The tunes I could replicate I’d hum whenever I thought of the movie. And to this day I haven’t been able to find the movie to watch the second half. Nevertheless, even the first half was ridiculously educational as only because of it do I know Thomas Jefferson wrote the declaration, that it was signed in 1776, that the representatives didn’t actually want to part from England, that nobody liked John Adams, and that Philadelphia was exceedingly hot and no one would open up that window. The movie has left me with a curios want to know more about the founding of our country and with it how our country works and what has happened over time. I do not know more about our government than every other high school senior but I do, indeed, know more about it than any of my friends and my parents (Though my mom is a blogger on daily kos and keeps up better than me on recent political activities, I’ll give her that.)
Nowadays, it’s so hard to locate a student that doesn’t learn something for a class but rather because they want to. It’s a sad fact but it’s true and the United States is only coming out with more and more tests, focusing more and more on them, that require students to learn to pass the test before the basic things they need to know for life. Almost everything we do in school is for a test and that makes it hard to learn the things we want to. Walking into AP US History I thought it would be a wonderful course because it was about something I’m passionate about, too. Instead there was so much work and everything went so fast I couldn’t take the time I wanted to actually read about the subject and ended up barely passing both the course and the test. My love of history didn’t help.
Nevertheless, this failure of the school system has not stopped me from wanting to learn and even if the course didn’t give me the knowledge I wanted I have found it on my own. Spurred on by wanting to understand " ‘Vote for yes!’ ‘NO!’ ‘Vote for independency!’ ‘Someone oughta open up a window!’ " I have stopped to read about the constitutional convention, its reasons and affects, and all things that came after. Starting with this one movie I have branched out to watch other political movies in class and out, not falling asleep as my classmates are prone to do. My now second favorite, introduced to me by our AP government teacher, is Smith goes to Washington; a wonderful movie that both outlines corruption in our governments via political machines and the amazing power of the filibuster in making our democracy work.
A further fascinating set of facts about this movie and its partner in crime (In my mind) are the trivia questions you can find about both. My most favorite musical piece in 1776 is Richard Henry Lee’s song piece and I thought it cute that the fountain he nearly falls into is the same fountain the Friends cast plays in during the opening sequence (But I have to admit, I think the Friends cast brings shame to the place in face of Richard Henry Lee’s greatness.) On a different note entirely, all of the songs sang in duet between Adams and his wife, Abigail, end the way their letters to each other always did: ‘till then. Many lines in the movie were direct quotes the founding fathers themselves said, all the way down to Adam’s own statements about being disliked. By far the most interesting piece of trivia about 1776, though, is that Richard Nixon asked for the song Cool, Cool, Considerate Men to be cut from the film and it took some luck for the reconstructers to include it back in when the movie was released for the second time. The song, after having found and read the lyrics, is about the men representing the big business supportive party celebrating that they have the good life hinting at corruption. It’s no wonder Nixon was offended.
Likewise, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was denounced by some governments in America for its show of corruption and was similarly denounced by fascist states of Europe because Democracy worked. However, it is known that when Germany banned showing American films in French theaters in 1942, many played this movie as the last before the ban went into affect.
I am sad to say most of these wonderfully accurate historical and political films are overlooked by teenagers. The only place to see them is in class and of course teens are so burnt out by the work load that a movie is only an excuse to sleep. Even I, as fascinated as I am by most educational films, end up sleeping through the majority of them because homework keeps me up so late. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been exposed to 1776 before homework got in the way and before the public school system could fail me so spectacularly that I no longer wanted to learn. Because my elementary school principal showed me this inspirational movie before my brain was burnt out and unusable, I have not become numb and desensitized to its importance and greatness.
My eternal thanks to you, Miss Carol, and to the genius writers who gave this world such an awesome film.