It should go without saying that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is not an appropriate film to be shown in a middle school class.
Unfortunately, that message never reached the Hamburg Middle School teacher who thought it was a good idea to show a scene from the horror film classic to a group of special education students.
If it weren’t for Terry Dunford’s 13-year-old daughter telling him about the video clip, the situation may not have come to light. She told her dad about seeing a nude woman in a shower and blood on the floor.
The scene is terrifying even to adults. Who could forget the knife-wielding scene in the 1960 movie featuring Janet Leigh, whose blood moviegoers are to presume is swirling down the drain? The actual stabbing was never shown, but the horror was real enough, with shrill music adding to the suspense.
But the teacher’s lesson didn’t stop at “Psycho.” It also included clips from “The Shining,” where Jack Nicholson, his face contorted maniacally, chops away at a door with an ax, terrorizing his wife, and another scene from “Child’s Play,” featuring that scariest and most murderous of dolls, Chuckie.
Dunford, speaking before the Hamburg School Board, said the special education teacher added the “Psycho” clip to a video that the district had purchased several years ago from Scholastic, which provides educational materials to the school district. The lesson? On how sights and sounds can generate fear, which also became the basis for showing scenes from “The Shining” and “Child’s Play.”
Now, we understand that young people are well acquainted with violence on television and in movies and video games. The enormous success of the Call of Duty video game franchise testifies to that. And according to one estimate, by the time children reach 18 years of age they have seen 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders, on TV alone.
Safe to say that kids these days have been exposed to more grisly action on various media than their parents and grandparents, and it’s been a lot more than a 50-year-old movie can deliver.
Still, there must be a way to convey a lesson to middle schoolers without resorting to disturbing scenes from these films, no matter how “classic” they are.