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The Sun editorial: Who is the real psycho? Backlash in Hamburg, after clips from R-rated movies are shown to middle school kids

HAMBURG — From all reports, the scene was absolutely volatile at the Hamburg School Board meeting last week, and no wonder, as attendees were up in arms about movie scenes their youngsters had been subjected to, against their – and their parents’ – wills.

We have all heard tales of kids’ brandishing fake IDs and sneaking into R-rated movies to get themselves a good thrill. Many of us, as youngsters, peeked through our fingers at slasher movies that played on our home TVs, wincing at the alarming amount of fake blood squirting at us from the screen.

But, as 13-year-olds, most of us would not have hopped aboard the school bus on our way to middle school, anticipating being shown a movie that critics have called “intentionally sleazy,” “gruesome” and “the film that set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior and sexuality in American films.”

“Psycho,” the Alfred Hitchcock thriller that famously shows the stabbing death of a nude woman in the shower, was not created for young students in a special education class. Its intended audience is mature adults; hence, the R-rating.

The Classification & Rating Administration routinely admonishes people to “check the box” and make sure movies are age-appropriate for their viewers.

The teacher who popped “Psycho” into the DVD player either forgot that horror films are meant for adults, had a moment in which he or she looked at the classroom and thought it was full of grown-ups, or misunderstood the R-rating.

Just so it’s out there, R-rated movies are classified as “restricted.” Those younger than age 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, to watch the film in theaters.

Despite that guideline, clips from “Psycho,” “The Shining” and “Child’s Play” (remember “Chucky?”), all R-rated thrillers, were open to viewing by kids in middle school.

The school’s excuse was that the material was meant to supplement the course’s discussion of fear, and scrutinize things that cause that emotion.

Unfortunately, the students themselves became the lab rats into which the serum of terror was injected.

What is almost just as bad, the school administrators seemed to have had no prior knowledge that these clips were going to be shown to the students entrusted to them.

The interim superintendent of schools wisely posted a response to the accusations onto the school’s website almost immediately. I respect that he did not merely ignore the situation, but decided to tackle it head-on.

It was unclear to me, from Richard Jetter’s response, whether the clips were all taken directly from Scholastic™’s curriculum, or if the teacher him or herself showed them to the class outside of the provided coursework.

It seems that the teacher added at least the “Psycho” scene, due to Jetter’s admitting that the clip was shown “outside of the curricular materials.”

If that is the case, I find it appalling that a teacher would show 13-year-olds scenes from slasher films without checking with a superior at the school first, or obtaining parent consent. Not every mother and father is OK with a child’s watching this type of bloody violence, and, ergo, being subjected to endless nightmares.

I trust that Hamburg will put more checks and balances into its system, so this type of content will not slip through the cracks again. I hope that a meeting of the minds would completely deter slasher films’ from being shown in middle school – or any school, outside of dedicated college film studies – classrooms. Surely the worthy teachers and administrators in our communities would know to say enough is enough.

If Scholastic did, in fact, play a role in this misjudgment, it needs to change its curriculum, and fast. That company has a pretty good reputation – so far – but I don’t know many schools that wouldn’t think twice after finding out that their students could be sent home in tears from what they’d seen in class.
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