‘Barbenheimer’ has attracted people to cinemas in numbers not seen since pre-Covid, providing a great opportunity for teachers to relax and enjoy some entertaining films over the summer holidays. However, these movies also contain valuable themes that can enhance our practice as educators.
Here are five things we can consider:
Let’s start with Oppenheimer. This film offers excellent discussion points for RME (Religious and Moral Education) lessons, particularly regarding moral dilemmas. Throughout the film, Oppenheimer and his colleagues are driven by their exciting scientific breakthroughs and the intellectual pursuit of their work. However, they are also aware that their discoveries will be used to create a new weapon of genocide. Can the scientists distance themselves from the deaths in Hiroshima? Are the politicians solely to blame? Or, given the threat of the Nazis, did the scientists make the right decision? What do students believe should be done about nuclear weapons today? There are countless potential discussion topics for students to debate.
Oppenheimer also provides an opportunity to discuss STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers, the importance of science, and how different disciplines complement each other. Oppenheimer himself was not particularly skilled in mathematics. Would he have been a better scientist if he had been stronger in this area? He did not work alone but collaborated with other scientists who possessed expertise in different fields. There are numerous exciting branches of science and new discoveries being made constantly.
You may have heard that the Barbie movie includes several references to patriarchy. This presents an opportunity to consider and reflect on how patriarchy manifests in the classroom. Girls are still underrepresented in STEM subjects (and there were far fewer women scientists in the Oppenheimer movie). What are the barriers that still exist for girls? Research indicates that girls perceive teachers as making more effort to engage boys during lessons. Is this having an impact? Are we adequately addressing the interests and needs of girls? What do students think about this?
Recently, a story went viral about a mother withdrawing her daughter from a school trip because she was expected to be a “buddy” to ensure good behaviour from a peer. The mother believed it was unfair to expect this emotional labour from a nine-year-old girl. Are we still placing the responsibility for the behaviour of others on compliant girls? Do we seat certain students next to “nice girls” because we expect them to be a positive influence? In a monologue from the Barbie movie, actor America Ferrera states, “You have to answer for men’s bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.” Are we sending girls dangerous messages that could impact their safety in the future?
Speaking of the now famous monologue, Ferrera also delivers a powerful line: “You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” In our patriarchal society, where even exceptional girls can go unnoticed, are we truly seeing and uplifting girls? Are we acknowledging their potential, their promise, and their unique talents? Are we celebrating their achievements and encouraging them to believe in themselves? By recognizing and nurturing the abilities and strengths of girls, we can help them overcome self-doubt and societal expectations, allowing them to thrive and reach their full potential.