Taking the Movies to School: Science, Efficiency, and the Motion Picture Project, 1929-1939


  • Lindsay Pattison Concordia University


HIC, 2006, Lindsay Pattison


Recognition of the educational potential of film sparked an interest in the use of motion pictures as an effective teaching aid as opposed to their more common association with commercial public entertainment. In the interwar period, the use of motion pictures in education was becoming more popular, yet it was plagued by fiscal and technical problems and organizational inefficiencies. Due to anxieties over its wasteful misuse, during the 1930s, film in the American classroom became the focus of educational reformers looking to promote efficiency in teaching. This increased attention to the practical uses of the motion picture led to the American Council on Education's Motion Picture Project. Through teacher-training conferences, the publication of detailed film catalogues, and a project of student and teacher film surveys, the Project endeavoured to address the pedagogical difficulties associated with motion pictures, and to provide teachers with the tools necessary to use this medium more effectively in their curricula. Currently, both the social history of motion pictures and the history of educational reform ignore the important educational role films played in American schools. The decade preceding the Second World War is particularly significant to film history because it represents a crucial transitional period in which the motion picture came to be not solely an entertainment medium, but also an effective educational tool.

Author Biography

Lindsay Pattison, Concordia University

Lindsay Pattison l_pattis@alcor.concordia.ca is a doctoral student in the History Department at Concordia University, Montreal. Her research interests include twentieth-century North American social and cultural history with an emphasis on alternative sport and new media.