Reading Polls and Teaching Citizenship in American Political Behavior: Making Inferences from Statistical Data

The question of what predictions one can make from political polls has been a hotly contested one this political campaign. Despite the appearance of scientific certainty, who’s ahead in a poll is reliant on the demographic make-up of the polling audience. For example, when Romney was behind in the polls before the first presidential debate his advocates suggested that pollers were under representing his supporters.

Shirley Engle, a former Indiana University professor of education and director of the Social Studies Development Center (SSDC), addressed the issue of what exactly you can learn from polls in his 1969 educational film Making Inferences from Statistical Data, one of the educational films held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and available for viewing online along with several other IU produced films. Okay, not a barnburner of a title and the film itself is rather staid. But stick with me here.

IU social studies professor Shirley Engle informs the young electorate.

No one said making well-informed democratically-minded citizens was a blast. Though leaning towards the functionally pragmatic in terms of filmmaking – the film is mostly a staged version of a class discussing polls and what they might have revealed about demographics and political beliefs – Engle was working to transform social studies from a rote memorization of facts to a politically engaged subject built off of the concerns and experiences of students.

Students heartily engaged in polling education in Bloomington, IN.

The film was part of a program to train social studies instructors in teaching the subject in this then new progressive manner. This particular module focuses on the limits of reading data. John Patrick, the director of the SSDC after Engle, leads a group of Bloomington -area high school students, all white, through data on how different demographics groups voted in recent elections. The students then attempt to infer whether these different groups were more likely to vote Republican or Democrat.  Showing the strong brand continuity of these political parties the general conclusions more or less hold true in 2012. Older people tended to vote Republican while younger generations trended towards the Democrats. Republicans attracted white voters while the Democratic Party was more closely aligned with minority voters.

Students forming their own opinions and conclusions about polling data.

But what is revealing about this film is the degree to which Patrick attempts to place the students’ findings in dialogue with each other. It might seem like a minor detail, but while he leads the class from one topic to another, it is the students who present the conclusions. Patrick doesn’t tell them what to believe. They analyze the evidence and come to a consensus on the limits of reading into polls.

Engle was greatly concerned that what he termed the “authoritarian school climate” would prevent students from growing into politically active well-informed citizens. To counter that dictatorial pedagogy, this film models a classroom where students come to their own conclusions, but, importantly for Engle, they are conclusions based on a considered reading of empirical data and are tested through group dialogue.

While as a piece of filmmaking Making Inferences from Statistical Data might mirror Engle’s button-downed appearance, the film and its maker were advocating for a transformation in how educators helped students become politically aware. In reading his writings from the time of the film, Engle almost comes off as a political radical despite his moderate appearance of a flattop haircut and grey suit. This gap between the film, created to instruct as clearly as possible, and the more revolutionary approach to pedagogy that undergirds it, point to the necessity in placing these educational films in the theoretical contexts in which they were made.

Engle smiles at the idea of helping students for their own political opinions.

This is the first blog post in a two-part look at how educational films addressed politics. Tune in next week for an examination of Study of Government.

~Andy Uhrich

IULFA and World Day For AudioVisual Heritage

In 2005, UNESCO, in order to raise awareness of the wealth and significance of A/V materials and collections as documents of tradition, heritage, and culture, as well as to raise awareness of issues regarding preservation and access, declared October 27th as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. In the years since, institutions ranging from libraries and archives to cultural centers to A/V professional associations have used this day of consciousness-raising to share and showcase how audio visual media enriches our understanding of history and heritage.

Home Movie Day is an example of how our heritage is expressed through media. Here is an image of an IU football game from the 1950s, taken at the IU Cinema on Home Movie Day 2012.

Last year, for example, The Israel National Commission for UNESCO took October 27th as a day to publicly screen rare and special materials from the repositories of Israeli film archives in seven Cinematheques throughout the country.  The Polish National Audiovisual Institute planned its yearly Culture 2.0 conference around World Day for Audiovisual heritage, with researchers and activists discussing ideas of heritage, media, and cultural literacy.  And the Philippines, the last standing country without a national film archive, released new plans for the National Film Archive of the Philippines, in Manila which, as of this year, has just begun and, in fact, participated in the 2012 Home Movie Day

The theme for this year, which is hosted by the International Association for Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) is “Audiovisual Heritage Memory?  The Clock Is Ticking.” This statement highlights the belief among A/V professionals that the next couple of decades are of critical importance when it comes to preserving A/V materials.  As Mike Casey and Bruce Gordon noted in “Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation,” sound archives (and, it could surely be argued, film and video archives as well) “have reached a critical point in their history marked by the simultaneous  rapid deterioration of unique original materials, the development of expensive and powerful new digital technologies, and the consequent decline of analog formats and media.”  In other words – materials are getting older, more outdated, and are harder to fix.

Here at the Indiana University Library Film Archive (IULFA), we struggle with these issues of decay and obsolescence every day.  It’s a challenge that can be particularly poignant and potent when working to preserve and make accessible materials that represent the cultural heritage and history of the area where we live.  Handling unique or rare regionally produced materials such as the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center educational films from the 1940s-1980s is unambiguous evidence of the historical and cultural relevance of audiovisual materials.

Those interested in a sampling of some of the educational materials we have available that deal with the Midwest’s cultural and economic heritage in particular might want to take a look at the following films, digitized and made accessible on the IULFA website.  These represent only a sliver of the Hoosier-centric materials we are currently accessioning, cataloging, preserving, and digitizing, and we plan to highlight some of this films in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned!

Tales of the Rails, 1990

Provides an anecdotal account of the history of the American railroad in the Midwest through personal interviews and historical photographs. Features stories fondly recounted by old-timers who grew up along the tracks in Iowa, and highlights the importance of trains to daily life while capturing their aura of mystery and excitement.

Limestone, 1978

It is impossible to live in Indiana and not be aware of the cultural, historical, and economic significance of the limestone industry. This film, produced by Indiana University’s School of Education, explains and simulates the formation of sedimentary rock, focusing on the importance of limestone as a natural resource.

In The Rapture / The Rapture Family, 1976

“In The Rapture” documents a local production of a traditional black church musical drama portraying man’s struggle to resist the temptations of Satan and follow Jesus.  The companion film features eight members of the “rapture family” discussing the drama’s significance with Dr. Herman Hudson, Dean for Afro-American Affairs, and Dr. William H. Wiggins, Jr., Professor of Afro-American Studies, Indiana University.

New Harmony: An Example and A Beacon, 1971

Traces the history and significance of New Harmony, Indiana, from its communal origins to its contemporary renaissance as an historic landmark.  A must for anyone interested in vernacular architecture and local history.

 

~Josephine McRobbie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presenting … Marching Band Fundamentals Parts 1 and 2

“Everyone likes to watch and listen to a marching band as it goes swaying by in perfect rhythm. It looks easy, this marching and playing together.  It may look easy, but many long hours of practice were necessary to turn these already accomplished musicians into a crack marching outfit.”

It is not often that, while standing on a corner waiting to cross a street, you hear a car blasting “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. More often — especially at college football games or parades for any given given holiday (particularly patriotic ones) — you’re likely to hear Sousa being blasted by a marching band. Whether the average American thinks about marching bands very often may not be quantifiable. It is clear that those who are in or are an alumni of a marching band think about it a lot (if you Google “marching band sport” you’ll see plenty of passionate essays seeking to legitimize the activity to the mainstream and revealing just how difficult — and engrossing — it is)Major competitions happen often, and band members spend much of their free time rehearsing not just the music but the minutiae that a very long history of marching bands demand to create, as the narrator of the film says, a “crack marching outfit.”

Marching band member with tidy hair and clean uniform.

Marching Band Fundamentals, one of the many educational films produced by the IU Audio-Visual Center which is now held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA), explores this minutiae, yes, but more accurately serves as a live instruction guide for directors and “bandsmen.” For those of us who were never part of a marching band the details might be overwhelming. Notice the amount of military terms that occur before the six minute mark (“rank,” “file” “paces”, etc.). And, of course, the emphasis on shiny shoes and nice haircuts.

These “bandsmen” are actually women!

The observant viewer will notice many “bandsmen” whose haircuts may not be as tidy as the others; that’s because they’re women, referred to over and over again as “bandsmen” and “he.” This is not uncommon for educational films of this era, but the camera’s focus on these members of the band while the narrator uses gendered terms might be disconcerting for  the 21st-Century viewer or, at the very least, cause some confusion when curls spill out of members’ caps.

Perhaps an image that comes into the viewers mind as they watch the band go through their very specific motions is one of a stifling auditorium or gym filled with marching band members laboriously attempting to learn the commands from the film, as if they were dance instructions or a jazzercise video. Based on the very pedantic nature of the film it could have been used as such, so long as the projector was able to be stopped and the film rewound to repeat unclear commands. More than likely, however, it was for fledgling band directors in need of a refresher or for band director’s assistants who were in training. This assumption is made based on the work of the two men responsible for writing the film.

Daniel L. Martino came to Indiana University in 1948 from Ohio University where he quickly established four concert units in the Department of Bands. Famously, he was the director of the Indiana University Marching Hundred which was deemed by John Philip Sousa in 1925 to be “the snappiest marching and playing band in the country.” During Mr. Martino’s tenure as the director of the Marching Hundred the band made three consecutive appearances at the Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, and, in 1953, was part of Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural parade in Washington, D.C. In 1952 Martino released a book entitled Effective School Band Management which likely served as the textual counterpart to this film.

The Hobart City School Marching Band

Richard A. Worthington, Martino’s co-writer, was band director for Hobart City Schools, an Indiana town just South of Chicago, and was working on his doctorate at the time of the film’s creation. Later he took a position at Northern Illinois Teachers College. Their embrace of film for marching band education makes sense; diagrams, commands, and marching figures are much clearer on film, can be shown again and again, and were likely much more understandable to the newest members of any given band.

An interesting feature of this otherwise very specific and somewhat pedantic film is the use of slow motion. High speed cameras would become indispensable to the field of biomechanics in the 1970s, but this simpler version — showing movement required of band members — was likely a remarkable achievement in marching band education. Again, combined with the ability to stop and rewind the film, those members in stifling gyms or auditoriums would, hopefully, learn their steps quicker, and get to the learning and practicing of music — which does not come until there is less than a minute left in the film — faster.

The drum major looks on with grave intensity.

While perhaps not the most engrossing film for the casual viewer, Marching Band Fundamentals Parts 1 and 2 is a glimpse into the promise of group education through film. Its combination of live-action, animation, and slow-motion would have been a novel and very helpful tool for band directors used to relying on rote learning and militaristic methods alone. Imagine the sigh of relief the director might feel when given the opportunity to let the film do the talking for them, allowing them time to let their strained vocal cords heal enough to scream a little bit more at the drum majors as soon as the film had run its course. Additionally, the film sheds some light on the intensity of an activity that is often so well-rehearsed, it’s made to look easy. If you were a marching band member you already know all of this. Those of us — myself included — who never experienced it, can now understand a little bit more why committed marching band members were so intense about it. Come on, that looks pretty hard!

If you like this film there are plenty more Indiana University produced educational films streaming for your viewing pleasure. Check them out!

~Jason Evans Groth

The “Mother Church of Media”: The IU Audio-Visual Center and Martha Harsanyi

The author and interviewer for this post is Natasha Ritsma. Natasha is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She is working on her dissertation on the art of educational films which includes research in the history of the Audio-Visual Center at IU.

After 42 years of working for Indiana University, Martha Harsanyi, the Media Collections Manager for Media and Reserve Services at the Wells library retired in May, 2012.  My discussions with Martha have not only been vital for my academic research but have also inspired a series of future blog entries that will include topics such as: the most frequently censored educational film ever produced, a look into the history of Teaching Film Custodians, and Indiana University’s unique 16mm film productions. Martha began her career at IU working at the Kinsey Institute in 1970.  In 1975 she transferred to the IU Audio-Visual Center (one of the first and largest university run film/video rental centers) which eventually became Instructional Support Services.  Throughout the span of her career, she witnessed dramatic shifts in audio-visual technology beginning with 16mm films in the 1970s, to video in the 1980s, and digital media starting in the 1990s. Martha’s wealth of experience and knowledge about the IU media collections is astounding and has served as an invaluable resource for students, instructors and researchers for decades.

NR: What would you say is the most significant contribution the IU audio-visual center made to the American media landscape in the 50s, 60s, 70s?

MH: The IU Audio-Visual was a leader in the field of 16mm production and distribution.  IU faculty member Nona Hengen called the Audio-Visual center the “Mother Church of Media.”  The IU Audio-Visual center functioned as a model that was to become a national standard.  IU developed an excellent structure for how to set up an audio-visual center.  I think every other university audio-visual center modeled itself more or less after our audio-visual center, from building the storage racks (so they could store the film canisters on edge) to their catalogs.  IU was a leader in the production, distribution, cataloguing, selection, and promotion of 16 mm films.

NR: What were the cultural values and ideologies that influenced the mission of the IU Audio-Visual Center?

MH: There was a strong desire to use new technology to enhance public school education.  The Audio-Visual center started in tandem with the baby boom and there was a real need to educate a growing population.  Classrooms were stuffed to their gills with little kids.  16mm films were first used for training purposes during WWII and they saw that they really worked.  It was an easy transition to go from military training to teaching the public in general.  There was a desire to bring the world to the hinterlands and provide educational opportunities to kids in little rural schools that they would never otherwise get.

NR: Who rented films from the IU Audio-Visual Center?

MH: Schools, museums, clubs, community centers, and churches.  The school systems wanted to use the latest technology and film was the latest technology.  The whole idea of a rental library based at a university was to remedy the fact that 16 mm films were very expensive and there was no way smaller schools could afford them.  The university rental collection functioned as a pooled resource.    It was a service of the university to the state of Indiana. It was intentionally not a money making operation, and indeed they did not make money.  What money the Audio-Visual Center made was plowed back into buying more films.

NR: What is your favorite 16mm film?

MH: Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames.  It is my favorite film because it used the visual medium to demonstrate something you couldn’t demonstrate in any other way.  I’ve watched it many times.

The 1977 short film, Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The aerial view of a man enjoying a picnic in a Chicago park pans away to the outer limits of the universe.

~Natasha Ritsma