School movies aren’t what they used to be

I get a feeling that school isn’t the same as it was when I was coming up.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t the best student when it came to things like answering problems from the math book or diagraming sentences or regurgitating dates of important historical happenings. Neither chemistry nor physics spoke directly to the things I was good at because both involved a lot of knowing stuff and solving equations.

I really enjoyed PE classes where we used to play volleyball in the gym or sit on the bleachers and try to finish the homework we should have done the night before. Mercifully, none of my PE teachers ever seemed to worry too much about what we were doing, and if we had someone from the football team in PE class that dude could “take one for the team” by sitting in the coach’s office and talking to him about the upcoming game while the rest of us tried to do our homework, occasionally tossing a ball across the gym floor so it would sound to the coach like there was some kind of activity going on.

But there were days I really looked forward to. Anytime I walked into class and saw the projector set up in the middle of the classroom, it was like a gift from Heaven. A projector meant a reprieve for the day. It meant that there was a better than 50/50 chance the teacher wasn’t going to take up the homework I didn’t finish in PE. It meant for that day there would be no homework. It meant we weren’t expected to learn anything new in class. A projector in the middle of the classroom meant I was about to get a short nap.

Oh, I loved film days!

To me, at least, the projector meant that the teacher was just as disinterested as I was and she needed a break. So the students got a break, too.

I don’t remember what sorts of films we watched because I was napping, but I do know that the films were never interesting nor entertaining because when I woke up from my naps none of the other students were saying things like, “Wow! What a great movie!”

A few weeks ago I cut the TV on after dinner and sprawled out on the couch to see if there was anything worth watching.

Scrolling through the channels, I saw that The Great Escape was on.

I don’t know how you do things in your house, but in my house we watch The Great Escape when it is on television. Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charlie Bronson, James Coburn. The Great Escape is the kind of entertainment you don’t scroll past when you’re sprawled on the couch after dinner.

My sons, when they were younger and did as they were told, have all seen The Great Escape, but when Nathan walked through the room he did a double-take at the television. He stood for a moment watching the movie.

“Oh! I know what this is,” Nate said. “This is – what’s the name of it?” “The Great Escape,” I said, absolutely disgusted that his home training has apparently worn off. “Yeah! The Great Escape!” he said. “We watched this in school last year.”

“No you didn’t,” I said. “This is a good movie.” Nathan is a sophomore in high school. The only thing I remember from high school is that nothing ever happened in any of my classes for four years that was the least bit fun. I could not believe Nathan watched The Great Escape in high school last year.

“Yeah,” Nathan said. “We watched this in school. I swear we did.”

Nate then recited the movie plot to me in specific detail. He even spoiled the end, “And that guy rides a motorcycle out through a field and the Nazis catch him.”

“’That guy?’” I parroted. “That guy is Steve McQueen. Your education is sorely lacking if you think Steve McQueen is just a guy. ‘That guy’ was Bullitt. He was in the Magnificent Seven. He was the original Thomas Crown.”

“Yeah,” Nate said. “That guy.”

I don’t know how or why Nathan watched The Great Escape in school, but I accepted it as fact because he knew that guy rode that motorcycle and got caught by the Nazis. But I wrote it off as an oddity not worth pursuing. I didn’t ask about the class or the lesson they were meant to learn, I just accepted that somewhere in Oconee County there is a teacher who has good taste in movies and a couple of free hours where no homework needed to be assigned.

But then Robert, my youngest son who is a freshman, came home from school the other day and said, “I never realized all those quotes you say all the time are from O Brother Where Art Thou.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“Like when you say, ‘Pa said to shoot anybody that’s got papers’ or ‘I don’t want Fop, gotdangit, I’m a Dapper Dan man.’ Those quotes are from O Brother Where Art Thou.”

“I know where they’re from,” I said.

“We watched that in school today,” Robert said, nonchalantly, as if watching cool movies in school is something that happens.

“No you didn’t,” I said. “That is one of the best movies ever made. They don’t show movies like that in high school.”

“We read parts of the Odyssey in my literature class,” Robert said. “And then we watched O Brother Where Art Thou.”

Now, having been a sort-of English major in college, I happen to know quite a bit about the Odyssey. Also, being a fan of O Brother Where Art Thou, I know that it is the story of the Odyssey set in the 1930s. It’s a brilliant retelling of a classic story. And it is hilarious.

I don’t know what’s happened in the 20-something years since I graduated high school, but I think school is a lot more fun than it was when I was coming up.

Of course, it may be that my teachers were showing us classic movies and I just don’t realize it because I was too busy taking my naps.


Rob Peecher is author of the Jackson Speed Memoirs, a series of historical novels set during the 1800s featuring a cowardly anti-hero. His books are available at