Foul Is Fair Use and Fair Use Is Foul

Dear Paulding County School Board,

I own a copy of Pulp Fiction. It’s right over there, on the Ikea shelf. If I felt like it, I could take it to work and show it to my students. Imagine that: my kids watch John Travolta accidentally shooting a guy in the face, Uma Thurmond overdosing on heroin, and–lest we forget–Quintin Tarantino himself going on and on about “dead nigger storage.” That’s just the first half, by the way, before we meet The Gimp.

I could do this. But I’d get fired. I should get fired, because showing Pulp Fiction to a bunch of teenagers in an educational setting would be wrong. We all understand this. We’re not morons.

But you know what I do want to show my students? Throne of Blood. Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 adaptation of Macbeth would not only clue my seniors in to the universality of Shakespeare, it would also provide the impetus to the covering of a number of state standards, standards you pay me a decent wage to teach to the best of my ability.

Our library doesn’t have Throne of Blood, but Hulu Plus does. And as a subscriber to Hulu Plus, I have legal access to the film. I watched it the other night; it was fantastic.

But I can’t watch it at work. It’s blocked. If I want to show it to my students, I’d have to hunt down a physical DVD, a task that’s becoming more and more difficult and inane by the day.  Throne of Blood is out of print and expensive, and, like I said, I already have 100% legal access to it.

This is a problem I’m encountering more and more in my attempts to teach our community’s children. Blocked. Netflix (the only place I can find the very recent, very cool Patrick Stewart adaptation of Macbeth)? Blocked. Harmless website with lessons given to me by a college professor so we can collaborate on a visual literacy project? Arbitrarily, frustratingly blocked.


I can speculate two possibilities.
1.) The bandwidth. If every teacher hops on Netflix or Youtube at the same time, we just won’t have the internet capacity for all that streamin’. Our tubes’ll get all clogged up, you reckon.

To that I say: spend the money. Whatever it takes. Provide us with quality internet, so these valuable resources don’t have to stay locked behind a virtual gate.  Our students can’t prepare for a 21st century workforce with 20th century technology.

2.) You’re afraid of the content.  Bad things are on Netflix, so we should block it.

And I hope this isn’t your reasoning. Because I’m a professional. You trust me not to buy beer for my students. You trust me to dress like a professional, treat my students fairly, and represent the district on a daily basis. I do all of these things, so why don’t you trust me with a library of thousands of videos, some of which are inappropriate, some of which have immense value?

We’re entering a new world with unprecedented access to its media.  Embrace that.  I’ve always seen you as a county capable of keeping things simple, not complicating matters with bureaucracy.  So why not take the right step now, instead of burying your heads in the sand and pretending that the future isn’t staring you down, wondering when you’re going to see the light?

Remember, I could bring Pulp Fiction to class at ANY TIME. The only thing stopping me is common sense. I have some. I also have a Netflix subscription. Please let me use it.


Humbly yours,

Sonny Harding



One response to “Foul Is Fair Use and Fair Use Is Foul

  1. I completely agree with your thoughts on this issue. I’ve had similar problems in Cobb (though Netflix isn’t blocked here…yet). My guess, at least in terms of Netflix and Hulu Plus, is the bandwidth. I’ve heard that bandwidth concerns were what prompted Cobb to block Pandora – too many teachers wanted to listen to music on their planning periods I guess…

    Personally, I use TOR. I keep a mobile version on my flash drive, and I can bypass the firewall anytime I need to. It’s not technically “legal” in terms of the county’s acceptable use policy, but no one’s figured it out yet, and it gives me (and my students) the ability to use the Internet as it should be used in a twenty-first century classroom. Even this is just a temporary fix, however, and I’m the only teacher at my school who wants/knows how to use TOR. Every county needs to reevaluate its Internet policies. Blocking sites like this is – in terms of an idiom I used with my students yesterday – throwing the digital baby out with the cyber bathwater.

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