The rumors would usually start at lunchtime.
“Did you hear we’re watching a movie today?”
The whispers and the excitement would grow during recess, and then came exclamations of joy and/or relief as we filed back into the classroom to find the projector set up. For the next twenty minutes (or longer with the inevitable technical difficulties) we’d sit in the darkened room, watching an animated movie about electricity or a cautionary tale about the dangers of marijuana.
Watching educational films, on film, was a common experience for most Americans who attended school in the 20th Century. From the 1980s through the 2000s, schools cycled through several additional audiovisual technologies—VHS, LaserDisc, DVD—and today educational films can be streamed online for students (see the National Archives’ YouTube channel for some excellent content).
Educational films are associated with a particular aesthetic. Because producers were trying to make films relevant to The Youth of Today on a low budget, they very quickly became outdated. In the ‘80s, that meant watching dramas starring hippie kids in bellbottoms. There are also many unfortunate examples of producers in the ‘90s trying to incorporate that hip new thing known as “rap music” (this Smokey Bear PSA pokes fun at that trend).
In 2007, NARA accessioned a number of educational government films that had been stored at a now-defunct film lab. Two of our favorites, titled Route 1 and The Party’s Over, were part of a 1976 alcohol education series called Jackson Junior High and produced by The Northern Virginia Educational Telecommunications Association for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
These films are like a time machine back to a time when there were no open container laws and kids could apparently hang out in bars and liquor stores. Route 1 features a St. Bernard dog with a hangover and a song titled “Think About What You Drink About,” which provides advice on how to avoid a hangover when drinking.
The Party’s Over follows the drama of peer pressure that unfolds when Freddie and his friends crash Sarah’s slumber party and start passing around bottles of wine. Unfortunately, Sarah’s parents are out at a black-tie barbeque/swim party (seriously, was that a thing in the Seventies?) so she must deal with the intrusion on her own. Look for Richard Sanders (later Les Nessman of WKRP in Cincinnati fame) in a role as a middle school teacher.
The Jackson Junior High films were still being used in 1980 (see page 41 of this alcohol-education audiovisual guide) and were even broadcast on some PBS stations. However, when the Federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, raising the drinking age to 21, much of the information in The Party’s Over became obsolete overnight. It’s unclear for how much longer the films would have been shown.
What are some of your favorite classroom films?