Moving Images in American K-12 Education

A 1925 poem by schoolteacher Virginia Church titled “Antiquated” reads,

Mr. Edison says
That the radio will supplant the teacher.
Already one may learn languages by
            means of Victrola records.
The moving picture will visualize
What the radio fails to get across.
Teachers will be relegated to the backwoods,
With fire-horses,
And long-haired women;
Or, perhaps shown in museums.
Education will become a matter
Of pressing the button.
Perhaps I can get a position at the
            switchboard. (Cuban 5)

Despite the recent scholarly recognition of educational films as an important force in 20th-century film culture, the educational technology market remains historically under-researched. From magic lantern and stereopticon projections to the introduction of moving image film and analog video, up to contemporary classroom applications of streaming video, virtual reality, and other complex interactive computer software, audiovisual aids have played and continue to play an important role in the education of children in the United States.

The changing nature of screens and audiovisual materials in classrooms since 1859 has been complicated by conflicting interests—fears and concerns regarding the effect of screens on child development, the role of corporate interests, as well as teacher and student reaction to their use within the classroom. This project examines these forces, as well as the immense ability that moving images possess to convey ideological concerns, and how that has been wielded by various bodies in the United States over the years. By tracing the evolution of educational technology from the handheld wooden stereoscope to present-day VR education, this project asserts that despite technological changes, reactions to and practical use of audiovisual materials in schools has remained relatively constant in the United States for over a century.

A recent resurgence in archival interest surrounding educational film—both its production history and content—has led to increased scholarship surrounding this valuable material, including the 2012 book Learning With the Lights Off, as well as digitization and widespread access to materials from the Rick Prelinger Collection on the Internet Archive. Beyond strictly film, the Internet Archive has expanded its online access to the realms of digitized VHS collections and educational software, ensuring that these resources remain freely available to interested viewers.


Frannie Trempe