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Pay it Forward
SUBJECTS — U.S./1991 - present & Nevada;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Alcohol and Drug Abuse;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring; Citizenship.
Age: 13+; Rated MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence; Drama; 2000; 123 minutes; Color.
In Pay It Forward, a 7th grade teacher gives his students a class project to "think of a way to change our world and put it into action." Trevor, one of the students, lives with his alcoholic mother. She works as a change girl in a casino and moonlights as a waitress in a seedy Las Vegas bar. Trevor decides to "change our world" by taking three actions that make a difference in the lives of others and to ask each of those people to do the same for three other people.
The TeachWithMovies.com Learning Guide to Pay It Forward shows teachers how to use this valuable but flawed film to teach important concepts about ethics, forgiveness, alcohol and drug abuse, living with disabilities, and critical viewing. It serves well as an introduction to a unit on ethics and how a person can really "change our world."
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Learning Guides Feature the Following Sections.
- Possible Problems
- Helpful Background
- Building Vocabulary
- Discussion Questions
- Links to Internet
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Pay It Forward shows a child trying to change his world for the better. In the process he inspires everyone around him.
Learning Guide Excerpt
To give you a sense of how our Learning Guides can be used by teachers to develop lesson plans, and by parents to supplement school curriculum or for homeschooling, we have set out below the Benefits and Possible Problems section of the Learning Guide to Pay it Forward.
Benefits and Possible Problems: This is a charming and engaging movie that celebrates the glory of helping others. In addition, it can fuel interest in a mini-course in ethics. It turns out that when the examples of paying it forward shown in the film are analyzed using standard concepts of ethics education, it quickly becomes clear that most of them are self-serving, unwise, or simply immoral.
The strengths of the film include: (1) Each of the three main characters wages a valiant battle against the vicissitudes of their lives. Trevor tries to solve the problems of his alcoholic mother and create the family he always wanted. Arlene, the mother, hits bottom and stops drinking. Mr. Simonet, the teacher, is a deeply injured individual who learns through love to open himself to others. Each role is an illuminating study in real character types. (2) The main characters all practice forgiveness in their personal relationships. (3) Trevor's response to his teacher's challenge is creative and genuine. It recognizes that we should go out of our way to help others and that when someone does something for us, we should return the favor to someone else . . . and give back more. It also acknowledges that people can make a difference in the lives of others.
Pay-it-forwardism is a concept with severe limitations. Its focus on helping individual people can cause one to lose sight of the fact that there may be many others with far greater needs. Emphasis on the satisfaction of doing the good deed can lead a person into danger, when calling for help or working through established and experienced agencies would be safer or more effective. An emphasis on three good deeds may distract from the truth that ethics is something we live every day in all aspects of our lives. An ethical life isn't built on just three actions. . . .
The Learning Guide to the film Pay it Forward contains sections on Benefits of the Movie, Possible Problems, Helpful Background, Discussion Questions, Links to the Internet, and Bridges to Reading. The Discussion Questions are divided into three categories: Subject Matter, Social-Emotional Learning, and Moral-Ethical Emphasis.
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