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From Entertainment to Education

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Some works originally intended to be entertainment have come to be studied and approached seriously in academic institutions, as they have deep meanings, or comment on society in certain ways. They have transcended their original purpose to become educational.

Encouraging critical thinking is the typical rationale for this type of in-depth study, which is integral to many scholarly pursuits. Sometimes it is applied to films, books, and other works that were almost certainly not meant for intense study, and even in subjects that initially had nothing to do with them.

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At worst, many of the ideas that instructors teach their students end up being Wild Mass Guessing disguised as truth. When this happens, it is Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory and What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic? that describe the phenomenon.

In a best case scenario, there are some truly interesting and deep kernels of wisdom to be found in well-made works.

Many popular works based on historical events have been used in history classes.

For old classics, didactic works and school staples, see School Study Media. See Edutainment for works that were intended as both entertainment and education from the beginning.


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Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Biology 
  • Cells at Work! is highly praised by the medical YouTube channel The Sick Notes (hosted by an actual doctor) and is required reading in at least one Chinese high school.
  • The Far Side: One of the collections has a foreword by a college professor who notes that he puts up the comics on a bulletin board at the beginning of the year, leading to much confusion among students. And as time goes by, the students see the comics again... and "roar with the confident laughter of the enlightened".
  • When introducing middle/high schoolers to genetics, it's fairly common for a SpongeBob SquarePants worksheet focused on genetics and Punnett squares to be used, due to the SpongeBob characters having easily recognizable characteristics (like yellow skin and a square body), along with the characters simply being familiar with students.

    Communications 
  • The Breakfast Club is used to study interpersonal communications as the students learn to understand each other.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok" is taught in communications classes. The episode is about friendly communication between cultures that are at first incomprehensible to each other, and explores the importance of syntax (the aliens talks exclusively in metaphor, without understanding the context their dialogue sounds like unconnected phrases).
  • When Harry Met Sally... is used for interpersonal relationships.

    Economics 
  • The Danish film The Boss of It All (Danish: Direktøren for det hele) is used in some administration classes.
  • Dilbert. Mostly for Economics students learning about things that happen in organizations. Interestingly, it was reportedly featured in editions of administration books.
  • Dragons' Den, as well as its American counterpart Shark Tank, have been used by marketing professors to show students how to pitch product ideas. The former has made episodes that serve as tutorials of the proper and improper ways of doing a product presentation.
  • Various MMORPGs with player-driven economies (EVE Online, for example) have been used by economists as study aids or subjects of papers.
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    Film and Filmmaking 

    Geography 
  • The Animaniacs songs "Yakko's World" and "Wakko's America" have been used to teach geography of the entire world and the United States, respectively.
  • SimCity is often used to help teach concepts in urban geography (especially the 2D iterations, which run on pretty much any modern PC and can be licensed cheaply).
  • The two geography songs from Animaniacs, "Yakko's World" and "Wakko's America", have been used to teach children the names of countries and American states, respectively.
  • Some schools have used the Arthur song "In My Africa" to teach the names of all 54 countriesnote  on the continent.
  • North America: Portrait of a Continent, being an accurately-detailed pictorial map of North America, naturally proves useful for subjects such as geography, history, culture, and local flora and fauna. Several copies of the map were donated to schools for just this reason.

    Government and Politics 
  • Schoolhouse Rock! is used for a variety of subjects. However We The People is notably used to help students remember the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

    Interdisciplinary 
  • Medicine + Sociology + Psychology: World of Warcraft, in 2005, a new raid dungeon was introduced. The end boss could place a powerful disease, Corrupted Blood, on players to quickly kill them. Some enterprising "Petmaster" players realized that their pets could safely carry the disease out of the dungeon and into the cities to Troll other players. A player-made epidemic swept the game; the central hubs were filled with corpses, the disease spreading harmlessly to NPCs who infected other players, healers attempted to cure the infected, eventually resulting in people abandoning the cities altogether. The servers eventually were shut down to force a fix preventing the disease from leaving the dungeon. The event is now known as the Corrupted Blood Incident and has been used by universities as a study in how epidemics spread; how a disease from a remote region is brought to urban centers by asymptomatic carriers, how people respond to the threat — some deliberately seeking it out — and how authorities react to such events. It has also received some attention as a study in terrorism, given that players deliberately infected cities and plotted how to cause as much damage as possible. Eerily, the study would gain an upswing of attention 15 years later in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Diagnosis and Depiction of Partial Epileptic Seizures: The classic 1945 film A Matter of Life and Death by Michael Powell was cited by Diane Friedman for its unusually accurate depiction of a real medical condition, with clinically accurate dialogue used by characters and symptoms portrayed accurately, in addition to the surgical details.
  • Sociology + Physiology: Shortly after its completion, Twitch Plays Pokémon Red was examined in some sociology classes to study both the rapid, spontaneous nature of meme theory, and group dynamics on a large scale.
  • Architecture + Creativity + Mathematics + Programming + Survival: Minecraft has been used in school for years to teach these things. Architecture and creativity from building, mathematics and programming from Redstone, and survival from the game's general mechanics. Part of the official website is even dedicated to this.
  • Physics + Psychology + Biology + Many more: The Big Bang Theory is predominantly about a number of genius-level characters in high-level sciences, and their dialogue is exceptionally accurate with a large number of in-jokes that are hard to get without knowing the material. Dr. David Salzberg of UCLA is a consultant and all white board equations are genuine; apparently his students are encouraged to attend a filming session and pay attention to the boards. Any given episode will have the characters make a reference to some higher level material, often juxtaposed with humor, making it very popular for classroom videos. In particular, Sheldon training Penny using Positive Reinforcement (humorously, Sheldon makes a common mistake regarding Negative Reinforcement, which the show corrected years later).
  • Schoolhouse Rock! for a variety of subjects. The most notable example is "The Preamble", whose chorus teaches the words of the titular part of the Constitution of the United States.

    Language Arts and Writing 
  • His Girl Friday is used in some Creative Writing courses to explain rapid fire dialogue for use in stage plays.
  • The works of Pixar have been used to teach storytelling techniques, to the point where they have an online course devoted to the sort.

    Language 
Generally speaking, immersion via movies, games, and other media all aid students in learning second or third languages. Special interest can also lead to learning a new language.
  • Car enthusiasts use special-targeted television programs, such as Top Gear, to learn English whilst learning more about cars and mechanics.
  • The film Amélie is a twofer; it's shown in French classes as entertainment and language immersion.
  • If you learn Latin, be prepared to see the "Latin grammar correction" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

    Law 
  • The Joe Pesci comedy My Cousin Vinny is often shown in law school classes as an example of accurately researched courtroom procedure.

    Law Enforcement 
  • Jack Webb was a stickler for detail and, for that reason, Dragnet and Adam-12 have been used by police academies to teach proper procedure. Right down to always wearing a seat belt while in a patrol car.

    Mathematics 

    Medicine 

    Military 
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers was put on the US Marine Corps and Navy's recommended reading lists soon after publication and remains there today—the only work of science fiction ever to receive such widespread recognition from the US military.
  • The Star Fleet Technical Manual used to be required reading at the Naval War College, because the U.S. Navy wanted graduates thinking about how to fight the war several wars after the next war.
  • The Gregory Peck movie Twelve O'Clock High was used by the United States Air Force Academy to teach the four basic leadership styles, as Peck's character uses all four styles to whip his bomber squadron into shape. It is also used for leadership training at the Air Force's Non-Commissioned Officer Academies.
  • The Wind and the Lion. One segment of the film involves U.S. Marines marching through a town and attacking a palace with an infantry charge. According to The Other Wiki, the Real Life U.S. Marines play that segment for its advanced infantry classes for midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Watch the last part of the scene here.
  • The Battle of Algiers, a meticulously-researched depiction of the Algerian War of Independence that was co-produced by the leader of the Front de libération nationale (FLN), was used in The '60s by various leftist and nationalist groups as a how-to guide for conducting guerrilla warfare. Andreas Baader, one of the leaders of the West German leftist terrorist group the Red Army Faction, is said to have regarded this as his favorite movie. On the other side, in 2003 the Pentagon also screened it as part of a primer on counterterrorism at the height of the Iraq War.

    Music 
  • Peter and the Wolf and variations are used in schools to teach children to identify musical instruments.
  • Tubby the Tuba (1975), and the original 1945 song inspiring the film, has been used by music teachers in primary and secondary schools to teach students about the principles of music, musical instruments and their relationship in a symphony orchestra.

    Philosophy and Ethics 
  • Minority Report is used in ethics classes to discuss whether it is moral to arrest someone for a crime they haven't committed yet. Furthermore, is it lawful not to warn the prospective criminal and offer reformation?
  • Calvin and Hobbes (a bit obvious when you consider it takes after John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes).
  • Gattaca is often used in ethics classes to discuss moral questions regarding genetic engineering.
  • The Island is used to facilitate discussion of human cloning in Korean ethics class.
  • A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen is used to study feminist ethics and the self.
  • Some Star Trek episodes are used by teachers in this context, for example the TNG classic "The Measure of a Man", where Picard has to prove Data's "humanity" to a court of law to prevent him from being disassembled as a piece of machinery.

    Sciences 
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes are used in many science classes around the world.
  • Beakman's World episodes are used to demonstrate science concepts.
  • Kerbal Space Program is used to teach physics, specifically orbital and celestial mechanics.
  • The Magic School Bus has been used to teach science.
  • Minecraft is used in some earth science classes.
  • If you study physics long enough you'll probably run into the Galaxy Song from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.
  • A geologist once did an analysis of the distribution of ore veins in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, speculating about possible plate tectonic shifts that could have occurred to shape the province of Skyrim.
  • Several books have been written to analyze the technobabble found in Star Trek. Such books explain the underlying scientific principles and speculate about which technologies can be plausibly developed (if they haven't already).

    Sociology and Psychology 
  • The Sims is used frequently to examine what-if scenarios, and to teach young students about family dynamics and the real world.
  • The Simpsons. Many episodes are used by teachers of social sciences to drive discussions.
  • Memento, to better understand anterograde amnesia (the inability to create new memories).
  • The Karate Kid has been used in psychology classes to teach about the learning process.
  • Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is used as a case study in borderline personality disorder, as he hits six of the nine criteria (five being necessary for a diagnosis).
  • The "Not the mama" scene on Dinosaurs has been used in a few psychology classes teaching Karen Horney's womb envy theory.

    World History 

    Other 

    In Universe 
  • In The Simpsons Lisa pretends to be a college student and attends a semester-long class on The Itchy & Scratchy Show.
  • Artemis Fowl. A demon named N'Zall managed to steal a book from humans, and set about protecting their own society against human invasion. Doubly subverted, in that the book was very poorly researched (Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe being the least of its problems) and that the demon, knew humans were far beyond crossbows as weapons, he just used the threat to rule over the demons.
  • Community has the characters at a low-rent community college and much of the offered curriculum is esoteric. Abed, the Meta Guy of the group, takes a class entirely dedicated to Who's the Boss?, and proceeds to answer the rhetorical question "Who IS the boss?", upending the driving point of the class. He later takes a class on analyzing Nicolas Cage and, attempting to determine if he is a good actor, ends up having a nervous breakdown.

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