I introduce my students to 1960s television with classic episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” I mostly use this program to teach irony and symbolism, and the basic structure of a fictional story. At first, the kids complain that the episodes are in black and white, but before long, most of them are entranced as they watch these literate little morality plays.
There’s no sex. Adult bedrooms, when shown at all, always had two single beds. There’s no swearing, but I always have to translate dated euphemisms like “Jiminy Christmas!” and one of my mother’s favorites, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”
And there’s no violence. At least not the realistic kind. Telly Savalas does take a talking doll down to his workshop, where he attempts to torture it with a vise, a blowtorch and a bandsaw. And, of course, he fails, because he’s the antagonist, not the doll who’s protecting its owner, a frightened little girl.
My students get it as they watch Ed Wynn, circa 1959, outsmart Mr. Death to save the life of a young girl. They understand the dangers of scapegoating as they watch Claude Akins and his suburban neighbors turn against each other.
But life in the 21st century is no ’60s era television show. Maybe it’s no wonder my students had a muted response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.