By Pete R.
In the most recent episode, we accidentally stumbled into a topic that none of us had thought of: the role of audience forgiveness in media. We talked primarily about whether characters had earned their forgiveness from other characters, but only at the end did we quickly discuss whether we, as readers or viewers, forgave the characters. In most cases, we were split. Even more interesting, in some cases we all agreed that the character had been forgiven within the narrative but we did not feel that forgiveness was truly earned; rather, that it was a cack-handed narrative conceit.
This would make a great topic to explore for older middle school or younger high school students. Asking students to explain compare how the character is forgiven within the narrative to their own forgiveness of the character allows students to engage deeply with the media. Asking them to defend their assertions in a paper allows them to practice using evidence to support their conclusions. And students at that age especially enjoy expressing their own feelings. Forgiveness is a topic not only relevant to this assignment, but to their emotional development. Asking them to grapple with and defend––using evidence––their own take on a character lets them engage with the text and begin to examine their requirements for forgiveness in their own lives.
Audience forgiveness is a discussion fulcrum that can be as simple as a think-pair-share activity or as complex as an essay or presentation. It can be one component of a larger discussion or the primary focus of the discussion. It hits that sweet spot of being inherently engaging, academically rigorous, and emotionally relevant. It works well for both struggling students and advanced students because it begins with a student’s personal opinion, yet it scaffolds easily as additional evidentiary requirements can be added as needed.