Freaks & Geeks - A Great Resource for Relevant Material
I discovered Freaks & Geeks as a college student, while exploring cult television classics. Suggested by a friend, I was instantly captivated by the sincere realism of the show. At times almost painful to watch (as a classified "geek" in high school, I identified with those characters), the show seemed to embrace all those memories of school we want desperately to forget, but in reality we should remember and learn from such life-lessons. I quickly saw an opportunity, in the content of the show, to inspire students to discuss relevant issues in their lives, as well as connect those themes and messages to the world around them.
This is a wonderful show that captures the awkwardness and strife of being a high schooler. I really think that many students, regardless of their social identification, are able to relate to the plots and characters. In addition, the cult-status of the show is a great "hook" that can be used to help introduce students to the show. The cast is sure to elicit recognition from students familiar with the films of Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Funny People, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Although the characters are not best defined by their decision-making skills and righteous moral behavior, I feel that the gritty realism of their lives (the good, the bad, and the ugly) can be used as a starting point for incredibly insightful discussions about topics like peer pressure, choices, identity, social groups (cliques), success, family, and more. As an educator, I have used this series in my 8th and 9th grade Language Arts classes to help engage students in lessons that deal with a variety of topics. My students have always thoroughly enjoyed Freaks & Geeks (eventually begging to watch more), and some have even found a voice through the show, connecting to characters/story lines and using these as a reference when talking about more personal details.
All in all, I highly recommend this show for students of an appropriate age. This is not a squeaky-clean Disney production, but it certainly captures the atmosphere and environment of high school life in a very raw, unpolished manner. There is course language, but nowadays it is nothing that is not already aired on television regularly (contained in shows students of this age frequently watch; even if parents disapprove or forbid, as a teacher I know students will always find a way). If shown to students, I feel it is important to temper the viewing of this series with teacher-guided discussions. Encourage students to analyze and critique characters, and instill active-viewing skills. Have students ask questions about characters' decisions and actions; would they behave the same way? Differently? Why? The nature of many episodes is also conducive to discussions about student-adult relationships (such as those with parents, teachers, and other adults). Have students discuss how they expect to be treated by adults, and how they must act to elicit such treatment (as well as vice versa; how do adults want to be treated by their young acquaintances, and how must one act to be deserving of such treatment?).
In a final note, I have always found it important to inform parents about the viewing of this program in class, and I always provide the option to opt-out if parents sincerely do not desire to have their child watch. However, I also educate parents about the program, and I provide a discussion guide for home-use to encourage family discussions about the same themes and messages discussed in class.
Hope this helps someone out there!