The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

The voice of the student body

The Dial

Mr. Gruenberg’s Interdisciplinary Approach to Psychology and Film: Psychology In Film Minor

Have you ever found yourself curious about psychology – the way we interact with others, why we behave in certain ways, or how social interactions affect our behavior? Perhaps you wanted to take a course on psychology to learn more about this complex topic but believed that Hackley did not offer any. In fact, upper school teacher Jon Gruenberg offers a Psychology in Film class that usually has very few students enrolled due to the nature of minors not having a big pool of students to draw from, especially since it is a course primarily for juniors and seniors. You would think that this minor course that combines complex and intriguing aspects of psychology with classic and interesting films would be of extreme popularity among upper school students; however, this year it had only two students enrolled. 

Credit: Fernanda Paz
“You use psychology in your daily life whether you know it or not,” said Mr. Gruenberg. Not only does his course expose its students to great films, but it also educates them on topics that they can apply to the real world. The duality of this course is what makes it very unique and special.

Mr. Gruenberg has had a passion for psychology since he was in college, where he majored in the subject. Additionally, his interest in film flourished in college where he wrote a film column in his college’s newspaper. Following his education in psychology, he taught a psychology major course at the school he previously worked at for several years. However, once he joined the Hackley community, Mr. Gruenberg strayed away from his love for psychology and focused on teaching statistics. 

After discussing the lack of psychology courses offered to upper school students with Upper School Director Andy King, Mr. Gruenberg introduced a psychology minor course in 2016 which served as an introduction to the topic. As he enjoyed both psychology and film, he wanted to be able to merge the two, where he would investigate human behavior and see why or how characters act in films. This led him to combining the two topics and ultimately creating his current course, Psychology in Film. 

“It was sort of marrying, I guess, two passions of mine, two things I really find interesting,” Mr. Gruenberg said. 

Having such a small class and being able to work at an independent school, Mr. Gruenberg is able to take the temperature of his class each year to see if there’s more of an interest toward psychology or film. This year, both his students were particularly interested in expanding their movie repertoire, while also being curious about psychology and wanting to dive deeper into it.  

“We’re both interested in psychology as well, so that component was really interesting. We weren’t just enjoying these movies, we were actually analyzing the characters while reading the psychology textbooks. It’s a nice way to enjoy ourselves while learning psychology,” said senior Reagan Begley, who is currently enrolled in the class. 

Mr. Gruenberg incorporates more student-driven aspects into the course that speak to each individual student’s interests. For example, students are able to choose a film alongside a specific topic in psychology and later “teach” it to the class. 

“I really try, wherever possible, to treat the class as our class as opposed to my class,” said Mr. Gruenberg. 

This year, senior Ela Dedelioglu chose to focus on the concept of memory and selected the film Memento. After studying the “memory” chapter in their textbooks, she presented her findings alongside the film and facilitated discussions and scenarios with the rest of her class. 

In addition to combining psychology with their films, students learn more about the various types of psychology: social, cognitive, parental relationships, and the idea of nurture versus nature. 

“I liked the social psychology unit we did because it relates to the real world,” said Ela. 

It is apparent how passionate Mr. Gruenberg is on both topics through the enthusiasm he radiates. This makes his class enjoyable, and is what makes his students so involved and excited to learn more about psychology in films.

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