3 Film Reviews


Dead Poets Society

The setting is a prestigious boy’s school whose mottos are tradition, honor, discipline and excellence.  The philosophy underlying the school appears to be neo-scholastic.  Knight says that “subject matter concerns, rather than student desires, are central to the educational endeavor” p. 56.   Both parents and teachers in this movie show this philosophy.  Parents choose the future careers for their sons and release them to the school believing that they will be trained and educated in formal learning.  Teachers respond to this by being “mental disciplinarians”.  Math is the center of the curriculum followed by languages (Latin and Greek).  In the movie, boys are drilled on Latin verb conjugation and conformity.

Into this setting comes John Keating, an English professor, whose ideas are just a bit different than his predecessors.  His first challenge is to seize the day, “carpe diem”.   Beyond this charge, his lessons are filled with passion and self realization.  “Existentialism is largely a revolt against a society that robbed humanity of its individuality” p. 73.  Keating strives to reunite the student with his own individuality by asking him to think and feel (and walk) in his own unique manner.  Knight also says that “philosophy must be ‘informed by passion’”.  This, too, is one of John Keating’s trademarks.  He teaches with passion and encourages the students to live with passion; seizing each moment.

One student that is seen in a state of flux is Steven Meeks.  This young man is very much the idealist in the beginning of the movie.  Slowly he is swayed and follows his classmates in their search for life and passion, but in the end, his ideas are turned back to the traditional stance of the school.  He believes that the traditional modes of teaching are correct and no deviation is acceptable.

Neil Perry, on the other hand, is under the close scrutiny of his traditional father and expected to adhere to the age old philosophies of the school and become a doctor.  Keating’s words become the avenue to freedom for this young man.  He discovers who he is and what he desires to do with his life.  Unfortunately his choices lead to death, but show that existentialism was indeed his philosophy.


Dangerous Minds

Louann Johnson is a former Marine seeking to do her student teaching.  To her surprise, she ends up with a full time job and a “special” class.  After the first day, Ms. Johnson learns that the textbook model of teaching will not work with this class, and she must conjure up a new way to get the student’s attention.  While still desiring to teach the classics through a lecture form, she searches for ways to connect the material to real life situations.  When asking for verb conjugation, she writes a sentence stating “We ate the green beans.”  The class ignores this and her recourse is to write a sentence that has meaning for them.  “We choose to die.”  The existential strain of educational humanism “has led to an emphasis on a search for personal meaning in human existence” p. 103.  This personal meaning is the key to gaining the student’s attention.  Poems are used that they can relate to, such as the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s songs.  In addition to this, they are told that they are active, not passive students.  They are not victims, but they have a choice.


Finding Forrester

The school that Jamal Wallace attends is very much like the one in Dead Poets Society.  Keeping the status quo is of utmost importance, as is following tradition.  Robert Crawford, the featured instructor of the school, shows his views of idealism through his method of teaching.  As Knight explains on p. 46, “the real purpose of schools and universities is to provide a place where the mind can ‘think’ and ‘know’ without being bothered by the transitory experiences of everyday life.”  He also writes that “the social function of the school…is to preserve the heritage and to pass on the knowledge of the past.” p. 46  Crawford is very adamant about preserving the integrity of the school and of writing.  His challenges to the class are in the form of recitations.  Students are expected to know the writings and writers of the past and hold them up as heroes or models.  Claire adds to this by stating in the movie that the teachers are not interested in student interaction because they are too busy listening to themselves talk.


William Forrester, the estranged writer, has remained in his own world over the years.  His remark to Jamal is that the neighborhood has changed, not him.  In this statement we see him keeping the status quo also.  Yet he challenges his protégé to make his own decisions.  One of his main arguments is that questions are to obtain information that matters to the individual and no one else.  This statement falls more under the existential realm where the only one who matters is the individual.  I believe that throughout the movie, Forrester’s character slowly changes.  He shows indications of an idealist, but does not believe in a higher being.  To him, good luck was the same as praying.  There was no risk in believing in either.  There is also an aspect of realism shown.  One clue is that his writing Avalon Landing was possibly about his adventurous life.  Another indication is his fascination and documentation of the natural world around him, birds.  He concludes the movie by supposing that Jamal will make his own decisions from there on and proceeds to broaden his own sphere in an existential manner.


Children with Special Needs in the Classroom


Children with special needs are very special indeed.  They are young men and women that are caught between their disability and being accepted as normal by their peers.  Some agencies argue that they should be kept secluded and educated with their disabled peers.  Others contend that they must be integrated into the main school system and taught the necessary skills to survive in the post school community.  While this debate continues, lives are at stake.  The question should not be, where do we place these individuals, but whose interest are we truly concerned about?  If it is the children’s, then we must do all that we can to prepare them for their futures.

In an article by Brown, et. al., we see a clearer picture of why children should be integrated into the classroom.  Children with disabilities live with non-handicapped parents, play with non-handicapped siblings and friends, wait in waiting rooms with non-handicapped citizens, worship with non-handicapped parishioners, and lie in the sand next to non-handicapped sun bathers.  “These same handicapped individuals are segregated from non-handicapped citizens in what is presumably the major educational force in the life of any child – the school” (2004).

Before 1975, most students with disabilities were educated primarily in separate schools and/or facilities.  “Now, fully inclusive schools are structured under guidelines that provide the least restrictive environment for all students” (Adamek, 2001).  Partial participation is an important principle to consider when planning for an integrated curriculum.  “Partial participation means that the student can benefit from participating in some aspects of an activity, even if the student’s disability prevents him or her from full participation” (Adamek, 2001).  An easy way to classify accommodations that may be needed for partial participation is to think of minimalism.  Tiered instruction is a way to set-up an altered curriculum to allow for multiple levels of learning in a classroom.  All students can work on the same general concept, but different goals and objectives are defined for the differing levels of ability present (Lapka, 2005).  Examples may include allowing ample time and giving specific instructions to help students reach their goals.  Altering the test is another solution.  While some students work from a detailed list of 20 questions, students with disabilities may only be required to focus on five questions.  In multiple choice tests, four choices may be reduced to two.  “The task is to change the attitude, it is not how well you perform, but are you improving” (Lapka, 2005).

There is a danger when modifications are used.  These adjustments have the potential of becoming a crutch.  Barnes states that it should be the goal of the instructor to gradually wean the students from their modifications as their abilities increase.  He goes on to explain that special education students need to fit in.  Modified assignments are passed out along with regular assignments so that attention is not drawn to the differences, the special education teacher helps all students when in the room to obscure the fact that she is there for certain students and major classroom decisions are made when the entire class is present (2006).

Student empowerment is key when incorporating special needs children into the classroom.  A group of teachers decided to begin to help students become self-advocates and leaders in their life decisions.  “These teachers agreed to work with their students to explore the steps it takes to guide students toward their own empowerment” (Jones, 2006).  What they discovered through this exercise was that students were transformed when given the opportunity to help make their own decisions and goals.  Four themes that surfaced are that students are able to gain knowledge about their disabilities, the IEP process and why they receive services; no student is too young to learn about himself and become involved in decision making; student empowerment promotes learning “as they are encouraged to engage in inquiry, to develop leadership skills, and to make decisions that affect their own lives”; and student empowerment is contagious (Jones, 2006).

Through the efforts of Jones and her colleagues, they concluded that student self empowerment does not take extra time and is not difficult.  There are five steps that she outlines for empowering students.  These include encouraging disability awareness and self-discovery.  Children are taught about their disabilities as well as their particular learning strengths through inventories, internet research, surveys and discussions.  Second, students learn about special education services.  Some students were not only unaware that they had an IEP, but did not know what one was.  “Many students expressed exasperation about the types of goals and objectives written on their behalf” (2006).  Students were invited to help determine their goals and develop strategies for meeting them.  Third, students are taught to monitor themselves toward the achievement of particular goals.  This places ownership of their behaviors on themselves.  Fourth, before students can participate in IEP meetings, time needs to be spent preparing the participants.  This step includes preparing the student and the other members of the IEP team.  Parameters must be set for the language that will be used and how the students will be supported in this endeavor.  The fifth step is to evaluate your efforts.  In all things, we must be looking for ways to improve the process (Jones, 2006).

Although many of the school environments may lack some educational necessities for special education (physical therapy room, swimming pool), it is not enough to circumvent the advantages of offering long-term interaction with non-handicapped peers.  “It is the responsibility of all educators to develop and implement educational delivery systems that maximize the opportunities of all students…to learn together the necessary skills for full participating membership in heterogeneous adult communities” (Brown, 2004).


                  Adamek, Mry S. (2001, January). Meeting Special Needs In Music Class. Music Educators Journal. 87 (4) 23-29.

Barnes, Peter (2006, March). The Inclusion Classroom. _[online]. Available:  http://www.teachingk-8.com/archives/your_middle_school_classroom/the_inclusion_classroom_by_peter_barnes.html

Brown, Lou, et al. (2004). Classic Tash Article I:  Toward the realization of the least restrictive educational environments for severely handicapped students. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 29 (1), 2-8.

Jones, Melissa (2006). Teaching Self-Determination: Empowered Teachers, Empowered Students. Teaching Exceptional Children. 39 (1), 12-17.

Lapka, Chris (2005, Fall). Special Learners: To Assess Students with Special Needs Think PG”. Illinois Music Educator. 73.

Just Keep Them Busy!


While watching the movie “Fahrenheit 451” with my class today, I heard a line that had escaped my notice in the past.  Montag was summoned from his teaching duties to a conference with his superior, Beatty.  Two lower ranking officers had just been reprimanded and Montag’s commander followed up by asking him how he felt about sports.  The commander proceeded to list many different sports, all of which Montag found to be pleasant ways to spend time.  The commander, making a reference to the two officers who had just left, told Montag, “More sports for everyone. ..Keep them busy and you keep them happy.” 

I have taught this book for several years now and am still amazed at how prophetic it is/was.  We are so like the world that was created by Ray Bradbury.  Many students no longer read for the mere pleasure of it.  Some brag  that the only time they grace the library is to do research for a term paper, while others (embarrassingly so) don’t even know where the library is!  Paper books have been replaced by iPod, Kindle, and, even worse, movies.  I have students who won’t complete a book report assignment unless they can find a movie based on a novel which allows them to watch it instead of read it.

Another similarity is in our entertainment.  While a parlor wall unit seemed like science fiction 50 years ago, it is as common today as the cold!  Not only does each home have a television set in it (with surround sound), most homes have multiple sets, one for each room.  Children, as well as adults, sit idol for hours in front of these built-in baby sitters and allow the media to dictate what is fashionable, acceptable and holy.  In addition to our wall units, we carry our digital worlds around with us in our purses and pockets.  Students are reprimanded daily for walking the halls and sitting in class with devices plugged into their ears.  They eat plugged-in, study plugged-in, and sleep plugged-in (kind of reminiscent of a seashell?).

The element of the movie that caught my attention today wasn’t a line from the book, but it is true of our society none the less.  “Keep them busy to keep them happy.”  “Increase sports.”  Now why would that be promoted?  It’s quite simple.  In a society adept at keeping the populace from thinking, to allow “down time” or “quiet time” would be terribly detrimental.  In fact, it might lead people to ponder the mysteries of the universe and/or their own existence!  By filling every waking hour with activity, a person doesn’t have time to question or reflect.  He/She merely absorbs what is diplayed before him/her and moves on to the next activity.

This is a philosphy that I have personally witnessed while teaching school.  The idea of getting students involved in multiple sports/activities looked innocent enough when proposed, even noble in its endeavor. The philosophy was that students needed something to do or they would become deviants.  Be in sports or be in jail!  Again, a noble attempt to keep kids in school and off of drugs, but what are some other ramifications of this?

First, if we consider the context of Fahrenheit 451, the idea was that mankind was not to think on his own.  Therefore, to keep the mind preoccupied with television, sports,  or anything else would prevent him from enjoying the beauty of silence.  It would erase the option of having free thought and individuality. 

Second, looking at the outcome of this philosophy, it has effectively helped to disintegrate the family unit.  Not only are the school hours consumed with activities, but so are those before and after.  There are choir and band practices before and after school, ball games and Club activities every other day including weekends.  Sports practices are now being held on Sundays, something that not too long ago was unthinkable!  Sports camps break up the summer.  And parents are madly, blindly rushing from one activity to  another believing that this is best for their children.  How many families still sit down at least once a day and have a meal together?  How many families spend time interacting as a family without outside distractions?  How can children be molded by parents into upstanding citizens when they are never together longer than a commercial?

We have become a society that only relates to one another via technology, even when in the same house.  Every waking hour is consumed or allocated to some task.  We no longer entertain ourselves; we rely on media or other people to do that for us.  We cry boredom because we no longer have the capacity to imagine or invent.  Ray Bradbury’s prophesy has, in fact, become  truth.  People have given away their freedoms in return for ease and leisure.  We have sacrificed generations upon the alter of busyness with the idea that this will bring happiness and prosperity. 

 Several years ago, a girl looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re not a soccer mom, are you?”  The odd part of this question was in the context it was asked.  I was sitting with my three year old son at the time, and he was playing peek-a-boo around my shoulders.  Evidently the relationship I had with my son was not something commonly seen among the other “soccer moms”.  I must admit that I swell with pride at that reflection.  I’m glad I’m not a soccer mom and that I have a healthy relationship with my kids.  We wrestle together, talk together, work together, and when life isn’t going crazy, we eat together.  Happiness is not busyness.  It is not more sports, more television, more…you fill in the blank.  It is less.