"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Inspiration: additions and clarifications

Shortly after posting an entry about inspiring teachers from the movies, I realized I had omitted François Marin, the committed but harried teacher in The Class (original French title: Entre les murs).

Marin, played by François Bégaudeau, and based on himself and his own autobiographical novel is a realistic mix of strong and weak qualities as a teacher. As stated, he is engaged with his students and wants to reach them where they live, although he must cope with a curriculum which requires he teach material which is less than urgent to his kids. ('Twas ever thus.) But Bégaudeau loses his temper and sometimes needs to be right. He makes a foolish intervention with a student on the playground in order to try to protect his own position. His school also has an insane policy which puts students on the disciplinary committee, a policy with which Marin seems to agree. So he may not be a good model, but he is an admirable and accurate reflection of the real life of a good teacher with good intentions.

John Keating of Dead Poets Society means well, too, and he is a heck of a lot of fun. I am sure most English teachers like me envy his brilliant first class of the semester, with his memorable presentation of the idea, "Carpe diem." And his kinesthetic lesson about meter, marching around the courtyard is also admirable, perhaps worthy of borrowing. But he is too careless about the ultimate effect of his teaching on his students. Yes, it's great to get kids so charged up about poetry that they meet outside of class to read it together. And it is good to teach children, American children anyway, to question authority. But the rebellion they learn ultimately becomes dangerous to themselves. Admittedly, the degree to which it is destructive was unforeseeable. But Keating leaves himself open to being turned into a symbol for the students, a symbol which the school must eliminate and destroy. And it is always better to remain a real person than to be a symbol. So I should not be surprised with myself that I left the exciting Mr. Keating off my earlier list--I should want to be at least as exciting as he is, but not so hazardous, both to himself and his students.

1 comment:

  1. I think we can all hope for Keating-like moments in our teaching: ones we can capture and frame in our minds. A lot of us who admire Keating fail to see that he is an emotional expression of what teaching can be. The film doesn't show what a teacher should be all the time (no one teaches that Carpe Diem lesson 7 periods a day, 5 days a week), it shows Keating's memorable glimmers. Of course we can't all take symbolic action all day long, but we can take effort to do so when possible. That's what I take from his role. Great post, thanks!