Posts tagged Dead Poet’s Society

“Dead Poet’s Society” and “Everything is in our Hands”

The other day I had my teachers watch the Robin Williams movie “Dead Poet’s Society.” In many ways it is similar to “Emperor’s Club” but in other ways it takes a decided turn by the end of the movie.  DPS is a melancholy movie but it always creates GREAT discussion afterwards. I like to use Moodle as a place for my teachers to discuss amongst themselves what their thoughts are on different topics. I’m giving you a peak into what  two said to each other in reflecting on the plot and what it means to them in present day life in Astana, Kazakhstan.

I told my students after the movie was over and we were exploring different topics it brought up that this was based on a true story.  Well, apparently I was wrong! The only part I had right was the character Robin Williams played, in real life he was Sam Pickering, Jr.  I googled and found the plot is based not on real life events but instead on fiction, yet google seems too silent.  I know that Sam Pickering really exists, he has many books he has written and if you look in Wikipedia, you will see for yourself.  But what happens in the movie and what actually happened in Pickering’s real life, we may never know.  The following is what I found out and it provided a way to give proper attribution to the website where I found “Is DPS Based on a True Story?”

According to the Alumni Department of Montgomery Bell Academy:

“The movie “Dead Poets Society” was written by Thomas Schulman, a 1968
 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy. The teacher portrayed by Robin
 Williams in the movie was based on one of Mr. Schulman’s teachers while he
 was at MBA, Mr. Sam Pickering. The events in the movie, however, are purely

John Keating. Dead Poets Society: The Death of a Romantic. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from
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The following discussion shows what two of my students wrote in reflecting on this movie.  I LOVE the expression “Everything is in our Hands.” We don’t have anything quite like it in English but it must be a direct translation from Russian to mean “It is our responsibility.”

Teacher A: Mr Keating is a real teacher who should teach at school. He gives true opportinities for students to discover themselves and understand who they are. Such teachers are endangered or only a few. Old teachers do not do good for their students and do not let do it “real” teachers. I believe that teachers must be good examples for others and must do their best.

I was so sad when a boy died. Everybody blamed Mr Keating for his death. He just taught that a person should “seize the day” and try to realize one’s own dreams. I hate this situation. Mr Keating wanted to help but other teachers did not love him because he was “strange” while students really loved him. Mr Keating had extraordinary teaching methods which were not the same with the headmaster or other teachers.

Sometimes administration is afraid of genius teachers and tries to get rid of them. But this leads to breakup and braking of educational system.

I hope that something or somebody will survive us and change the system. Because a lot of lives and our future depend on the system of education.

Teacher B: I think those, who are jealous of others are ignorant people(It sounds rude). They are ignorant not because they don’t know what other person knows, but they are ignorant that they do not try to be like this man.

We will survive we will make the changes and add additions for the future of our republic!

Teacher A: Let’s do all our best  Everything is in our hands!

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“Emperors Club” and Teachers’ Comments

We finished watching the last half of the film today titled “Emperors Club” starring Kevin Kline.  It could have been acted by Robin Williams but this casting was much better with Kline as the classical history prof at a boy’s school.  Williams is so “out there” with his humor and character, especially in “Dead Poet’s Society” which we will be showing in a few weeks.

This movie is definitely about “character building” and it is part of the teacher’s job to mold and make each student into a better, more educated person.  Oh, I wish I could have tape recorded all the teachers’ comments from our discussion afterwards.  I told them they had to remember their thoughts and blog about them, so hopefully that will show up tomorrow when we have access to the computer lab.

One teacher said that sometimes fellow teachers are two-faced, they say one thing at teachers’ meetings and do another in the classroom. Another spoke up in response to my not liking the saying “There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.” I said that put too much pressure on the teacher to perform.  She said there was one IT teacher in their university who was a horrible teacher, all the students complained about him.  All he did was use his cell phone during class and do anything but teach.  The judgment by the administration went against the students’ wishes, he was the son of a higher up in government and that was where he was to remain, being ineffective as a teacher.

One seasoned teacher said that she had been told by her administrators that a son of a big wig in government was going to be in her class.  Her superiors told her that she had better pay extra special attention to his needs. She felt offended that she was being told how to conduct her class, it seemed unfair to the other students.  However, when the boy came into her classroom, he was brilliant, he did not need special care, in fact, he was a delight.  However, this works against other teachers to have parents come in and insist that their children are good students.

That is why we started talking about assessment and that you had better show the criteria of how you are grading each student so at least it is well documented if there is any criticism against your teaching. Yes, evaluation of each student is key and we will probably talk more about that tomorrow and into next week.  We discussed when everyone in Kazakhstan can get only a 4 or 5 mark and it is rare that a 1 (being the worst) is given.  Although several in the class admitted they had gotten a 1 or 0 in their past.

Seemed that everyone had something to say on this topic of the good teacher in the movie and what he could have done instead of giving Sedgewick (the rebellious boy) a break.  They sympathized with the teacher when he was humiliated by his former student about that he didn’t have anything to show for his years of teaching. He had invested himself in many boy’s lives while Sedgewick prided himself that he was going to be a great senator like his father had been.  His father may have been a skillful politician who won elections but was he a “public servant?” I think there is a HUGE difference in the two like a “smart student” who knows how to pass tests compared to a student who learns to be a good citizen for the good of his or her country.

Principles and character, Sedgewick scorned his former teacher for having such ideals, no different than Sedgewick’s father had done to Mr. Hundret.  So, even though the diligent professor had wanted to help mold Sedgewick’s character, the father accomplished that instead.  What a poignant moment when Sedgewick told his former teacher that at his father’s death bed he was finally asked to “talk to him.” As soon as Sedgewick was about to speak, his father passed away.  Now as I write this, I’m not even sure that was true. It could have been a story he fabricated to gain his former teacher’s sympathies.  Sedgewick proved himself to be a liar and a cheat, but I don’t want to be a spoiler about this movie for those who haven’t seen it yet.

So many directions one could go with discussing the Emperors Club. 1) Politics and the importance of our democratic history in the U.S. going back to Julius Ceasar and even before him. 2) Parenting and the impact fathers have on their children. 3) Teachers and how they influence affluent children who are not loved or raised well. 4) children who turn out okay despite the grades they were given in school. 5) Teacher/student relationships for good or ill. Something we didn’t talk about was the romance relationship in the story.  Mr. Hundret seemed a proper gentleman and he did end up marrying the woman who encouraged him.  She had been earlier married to a very intelligent man who had gone on to be a professor at Oxford.  However, she got a divorce from this driven man and ended up with Hundret who made history come alive for her.

I have to add that Hundret as portrayed in the movie was not your typical history professor (though I deeply appreciated mine back in high school). He did not bore his students with facts but tried to make his lessons come alive.  He had shown discipline in rowing every day as he had also held up the yearly tradition of the Julius Ceasar competition. The boys in his class competed by knowing the facts of western civilization history.  He was very old school. In fact, Hundret was passed over when there was a promotion for him to become the school’s headmaster.  He was valued as a teacher but not as an administrator. Times were changing, they needed someone who had a sense of the bottomline.

The irony picks up there but again I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who have not seen it before.  I highly recommend it because it shows that sometimes cheaters and liars do seemingly get ahead in life. Sadly they also are empty and have to deal with a conscience.  May that not happen with the students at our new university in Astana, Kazakhstan. Hopefully the teachers will inculcate in each Kazakh student not only a desire to learn but also a reason behind the learning, sans the cheating.  That reason should be to help their fellow citizens in Kazakhstan to get ahead, not the ME FIRST and selfish attitude that Sedgewick played.  If there are too many of those kinds of leaders in any government, it will lead to no real education at all for the populace.  If one wants to rule as a good king or emperor of old, one needs to conquer one’s depraved self and invest time into being an example for others for the good of others.

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Balderdash and Make-up Class

p4050171p4050174Another party, another makeup class done, we played Balderdash to end the evening. I think my students had a fun time. This class talked throughout the movie, the other class had remained silent as they read the English subtitles and absorbed the story from Dead Poet’s Society. Turns out one of my students lives in the same building as us, just different entrance. If I hadn’t had this party, I would not have known. I got flowers from the other class which are still blooming nicely. I think I’ll add some daffodils to them to fully appreciate the springlike weather we are having. p4050172p4040166

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Make-up Class and Saturday Party

p4040163We had a fun time last night with my first group of MBA students.  We watched the last half of the Dead Poet’s Society they had started watching while I was away in Colorado.  Since this film deals with teaching pedagogy (Robin Williams style), we had a very interesting discussion about specific teachers at our university and education in general once we sat around the table to eat our “potluck” meal.   I showed this movie because it is about “Seize the Day!” and passion, something I try to instill in my students no matter what class I teach!

I have another “party” tonight and then next Saturday I’ll have my final makeup class and party with my last group of students.  Having these parties compells me to keep my flat clean, which I took all day yesterday to do.  However, I missed enjoying the beautiful spring-like weather Almaty featured. Turns out one of my students lives right across the street from me, another student brought her baby with her who was very well behaved.  The other students were either sick or couldn’t make it for some reason.  My class tonight is much bigger in size, (also I have many big guys) I hope we all fit okay into our small living room.p4040161p40401651

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