Dead Poet's Society: Wasn't the stuffy headmaster right?

One of the main conflicts of the movie was between Robin Williams’s character who wants the students to be more independent and freethinking and the headmaster who thinks the students are not ready for this and not emotionally prepared to be so free thinking. Williams’s character pushes the students. They crack. And one of them ends up killing himself. Williams is fired. It seems to me that the headmaster was right. These students were not ready to be free thinking. Most of them had grown up in a rigid environment and Williams’s character’s pressure to be free thinking was too much and too fast.

Was the headmaster right? Note, the headmaster was not opposed to free thinking, just that the students were not ready to handle it yet and especially in the way Williams’s character was pushing it on them. Should Williams’s character have been fired?

Hmm a GD in CS.

If they aren’t ready for that in late adolescence, then when will they be ready? Most people solidify their beliefs and personality by their early 20’s at the latest. Williams was trying to set them free-can he be blamed when the father of one brings on the crackdown and drives his conflicted son to suicide, esp. when the rest of the class apparently took his lessons to heart (as demonstrated by the final scene)?

The main problem with the plot is that there is no way that the Williams character would ever get hired by this school in the first place. And the kid always had an alternative-just stay low, nod yes to everything Daddy says, go off to college, and THEN join some community/university play group, 300 miles away from his dad who doesn’t have to know a thing.

Which is pretty much what the headmaster wants. He thinks that high school should lay the groundwork for the free thinking that will take place in college.

Only half of them stood on the desks. And all of them probably had some emotional damage.

Actually, the OP has a point. The headmaster’s an ass, but Williams’s character is equally an ass, just in a different way.

Williams’s title character in “Patch Adams” is even worse. He’s pitted against an evil jerk to make him seem sympathetic, but when you get right down to it Adams is still an arrogant jerk.

People eat this stuff up, though, because it’s subconsciously appealing to see authority figures put in their place; in the case of “Dead Poet’s Society” you see the teaching profession shown up as worthless losers by the Funny Rebel, while in Patch Adams you see the medical profession shown up as worthless losers by the Funny Rebel. The fact is that kids have to learn and medical problems are not fixed by fart jokes, but I guess for two hours you can put that aside.

Sometimes. I liked “Dead Poet’s Society” but “Patch Adams” was awful shit from the first frame to the last.

I think students at the age of 10 years old are ready for independent thinking. It should be encouraged in them, demanded of them.

It is, in fact, institutions like 4th grade that flatten it out of many people, which I deem a tragedy. Read John Holt, How Children Fail, for further insight.

That any blithering idiot would deem teenagers to be “not ready for independent thinking” — not in the sense of cynically expecting not to see much of it but in the sense of trying to dampen rather than encourage it and defend that as “appropriate because of their maturity level” — is downright frightening. Commonplace enough, but frightening.

To not encourage it now means they’ll be no more ready for it later and will have to cope with the same issues, and perhaps be less flexible and adaptible then than they are now.

  1. Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Results

Crux: Too many of us would become willing Nazis if ordered by an authority figure to be so.

  1. norinew’s threads about 8 y/o mudgirl and the boys who, according to mudgirl, enticed her to put a penis or two in her mouth
    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=473204

and 3) Freudian Slit’s thread about whether or not you’d let an 8 y/o hang out with teen boys.

I thought kids were supposed to become independent thinkers ASAP. IMO you bet your ass the headmaster was wrong.

Missed the edit window.

Here’s a video of Milgram’s experiment.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=lKSLNBW7Ahw

Isn’t that David Strathairn (sp?) narrating?

You’re all missing an important point. When Neil wanted to join the play, Keating told him to get permission first, and urged Neil to convince his father that this was what he really wanted. However, Neil was too chickenshit to confront his father, so he lied to Keating instead. (There’s even a scene where it seems like Keating is very surprised that Neil’s father gave permission – as if he expected Neil’s father to say no, and had the “wait till college” speech prepared for him.)

The whole “free-thinking” accusation against Keating was purely to make him a scapegoat and relieve the school of any responsibility. He may have taught his students to think independently, but he never told them to lie.

Besides, what was Neil’s father doing with a gun in an unlocked desk drawer anyway? That would get him arrested nowadays!

I’m not tracking on what you say we missed. I generally agree with the synopsis, if not the spin on it.

I assume Keating would tell Neil to get permission because it was off-campus, where students weren’t ordinarily allowed to go. Notice how Knox was driven to the Danbury’s, for instance: the school knew he’d been invited and his parents had given their approval to the school, or else he wouldn’t have been allowed. And of course Neil had to forge a letter from his father for the same reason.

Plus Neil and Keating had discussed how Neil’s father didn’t want him to be an actor. The most desirable thing would be to participate with his father’s blessing, and Keating knew that. A teacher wouldn’t flat-out tell a student to disobey the parent without expecting a shitstorm directed at the teacher.

I don’t consider Neil to be a chickenshit. His dad was a dick and had probably controlled him all his life. He just hadn’t reached the point where he could be independent of him, financially, and he was too respectful to tell him to fuck off. Hell, even the mother couldn’t stand up to the tyrant. Right before Neil shoots himself, the parents go to bed and she just cries.

Neil was just a product of his home environment, which was practically brainwashing, at a time when conformity was the norm. In the example I cited about Milgram, here you have grown adults succumbing to the authority of strangers. Why would we think Neil—not even grown—could do any better than he did, seeing as how he’d have to disobey not just an authority figure, but THE authority figure—his own father?

Sure they pinned it on Keating. Can’t put the blame on the father, where it belongs, or a culture that systematically enforces conformity.

That’s completely irrelevant to learning to think for yourself. Her daughter’s experience has nothing to do with not being a freethinker, and everything to do with the neighbors being horrible little shits.

Relevant, IMO, in that young children are taught to obey older people without questioning much, are easily manipulated by others much like some would say our government or the Nazis et al can manipulate adults.

Do you all know much textbooks cost? Keating would have been bounced for that in a lot of prep schools!!!

I’ve never thought about it that way, but 2.5 is right IMHO. Yes, I believe that tenth graders are old enough to think for themselves. Yes, I think that Neil’s father is an overbearing asshole, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to break kids out of the mold, and if your way causes a kid to shoot himself, another kid to get kicked out school, and the rest to be weirded out, I’d say your way has some problems.

The thing with Keating is that shaking things up and presenting yourself as profound and free-thinking to a bunch of sheltered 50’s-era high school kids is just too damned easy. If you judge Keating by the consequences brought about by his life’s lessons, he acted foolishly.

The “stuffy” headmaster was working with high school students when Keating was scrawling dirty ditties in his 3rd grade math text. I’d sooner trust him than some flakey upstart.

We have to teach kids almost everything. For instance, it’s important that they obey their mother. After all, if mother says to stop playing in the road, she’s doing so to protect the child from harm.

And that’s an example of a rule that is supposed to generalize. The child obeys mother AND father. And grandma and grandpa. And outside the family, they are supposed to obey teachers. The rule generalizes to obeying adults.

But there’s another rule, which is, “Don’t talk to strangers.” The reason behind that is obvious enough, yet it sometimes conflicts with “Obey adults.” So which rule is the child supposed to follow?

A child is walking down the street when an adult pulls up in a car. Now the child has to decide whether to talk to the person or not. At this point many would say that the child should NOT talk to the stranger. OK, but what if he’s wearing a badge? Oh, right, that’s different. But wait, what if the badge simply means he’s a security guard at the mall, and he’s a perv driving around in a rusted 1973 Gremlin? Um, that’s different. The child may have to obey the skeevy mall guy if she’s at the mall…but not outside it.

There are so many complicated situations that a small child may not be equipped to deal with, but IMO it’s important to start developing that critical skill early. Kids don’t always have time to run home and get mom’s analysis before the fact. I’d ask my kid (if I had one), “What would you do in this situation?” questions and give them feedback.

So in response to the OP, my question would be why anybody would wait until they’re teenagers to start teaching them to think for themselves.

The kind of free thinking advocated by Keating isn’t that different. There’s a standard way of doing things, but the reasons behind that standard way may or may not apply. Years ago, I was talking to a woman who drove a lot, as in, long interstate trips. She told me that if you’re driving in the middle of nowhere at night and a cop puts his lights and siren on, you don’t have to stop until you reach a populated area. Reason: a lot of rapes had been reported. People with criminal intent can buy uniforms from places that sell to police, and you can pick up on-dash red lights from mail-order, etc. According to the stories she’d heard, women would get pulled over by these police impersonators and…well, you can imagine the rest. Even the adult can fall for the skeevy mall guy’s ploy if he plays it right.

That’s my favorite scene in the movie. During my freshman year in college, I had a professor who subscribed to the same mechanical approach to teaching poetry (i.e., “Let’s take apart a poem and examine its tone, identify its theme, describe the diction used, etc.”). Needless to say, for me the class was a disaster that nearly killed my taste for poetry.

I agree. In fact, in the moments leading up to the suicide, I thought Neil was actually going to shoot his father.

You’re forgetting one thing.

Keating is teaching poetry. Not math, not history, not a foreign language…but poetry. In poetry there is no right answer (unless you’re talking about who wrote what and when). There is, as he told one student, only settling for ordinary.

You cannot graph poetry like you’re plotting Cartesian co-ordinates, which is why he had the students rip that page out of the books. As a new teacher, he probably had no say over the textbooks.

My favorite scene is when he asks (Nuwanda) if he will join the class in walking funny. The student replies, “Exercising my right not to walk, sir.” I like to think even though he got expelled, he became a success.

I blame Neil’s death on his father. His father’s dream was to become a doctor. For whatever reason, he was unable to realize that dream, and Neil was raised never to question his father and to appreciate all the sacrifices his family made for him to attend Welton. His father was just a 50s-era version of these horrible parents who scream obscenities at Little League baseball umpires and threaten to sue if little Johnny does not get the same amount of playing time as little Billy.

I think you’re missing a huge part of the point: Neil won. He won. He had his moment, he got his role, and he was fan-fucking-tastic in it. For someone with an acting bug, that’s it. Doesn’t matter if you go home afterwards and blow your brains out 'cause your old man is a square - you’ve already won when the applause starts.

Actually, I think the important part of the story had everything to do with her being a confident free-thinker - she said “Time out” and took charge and ended the episode. She didn’t do what they told her to when she thought about it for a minute. Most kids - sheltered kids - wouldn’t have handled it by thinking for themselves.

As for the larger child development question, absolutely I think kids should be taught how to think from a much younger age than they generally are. Not in the “we’re teaching them to think so we don’t care if they can spell” sense, but in actual training in thinking, in logic and its fallacies and inductive and deductive reasoning. There’s hardly a question that comes out of my kids’ mouths that I don’t ask them to try and think of an answer for themselves. And then I ask them to think about it some more and decide if they’re on the right track. And only *then *do I give them my answer or research the “right” answer with them. This starts even before they’re verbal, when I let toddlers stack the cups open side up to figure out - for *themselves *- why it won’t make a tower that way.

If you liked the issues raised by this movie and you haven’t already, you should watch **The Prime of Miss Jeanne Brodie ** which deals with many of the same issues in a girls school setting.

Speaking of, was that a real introduction to a lit textbook or just an OTT humorless mechanical plot device? I can’t imagine anybody would actually use a graph like that.

Best allusion to that scene: Michael Scott in The Office when visiting a college classroom. (I don’t watch the show often enough to know who the characters are, but he was there, unknowingly, as an example of an outdated business managerial model.)