Thursday, October 9, 2008

2008 or 1958?

Okay, so in my English classes I'm showing my kids the movie Dead Poet's Society to inspire them with the idea of Carpe Diem--seize the day! We talk carpe diem with the 9th graders a lot to try to get them to realize that their lives are happening right now and everything they do matters--so don't waste a moment of it!

Well, we got to the point in the movie where Charlie (the notorious smart-alec) gets paddled by the headmaster of his school. A bunch of my students had the remark, "I would never let someone paddle me! I'd take that paddle and hit him instead!" So I explained to my students that NOW they wouldn't stand for being paddled, but back in the '50s in a very conservative community where obedience was the most important value taught, they wouldn't have stood up to being paddled.

And that's when it hit me--in the society presented in Dead Poet's Society, obedience was the value of the day. Back then, the idea was that you could have your own opinions when you grow up and graduate from college. Mr. Keating (Robin Williams' character) was a rogue teacher because he was trying to teach teenagers to think for themselves and learn to value their own ideas.

In contrast, we act like we are so liberated now. Now-a-days we act like freedom of thought is valued. But I wonder--is it? The majority of my students have ideas, but not true opinions. They can think about important world events or ideas, but generally they don't. Most of my students have a very hard time expressing their ideas, and if they do happen to vocalize an idea, they can't defend it or explain what they mean by it. I still see teenagers spewing the ideology of their parents. I still see teenagers afraid to break from the mold of conformity. I still see teenagers who think that they have nothing of value to say or offer to the world around them. And, most infuriating of all, I still see parents unconcerned with what their children think or want.

So instead of developing true opinions, instead of learning to develop a unique idea and stand by it, our teenagers these days have developed attitude. Oh they talk a lot of crap--but they don't actually say anything. The majority of teenagers today will have no problem spouting off like they know what they're talking about--and they get in your face when they do it--but, in the end that's all it is: spouting off. There's no substance to what they have to say, and if challenged, they back down rather quickly.

We act like, as adults in society, we are so superior to the parents and teachers of the '50s. But are we? Obedience was the value of the '50s--compliance is the value of today. Free thinking was suppressed in the '50s--free thinking is ignored today. Kids lived the lives their parents planned for them in the '50s--kids barely live lives of any meaning at all today. Parents tried to control their children and repress their children's dreams in the '50s--parents wish they could control their children and wish their children had dreams today. Teachers were so busy getting children to be quiet and be obedient that they didn't have time to develop relationships with their students in the '50s--teachers are so busy trying to teach a massively-overloaded core curriculum that they don't have time to develop relationships with their students today.

Last time I checked, it's 2008. Fifty years have passed since the time that Dead Poet's Society is set in. And yet, some things never seem to change. Hmmm. . .

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