1.1 Brief Introduction of Dead Poets Society In 1959, Welton Academy is respected by the people for its dignified style at that time. The education mode there is fixed, not only monotonous but ideology shackled. However it all changed in the hands of a new teacher. John Keating’s educational method against tradition brought vitality to this school: in his classroom, he encouraged the students to stand upon the desk, to observe the world around with a different perspective; he introduced thoughtful poetry to students; the free divergent thinking philosophy he advocated caused great repercussions among students.
Gradually, some people accepted him, began to bravely face every day and grasp their own life. Charlie is eager to find the real self, renamed Nuwanda.
He takes advantage of being one of the proofers, seeks chance of expressing self-independent thought. Knox behaves uncharacteristically, be brave to pursue his love, finally get a gleam of hope. With the help of Mr. Keating and Neil, the autistic Todd breaks out infinite potential, walks out of shadow and becomes confident and gregarious.
Under the edification of the Poetry Society, Neil listens to inner voice and found his real ideal. In spite of his father’s opposition, he successfully starred in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 1.2 Overseas and Domestic Research Status
According to the document literature, there are not many domestic scholars study on education through Dead Poets Society. The articles one-sidedly analyze the teaching methods, teaching concept or teacher-student relationship of this film, which still help the analysis of several aspects in this thesis.
For example The Teaching Paradigm Thinking Triggered by ‘Dead Poets Society’ written by Long Qixiang, it has explained the changes in teaching purpose in this film; and Discussion on Mr. Keating’ Teaching Concept in ‘Dead Poets Society’ written by Liu Weixing, it has analyzed teaching concept of Mr.Keating.
Western scholars have fully analyzed Progressivism. They have put forward their own views from the meaning, thought and influence of Chinese and western education reform. The writer collates and selects the useful materials, by combining Progressive theory with this film will let readers understand how to reasonably teach in theory, and properly apply theory into practice better. Ⅱ Background
Knowledge of Progressivism
Progressive Education is an educational philosophical thought populated in the United States in first half of 20th century. It has a considerable impact on education at American schools. 2.1 Definition
At the end of 19th century and the early 20th century, with the emergency of ‘Progressive Education’ movement in United States, the solid status of Western Absolutism which was completed by Herbart was shaken. Progressive education is an extensive educational trend based on progressive ideas. Its core idea is to promote the transformation of society and the update of human, so as to promote successive progress of human society through education and educational reform. This educational trend originated from 17, 18 century, its influence has continued to present day.
2.2 Theoretical Basis
Progressive Education is the education experiment under the guidance of Dewey’s Pragmatism educational thinking. People strongly criticized the old traditional theories and methods led by Herbart, then its opposite ‘Children Centered’ theory put forward. Brief Introduction of Content about Dewey’s Pragmatism Educational Thought: (1) Education namely is Life, Growth and Experience Transformation Education is the process children are now living but not the preparation of future life. The best education is ‘learn from life’, ‘learn from experience’. Due to personal contact with people in social life, individual influences each other, and then we can gradually expand and improve experience, acquire knowledge and develop moral character. (2) School namely is Society.
Dewey proposed, ‘I believe school primarily a social organization. Now that education is a social process, the school is a form of social life’. (3) Learning from Doing.
The knowledge children gain from listening and reading is not real. The primal and impressive knowledge was gain from doing something like experiment. When we engaged in activities that are meaningful to us, our study effect will be magically revealed. So the study from doing will never
be replaced by textbooks. (4) ‘Children Centered’ Theory
Proponents of this theory take a child’s development as a natural process that teachers can not dominate, but being a ‘natural servant’. Take children’s interest as the center, emphasize children’s personal development and growth and put students in central point of teaching. Promote new forms, content, methods of education. 2.3 Influences to American Education
Due to the establishment of guiding ideology based on people (children, learners), it would inevitably lead to the overall changes which are related to this aspect in education system. That is this whole education reform, at the end of 19th century, early 20th century American society really needs. In this sense, the first contribution of Progressive Education to American education is that, it powerfully promotes American education from agricultural age to industrial age, from modern to contemporary. The Progressive Education constitutes an important beginning of modern American education.
Another critical contribution of Progressive Education to the development of American education in 20th century is that, it has had profound impact in forming the basic characteristics of school education in U.S.A. In contemporary American education, progressive educators have strongly advocated the importance of children’s needs and personality differences; emphasized providing more space for children; encouraged inquiry and creative development; respect for the rights of children and so on. All these have become a widespread reality.
To some extent, Progressive Education fundamentally changed the atmosphere of American schools and classrooms. Though the ‘Children Centered’ theory advocated by Progressive Education was criticized, the authoritarianism educators opposed could no longer rule the American schools. Ⅲ Analyzing Mr. Keating’s Teaching Concept from the Perspectives of Progressivism In this chapter, the writer will analyze Mr. Keating’s teaching from the Teaching Purpose, Teaching Principles and Teacher-student Relationship of Progressivism; point out the advantages and hidden problems in his teaching. 3.1 Teaching Purpose
Progressivism considered there is no ultimate, stable or universal goal preplanning for education. Education should promote children’s continuous
growth and development, and this kind of growth and development will contribute to the follow-up. That is the purpose of education. In Welton Academy which filled with dogma and stuffy atmosphere, great courage and boldness is needed to be faithful to one’s personality. But Mr. Keating dares to use a unique way, visually warn students ‘to find your own road, to find your own walk, do not care what others say’. He uses’ Seize the Day’ to alert students to find themselves, to do what they want to do, ‘to make your life extraordinary’.
He is a maverick. He is brave to lead the students to get rid of the shackles of tradition and discipline, to arouse the passion and desire in their hearts. In his view, paying attention to students’ creative thinking and self-expression of personality is more valuable than inheriting tradition. The traditional education starts from imparting knowledge and skills, the students’ task is to accept and store knowledge as much as possible in order to succeed at all levels of exam. This kind of education leads to the consequence that study is for knowledge and exams not for students themselves or their ideal life. So during the teaching process, Mr. Keating not only emphasizes students’ acquirement about knowledge and skills, but the training of the way they thinking and the cultivation of healthy personality. 3.2 Teaching Principles
The principles of Progressive Education like methods, content and materials being adopted in the teaching process are all included. These are concrete steps to achieve the teaching purpose of Progressivism, and these are also the steps Mr. Keating always keeps on doing. Basic principles of ‘progressive education’ is: express and cultivate personality, oppose to instill from outside; behave freely, protest compulsory discipline; learn from experience not from the textbooks; oppose to obtain isolated skills and techniques through training; make full use of opportunities in real life, against fixed target and materials. To be more specific, principles can be divided into 10 points: (1) Attention to all abilities and power of a child.
Student is considered to be a total organism which contains intellectual, social, emotional, physical, spiritual and other aspects. Students should not only develop intelligence but social, emotional, physical and other aspects should also be developed. This point is thought to be one of basics of ‘Children Centered’ theory. It doesn’t set a specific goal or inclined to develop the important aspect for children, but to grow up comprehensively.
However, Welton as an educational institution, it likes a machine without heat and emotional coloring which only focuses on enrolment rate, processes each student into qualified product with its powerful deterrent and imprisoned force. The arrival of Mr. Keating injects fresh blood for them, so that they see the human instinct. The instinctive impulse, repressed desires, emotions and intentions deep in their unconscious begin to stir. (2) The role of a teacher is to encourage but not to supervise. This point is related to teacher-student relationship. In traditional teaching, the role of teacher is not only to teach students knowledge but a supervisor to assure students would not do the things which are out of discipline or influence their study. One pillar of Welton is discipline.
What school should do is to assure enrollment rate, eradicate every activity that would influence students’ score, teachers always put heavy study pressure on students’ shoulder. Students there are not people but learning machine. In Progressivism, Teacher is a person who uses his rich and right experience to help students analyze and deal with different situations. He is important to be a guide or a leader in teaching, but he is not the only authority. In Mr. Keating’s teaching, he teaches book knowledge and life philosophy through normal daily activities and his own experience. He doesn’t limit students’ freedom and to encourage them to seize the day, to find things people really stay alive for.
But it also shows that if students lack proper supervision, it will have negative impacts. (3) School should be positive and active to solve problems then enhance, but not be negative or passive in teaching through memories. Analysis and reconstruction of facts is indispensable for an increase of knowledge, explanatory power and the ability to correctly classified. If people want to find something new, they must do something to the object. It is necessary to jump out of the environment which has been set previously.
A usual way of teaching is to remember and recite the book knowledge like formulas, equations and poems then repeat practicing. Welton only uses traditional ways to teach while sometimes not suitable for students, for example students learn Latin by reading after teacher; they learn science by doing much homework. While Mr. Keating encourages students try to look at things from different perspectives when they are learning, even though it may seem silly or wrong. He regards the way to rate and determine a poem great or not by the rational coordinate in textbook is excrement.
He let students rip out entire introduction. (4) Friendly, enthusiastic and humanitarian classroom atmosphere. Class is the main place for teaching, the quality of teaching hinges on the atmosphere in class more or less. A teacher of profound learning should have the ability to make his students actively participate in the learning process, students have interest to learn then even profound knowledge could be understood. In other teachers’ classroom, students are silent and indiscriminate, teachers are authoritative and rigorous and the atmosphere is always tense. Students should follow and comply with teachers’ requirements otherwise they would get a low score in their exams. Mr. Keating’s class is on the contrary, no bondage is in the classroom. He does not adopt the way that teacher stands seriously on platform and students sit properly below. He walks among students and uses approachable ways imparting knowledge. (5) More space.
This point likes the second point, which is to provide more space for children in learning and private daily life. In this film, students are under the control of authority; their inner desires are bound by reality. Space is namely freedom, it is required to learn, to live. People are instinctive to chase happiness, but it always restricts by reality, so we need to find a compromising way to chase happiness.
They release repressed sentiment by reading poems in the cave, by reading a meaningful sentence before kicking football. The things they cannot achieve in real life can be got in poetic imagination. Under the suppression of Welton’s educational concept, Mr. Keating also harshly criticized school’s management system with his own practical action. (6) The curriculum should be adapted to each child’s level of maturity, and based on children’s interest, creativity, self-expression and personal development to achieve individualized. Children were born in their own way, but through the struggle with reality their individual character would be obliterated, from a pentagon to a round shape.
Though Welton always cultivates only one type of person, which is qualified graduate. It is hard to implement this kind of curriculum even in today’s society, what we could do is to keep our pure personality from changing by our surroundings. (7) To provide children with a wealth of teaching materials, facilitate students to explore, to operate, to apply. Teaching is not limited in classroom, not limited in the required materials. Learning can in everywhere. In the first class of Mr. Keating, he whistled and led students to the school history exhibition room, let them stop their impetuous pace and face the age-old yellow photos, to listen to the silent advice’ Carpe Diem’, to comprehend the short time and demise of life.
In gym class, he was playing vibrant Baroque music, while let students line up single file and read an incentive poetry before kicking the ball. These are not the ways traditional teachers would adopt but by which encourage students most. In headmaster’s eyes, students should sit in the classroom and absorb traditional materials which have been tested by practice. There is no need for them clapping and marching in the courtyard or doing anything which does not help with their study. (8) Establish organization to promote cooperation and make common experience.
The knowledge and experience work out together by learners themselves will be more impressive than the one by force-feeding. In this film, students firstly organize study groups to help each other with their homework. Afterwards, they reorganize The Dead Poets—a community devotes to ‘suck out all the marrow of life’. They transfer the way to release repressed emotion to this literary society. Students rally in a cave at night, they recite the works of Byron, Whitman and even the one creates by them, feel the meaning and value of life. (9) Oppose to the concept of education is preparation for life. Advocate education is a constituent part of actual production process.
This point is the same as Dewey’s Pragmatism. Progressivism sides on the idea that education is to enhance personal development in real life; rather than let children adapt to education, but let education adapt to children. Mr. Keating never urges students to get a high score or be the top of ranks, he just wants his children to acquire right values and grow up comprehensively through education. However, headmaster insists that the duty of school is to prepare students for college, because a best enrolment means bright future for students and reputation for school. The development of student’s rest aspects will take care of itself. It cannot say which one is absolutely right, but the two contradictions will cultivate entirely different students. (10) Against compulsory and strict punishment.
This is the common rewards and penalties system even in today’s school. Students with good grades will receive many rewards, and others behave badly will be published differently due to their behaviors. In Welton Academy which takes enrolment rate as the ultimate goal. Mr. Keating as an English teacher, he abandons the stereotype and dogma and teaches without pointer and corporal punishment, but in the form of poetry, music and sports, inspires students to pursue the truth of life by applying his unique insights towards art . But when Charlie slipped an article in school paper, received a phone call from ‘God’ demanding girls be admitted to Welton, he was published by headmaster; he has to bow his head and look for forgiveness. 3.3 Teacher-student Relationship
Progressivism inherited and developed the educational philosophy of Dewey’s Pragmatism. They think that children should be in accordance with their own needs and interests. Therefore, teachers should act as a mentor or advisor rather than an authoritative figure. The responsibility of the teacher is not to command relying on the authority but to provide advices. Children should determine their own things by the interest, and they plan their own development, teachers are just learning guide. (1) The role of students: they turn from ‘knowledge passive receptacles’ to ‘positive constructors’.
Mr. Keating always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself. He encouraged students to be a free thinker and told them the dangers of conformity. ‘Suck out the marrow of life in my own way. And not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived’. Obviously, Mr. Keating asked students to break the reality that passively accept tradition and authority, trying to require them to acquire knowledge through active thinking then resulting in the growth of life. Student is a total organism which is autonomous and developmental.
They are not affected by external factors and continuously feel, experience the meaning and value of life in growing process. Thus teachers should not to control students’ behavior but to respect their self-awareness; pay attention to the needs of student’s physical, emotional and other aspects. Make the learning process becoming the process of students’ growth. Furthermore, knowledge is not granted by others, but discover and invent by learner themselves. The learning materials were chose, understood and reformed by learners’ own experience, then constructed their own new knowledge system. So students should not be the passive receptacles to store knowledge but active constructors.
(2) The role of teachers: They change from ‘knowledge porters’ to ‘wisdom enlighteners’. Mr. Keating has vividly showed how to be a guide and enlighteners through his teaching methods and behavior. Teachers should create teaching situation, lead students to use prior knowledge and skills to delve into learning. In his class, Mr. Keating would start from the book learning or a shallow action into a deep life lesson. ‘Seize the day!’, ‘Talking about poetry is not laying pipe.’, ‘See everything in a different way, seek for your own voice’, ‘Find your own pace, swim against stream.’ Teachers should be aware of the importance of letting students know how to acquire knowledge rather than directly give them knowledge.
To encourage students to be good at thinking, be daring to innovate, be brave to explore. It is sure if without Mr. Keating’s enforcement, Todd would not make his excellent verse and still be an obedient child; keep his desire deep in mind forever. From this point we can see, teacher and student are both living individual. They have their own emotions, personality, values and ways of thinking.
They also have their own views and experience towards teaching. The teacher cannot be a substitute for his students to perceive or understand knowledge. Therefore, teacher cannot be the one controlling teaching; student should not comply with it. Teachers should walk down from the superior central authority; eliminate cold, nervous, hostile atmosphere in the classroom; return the classroom to students and regard students as individual life; respect their personality and equally talk with them. 3.4 Advantages of Mr. Keating’s Teaching
3.4.1 Mr. Keating set a model for teacher about Happy Teaching. He takes ease and freedom as standard to create a casual learning environment. Mr. Keating broke the ‘force-feeding’ teaching mode and built an interactive platform between teacher and students. He respected students and concerned about their real needs, made them happily grow up in a free, casual teaching environment. He taught students to have a pair of eyes to discover beauty, to feel the wonderful in discipline with their heart. Be good at observing and discovering; let all students to become the master of their own ideas.
E.g. Mr. Keating encouraged them to look at things in different ways, to seek for own voice. This free divergent thinking form leaves students more space for positive thinking; another example is telling students lifetime is short, if you want to make your life extraordinary you have to seize the day. 3.4.2 Mr. Keating taught students to Learn to Think.
He let students to learn thinking freely and independently. Have your own voice not to follow indiscriminately. Learning in the classroom is always dead and mechanical; the knowledge while we chat outside of the classroom is alive and vivid. The former is specialized knowledge; the latter ‘liberal’ education. E.g. Mr. Keating let students walk freely in the courtyard to experience that it is easy to follow the pace of others while walking behind them and it is difficult to adhere to their own pace and personality.
3.4.3 Mr. Keating helped students to Establish Confidence and Keep Faith. Mr. Keating introduced thoughtful poems to students, let them gradually comprehend the connotation of poem; learn to focus on reality and love life and to cultivate students’ self-confident, optimistic and tough characters. Students can play their potential ability by reciting poetry. E.g. Todd is an introverted and sensitive student, Mr. Keating saw his cowardice but he did not condone it. He forced Todd to yawn to compose a verse thus to release his repressed emotions. Mr. Keating makes students know the meaning of life through his poems. 3.4.4 Mr. Keating encouraged students to develop freely and show their personality. In the whole teaching process, Mr. Keating always encouraged students to develop personality.
He thought teaching is not purely imparting knowledge but also deeply cultivating one’s personality. It is a process to let students think freely and explore independently. He let me know success is not unary. Some students study in reputable schools like Welton are carrying too much pressure from family and society, most of times what surroundings force them to do are not they really dream of. Like Neil, Todd and others, they all under the pressure of outside, so they have to hide their inner desire and abide to requirements. In the end, Neil found his dream, Todd overcame his cowardice, and Overstreet was brave to pursue his girl.
These are all successes, they all develop without limitation. 3.5 Hidden Problems of Mr. Keating’s Teaching and the Solutions The most touching picture was on the football field: With the melody of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to joy’ and under the encouragement of Mr. Keating, the students wearing red sweatshirt enjoy running, chasing and frolicking. They simply carry Mr. Keating on their shoulders and run hilariously around the playground. In the golden sunset, the immortal melody that shines forever on the concept of human seems to have a new tone. However, the result of a movie is not always a happy ending. Neil’s death is really a tragedy.
The hidden problems in Mr. Keating’s teaching have emerged. 3.5.1 ‘Children Centered’ Theory should work in its moderate otherwise it will gradually become an indulgent behavior. It is really a good thing that Mr. Keating changes the monotonous atmosphere for his students, to help them to find their inner desire and tell them many life philosophies. It is obvious that everyone hopes to meet a teacher like Mr. Keating. But it still needs supervision. At their meeting in cave, except a few good poems the students occasionally recited, practically accompanied by smoking and drinking. When Charlie did wrong, Mr. Keating just told him not to be blatant. But there is no need to excessively against nature like Welton. In my view, both teachers’ guidance and students’ interest should take into consideration in teaching.
By combining both of them, students, teachers and school will be in a harmonious relationship. 3.5.2 The education concept of Mr. Keating seems to be too ideal. He said, ‘Medicine, law, business, engineering: these are noble pursuit and necessary to sustain life; but poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for’. He tried to let students be aware of the importance of individual growth and the meaning of life. His words inspired students. They want to seek for dream at the same time they are trammeled by reality. But Neil is too concerned with his ideal to make necessary compromise with reality. He puts himself into an impasse and he kills himself in order to make his body free. This is the character of Progressivism: it focuses on personal development.
However, it would be better if we balance personal needs and social needs; ideal and reality. Education should be the integration of these four parts. Blind pursuit of ideal is extremely dangerous because it would make us defeated by the cruel reality. Thus we must look for the most appropriate method to seek for dreams and try our best to keep the balance between ideal and reality. 3.5.3 Progressivism education ignores imparting system knowledge. In this film, Mr. Keating also emphasizes more on telling students about life philosophies rather than imparting system knowledge. He skips around the chapter in textbook which is not beneficial for students. To realize inner desire needs to put into action, systematic knowledge is the basis of practice. Understanding life philosophies is important for mental development while systematic knowledge is also indispensable for intellectual development. Ⅳ Conclusion
After analyzing Mr. Keating’s teaching concept, educators can apply some useful points in Chinese education. There are some unreasonable status quos in Chinese education, like it highly required technicality of subject knowledge but ambiguously required for all-round capability of mastering and applying knowledge; most of disciplines which are self-contained do not communicate with each other and the learning content is away from reality and its practicality is poor. By combining useful points in the analysis, solutions could be put forward to improve status quo:
As for Teaching Purpose, except focusing on high scores, there are many other things they should learn and experience like moral values. Personal growth and social purpose of education should in a balanced state. This is complete and correct purpose. As for Teaching Content, practical skills like fostering creativity, teamwork and logical reasoning could be increased, at the same time we should not neglect students’ learning about basic knowledge. Another important thing is that we should led students know how to apply them to practice, especially by using the examples in real life. After all, education is to help us to be able to deal with problems in many fields.
As for Teaching Method, funds and advanced technology has been applying to teaching facilities nowadays, teaching methods become diverse and we should make full use of existing facilities. Teachers can combine their teaching content with appropriate method and facility, by doing so students will be more engaged in teaching process. By analyzing Mr. Keating’s teaching purpose, teaching principles and teacher-student relationship in Dead Poets Society from perspectives of Progressivism. Readers can firstly have a general understanding about this western educational philosophy, and then they can comprehend the theoretical foundation of Mr. Keating’s teaching behaviors, which is really commendable in Chinese education.
Progressivism breaks through the fetter of traditional education, advocates the importance of children’s interests and free space to develop. But everything should be in a moderate, so that can avoid the issues because of extreme. The analysis of unreasonable status quo of Chinese high school education will attract people’s attention to problems of educational practice and education itself. That is we have to eliminate exam-oriented education which only focuses on students’ grades and neglects the development of other respects. As for the solutions of these problems are writer’s desired methods to solve them. The reform and healthy growth of Chinese education system will keep going through trial and error.
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