‘Dead Poets Society‘ has been my favourite film for a long time. Watching it again hasn’t changed my mind. Sure, it’s sentimental and full of quotable soundbites, but its message is still important.
Mr John Keating, played by Robin Williams, encourages his young male students to think for themselves, achieve their full potential, seize the day (‘Carpe Diem‘). Using an imaginative mix of poetry, music and humour, Keating draws out even the most reluctant of his pupils. His methods are frowned upon by the school’s head and staff, who try to discourage John from developing free-thinking individuals. Nevertheless, his classes inspire the boys of the revived ‘Dead Poets Society’ to chase their dreams. But when Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) lands himself the lead role in a local production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, against the wishes of his overbearing father, Mr Keating’s liberal lessons are called in to question.
I would have liked to have been a teacher – English to ‘A’ level. That is because I would have liked to have been the kind of teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie. Education is about so much more than pumping children full of facts – Dickens knew that when he wrote ‘Hard Times‘ way back in 1854. Somehow though, we don’t seem to have learned very much about what our young people need to know in order to make their own way in the world.
My guess is that most people who go into teaching do it with the intention of inspiring their pupils, touching their souls in some way. What a pity then, that these remarkable individuals have their talents reduced to pushing our kids through the system like sausages, churning out results which only have value if they can be measured and counted. Courage, kindness, creativity, humility, determination and may other important life qualities are not on the numbered scale.
Robin Williams has taken his own life. A cruel irony for a funny man. For me, it’s not Mrs Doubtfire or Aladdin’s genie which linger in my mind; it’s the inspirational Mr John Keating, teacher extraordinaire.