Hollywood lost one of its greatest stars on Aug. 11 with the death of Robin Williams. His passing affected millions of people around the world. Despite battling depression and addiction, Williams is remembered for many iconic roles in a variety of movies spanning several decades: Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Aladdin, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam.
One of his most memorable roles was English teacher John Keating in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. In the film, Mr. Keating inspires a class of preparatory students attending the elite Welton Academy in 1959 New England with the beauty of poetry. Naturally the all-male class is hesitant to embrace the art until Mr. Keating muses, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”
This is what reading narrative and poetry should be about — personal interpretation, focusing on how the words make us feel instead of suppressing the desire to learn with critical analysis and dissection.
I have noticed that my generation is not nearly as interested in reading and writing poetry as we are in going to parties, the newest iPhone or which Kardashian got married. We are missing out on the beauty of this world, both visually and lyrically because we were never taught in school. We learn mathematics and science but when it comes to English, we’re running blind. English classes teach us how to dissect poetry and literature but not how to enjoy it.
English is the most misunderstood of the arts. Paintings, photographs and music delight our senses of sight and sound, yet creative writing and poetry require a person to really think about what they are reading. English teachers have us scrutinize and pick apart poetry and literature to further develop our analytical and writing abilities. But that is where the fault lies within the system. I believe students would enjoy the literature we read more if we discussed it instead of analyzing it. This would instead better develop writing skills, thinking abilities, communication and a beautiful love of the art.
In Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating had his students rip out the introductory pages of their poetry textbooks because they displayed a mathematical equation designed to rate the “success” of a poem. Instead he tells them, “When you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think.” All teachers should have such an attitude towards education — teach us how to think, not what to think. Prepare students for the real world and not for a world crafted by an education board’s curriculum. Science and math have equations with one correct answer to their questions. Too much focus is put on these courses because that is where careers lie. If you struggle with math and science, but excel at the arts, you’re considered an academic failure by current standards.
Let us be free in our classrooms to openly discuss how a piece of literature makes us feel or to write our own heartfelt poetry. Inspire me to marvel at the beauty of a sunrise or get lost while stargazing. Teach me how to have a way with words and develop a curiosity and passion for my future endeavours and for those with whom I share the experience.
In a first-year university English class I received a grade of 50 per cent because I was not interested in what I was reading or how it was being taught to me. I frequently skipped class because I found the whole year-long engagement to be a waste of hundreds of my hard earned dollars. Sure, I received the six credits for the course, but I learned nothing from it. It did not teach me to become a better writer, nor did it make me appreciate literature more because I was forced to analyze it while it was crammed down my throat.
If Williams’ John Keating can inspire such courage and passion among his students, why can’t our high school and university teachers do the same? Now don’t get me wrong, many teachers do succeed in these goals for their students. I know this because I’ve had my fair share of such educators — I just wish all students could have the privilege to experience such joy through learning and that all teachers shared that same enthusiasm.
Extraordinary teachers will inspire extraordinary students; people who will go out into this world with curiosity, adventure, hope and strive to make a difference for generations to come. As Mr, Keating said, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Photo: Eva Rinaldi/flickr