Dead Poet Society


Context is one of my favorite topics in my book “Being a Proverbial Student.” Understanding the context, or frame of reference, for each of our lives is an important factor in understanding ourselves. The context for how we learn information determines how we think, our attitudes, our opinions and more. Knowing the contexts for our lives is important for becoming a wise person.

I use the example of 1+1 can equal 10 to show that even the simplest most basic information we have learned has been within a context and context can determine the correct answer. We learned our numbers in the context of Base 10 and in that context 1+1 = 2. But other contexts are possible. Base 2 is important for the development of computers and in that context, 1+1 = 10.

Dead Poet Society

I gave several examples of context in my book but did not discuss examples from one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Dead Poet Society.” In the movie, Robin Williams portrays a young English teacher, who is hired at the last minute by an uptight, all white, all male, prep-school.

He proves to be a challenge to the young men because he tries to teach them there are many possible contexts for their lives. They need to understand the ones they are living but see the many other possibilities for their lives.

Among several possible examples, two very memorable scenes about context stand out to me. The first is when the teacher tells the students to critique what they are reading rather than just memorizing and regurgitating what the author writes. He does this by telling them to tear out pages of the text book.

He is showing critical analysis as a context for learning, rather than rote memorization which has been their only context for learning up to this point in their education. He wants them to think for themselves.

In the second scene he has them stand on their desks and look at the classroom from a different perspective. He was trying to show them other contexts are happening around them all the time. Other contexts are possible for their lives.

Student reaction: Poetry

Two student reactions are worth your time and understanding. First after a class where I discussed the movie one male student came up and asked “Is that the movie where guys were reading poetry? When I said yes, that was a part of the movie. He went on to say “I’m not watching any movie where guys are reading poetry.”

Sadly, this young man had only one context for masculinity and it did not include poetry. Unfortunately, his limitation means he cannot identify with Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin or many of the founders of our country and other very “masculine” men who, over the years, have written or enjoyed poetry. In years past, poetry played a large role in the education of men and women. It is narrow-minded to have such a limited context for masculinity.

Student reaction: African-American students.

Another interesting observation was, very few African–American students reported seeing the movie. When I visited with them, they were not interested in the movie because it was a white male prep school. Their response is understandable in young people but unfortunately, also limited the development of their humanity.

The Lesson

Whether it is the presence of boys reading poetry or the setting being all white, both reasons kept students from learning valuable lessons about humanity. Understanding the importance of humanity is a context beyond race and gender and a lesson all humans need for wisdom. 

In my opinion understanding what it means to be Black or White or Brown in America is an important contextual issue for each individual. Understanding masculinity and femininity is also important. As a teacher I hope I enabled students to have an understanding of the individual context for each of their lives.

 But, I also hope I enabled an understanding of the context of humanity; a context that encompasses all of the individual contexts for our lives.  And, of course, I hope I enabled a spiritual understanding of being a Christian on Earth.

We all have unique experiences and therefore are diverse; but if we could all understand and develop our potential in the ways we can be alike—our shared humanity– we would have a better world. The fruit of the Spirit are available to all regardless of race or gender.  If we all realize our potential to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, tolerant, strong and have self-control, without regard for gender or race, we could develop a better world.

 In addition to celebrating diversity, let us celebrate the ways we can be the same in important human and spiritual values.

Review of the week and last week’s blog

Mass shootings and dangerous rhetoric on both sides continue to be frightening to me.

On the left–this week I read in several sources, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quoted as saying, “marginalized people have no other choice but rioting.” I strongly disagree and I believe Gandhi, Mandela and King would also disagree.

On the right– a Louisiana police officer said Ocasio-Cortez “needs a round.” I also strongly disagree with that statement.

 I do not believe my deep concern for the need for civil discourse is wrong. The shootings, one fanned by right leanings in San Antonio and one, with apparent left leanings, in Dayton add urgency to my concern. We must find ways to solve problems through thoughtful civil discourse or we face the strong possibility of chaos.

With regard to last week’s blog, accepting consequences for protests, one person reported a similar learning experience to mine.

 A student came to him and asked to be excused from an exam so she could go to the March for Life in Washington D.C. He told her she would forfeit the exam grade. She went ballistic and could not believe she would need to pay a cost for her political protest. In his view easy protests are just that, EASY.

 He asks– With no skin in the game, where does courage of one’s convictions come into play?

Great question — thanks for the input. I am glad for responses.

No poems this week!

Until next week,




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