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Dead Poet's Society
A FILM WORTH EXAMINING FOR TEACHING PURPOSES

General Introduction

During the school year 1996/97 Sue Kerman and I (Jack Pillemer) used the film "The Dead Poet's Society" as a focus of motivation for our English lessons in the upper grades at Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem. The idea was to use the film to generate interest and excitement in the Bagrut literature program since some of the pieces we teach for Bagrut are referred to in the movie.

Below you will find :

  1. A detailed report written by Sue Kerman.
  2. A page of quotes from the movie which was prepared as a handout for the students. (if you use the movie, this page will save you a lot of work.)
  3. A link to poetry written by certain students in response to the

  4. experience of viewing the movie.
We would happy to share our experience with you.

Jack Pillemer jackpil@barak-online.net
Sue Kerman skerman@netvision.net.il

____________________________________________________________________

USING THE FILM "THE DEAD POET'S SOCIETY" AS THE BASIS FOR TEACHING THE POETRY COURSE IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN GRADES 11 AND 12

By Sue Kerman

I. INTRODUCTION

Since there is often a problem of motivation among certain pupils in teaching the English poetry program in high school I looked around for some way to stimulate the interest of the students in the subject and so came upon the film "The Dead Poet's Society" This film I found eminently attractive to young people that age as well as extremely useful for my purposes. The film not only includes excerpts from several of the poems on our program but also deals with themes that the pupils find very relevant.

II. METHOD OF TEACHING

Before Viewing the Film

Before showing the film I went through it and picked out the various pieces of poetry that came up in the film and printed them up for the pupils, as well as quotations from the main character in the film, Professor Keating - (See Attachment 1).

I began with a short discussion in class based on the Professor's first quotation on the nature and relevance of poetry.

"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. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
- Dead Poet's Society
I then asked the pupils to take the pages of poetry home and read them through and choose at least one item that particularly moved them. At the next lesson the pupils presented the poetry they liked the best, explained why they liked it and we discussed the excerpts together. I provided a minimal explanation about some of the poets, especially Walt Whitman, who is a central focus in the film.

This allowed the pupils to become familiar with a few of the poems so that they could identify them when they heard them in the film. And it also prepared them for the more in-depth study of some of the poems later.

In some classes this discussion began to inspire a few pupils to bring in some modern pop songs that they considered particularly poetic and one pupil brought in a poem he had written himself. As I result of this reaction I announced in all the three classes in which I was doing this activity that anyone interested in bringing in poetry they liked or in writing a poem of their own was welcome to do so.

For the next four lessons I showed the film without any comment or interference except for writing in large capital letters "CARPE DIEM" on the board.

After Viewing the Film

A. Discussion

After the pupils had finished seeing the film I threw open the discussion on the film. I found this discussion most fruitful if done immediately after viewing. I discovered that the main focuses of discussion developed around the following subjects:

1) The two approaches to education presented in the film - the strict, disciplined structure of the boysò school as opposed to the freer carpe diem attitude of their teacher.

Pupils did not necessarily opt for the latter approach and expressed their reservations. This led to a general discussion on education and on what they find most effective for themselves. This subject could be developed further with other supplementary material.

2) A second theme was the relationship between a teacher and a pupil and how close and informal such a relationship should be.

The pupils related to both the positive, inspirational aspect of the relationship between the teacher and his pupils, as well as to the potentially dangerous nature of the relationship. A few pupils brought up the example of the film "The Wave" in which the teacher was able to convince his pupils to become Nazis. This in some classes developed into a discussion of to what extent the teacher in the film was responsible for the suicide of his pupil.

As a balance to that I might consider using next time a short story in which the pupil commits suicide as a result of lack of involvement by a teacher. (See Attachment 2)

3) A third area of discussion was the relationship between parents and children.

The relationship between the pupil who commits suicide and his father aroused very strong feelings among the pupils and this brought up a discussion of the degree of involvement parents should have in the lives of their children, what kind of involvement is positive and helpful and which negative and destructive.

In general my feelings were that a whole semester could be spent just developing these areas of discussion with various supplementary materials around the themes.

B. Internet

I discovered also while preparing my material that there were several Internet sights relating to this film to which I referred those of my pupils who are interested in computers

Teaching the Poetry

After the above preparation I found that my pupils were much more receptive and involved in the study of the poetry.

I began by teaching the Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken". This poem deals with the theme of choice and lost opportunities which is also the main theme of the film. I then continued on to the second Frost poem in the program, "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" which can also be tied in with the film.

In relation to the Whitman poem "O Captain! My Captain!" I brought in the Hebrew version written as a song by Naomi Shemer, compared the two and discussed the association with Yitzhak Rabin's death. I did not do much more than that since the poem itself is not Whitman's best.

The rest of the poems in the study program were not specifically mentioned in the film but can easily be connected up to it. For example:

1) My Papa's Waltz - by Theodore Roethke - deals with the emotional, sometimes violent, elements in a relationship between a parent and a child.

2) "Walking Away" - by C. Day Lewis - deals with a son leaving home and the separation from his parent.

3) "Richard Cory" - by Edwin Arlington Robinson - deals with the theme of suicide and false impressions.

4) "Musee des Beaux Arts" - by W.H. Auden - the relevancy here could be around the figure of Icarus, i.e., trying to go beyond one's reach - did Keating ask his pupils to reach too far?

Further Activities

As I mentioned above the discussion about poetry and the film inspired some pupils to write some poetry of their own or bring in songs they liked. I have printed up the material (without names) and plan to hand it out at the last lesson of the year for the perusal of the rest of the classes. (]See Attachment 3)

Some pupils brought in videos of other films which they thought the class might enjoy watching (e.g., "The Wall")

Assignments

This kind of program opens up opportunities for various kinds of project work.

Here is a list of possible assignments that could go with this program:

1. Decide on the poet you liked the best from the poets you have heard about and read up on his/her biography and style. Choose three of his poems and discuss them.

2. Choose a different work, i.e., not a poem, by one of the writers discussed in class and write up / present a report on it.

3. Find locations on the Internet that relate to any of the poems or poets we have talked about and present your results to the class.

4. Write a poem of your own.

5.   Write a letter to one of the following:
       a. the headmaster of the school
       b. Professor Keating
       c. the parents of the pupils

6. Watch another film that relates to any of the subjects mentioned and report on it to the class, e.g., "If", "The Wave".

7. Compare the education you have gotten with the two approaches presented in the film.


CONCLUSION

I have used films occasionally in the past to teach certain works of literature but I found this film was one of the most effective. It is a film that speaks to all levels of pupils and presents a very strong message for them. I found pupils that were not normally active in lessons became more involved and interested and that the usually active ones were inspired to reach beyond their ordinary level as well.


ATTACHMENT 1:

POETRY FROM THE FILM

"THE DEAD POET'S SOCIETY"

"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. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

- Dead Poet's Society

**********

O Captain! My Captain!

1

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

2

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

3

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
>From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

- Walt Whitman

**********

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he's a-getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer heòs to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

- Robert Herrick

**********

O Me! O Life!

O ME O life!...of the questions of these recurring:
Of the endless trains of the faithless-- of cities fill'd with the foolish;....
What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here-- that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

**********

Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams
And I'll show you a happy man

- Tennyson

*

But only in their dreams can men be truly free
It was always thus and always thus will be.

- Keating

**********

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately,
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die
Discover that I had not lived.

- Thoreau

**********

The Prophet

Teach me to Love? go teach thyself more wit;
I chief Professor am of it....

The God of Love, if such a thing there be,
May learn to love from Me.
He who does boast that he has been
In every Heart since Adamòs sin,
I'll lay my Life, nay Mistress on't that's more;
I teach him thing he never knew before;

- Cowley

**********

Ulysses

...Come, my friends,
`Tis not too late to seek a newer world...
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset,...
and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

-Tennyson

**********

Most men live lives of quiet desperation. - Thoreau

**********

Dare to strike out and find new ground.

**********

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the word.. - Whitman

**********

The Road Not Taken

...Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that made all the difference.

- Frost

**********

Shall I compare thee to a summeròs day
Thou art more lovely and more temperate

-Shakespeare

**********

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
All that's best of dark and bright
Melt in her aspect and her eyes:

- Byron

**********

A Midsummer Nightòs Dream

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this -- and all is mended--
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to escape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all,
Give me your hand, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.


ATTACHMENT 3:

POEMS HANDED IN BY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN RESPONSE TO THE MOVIE "THE DEAD POET'S SOCIETY"

Dreams

Sometimes fate turns its back to you.
And sometimes shows its teeth.
But I have never seen its smile.
Oh, Lady Luck's a myth!
Hold on to dreams -- they're all you've got,
Man's hand can touch them never.
Your life ends with a single shot,
But dreams remain forever.
>From birth to death, day after day,
The sun goes up all over.
Without the dreams our world is gray
Your fears can take you nowhere.
Dreams can break chains that never broke,
Rhyme words unmeant to rhyme.
With dreams a child can change the world
And backwards move time.
Hold on to dreams -- sleep or awake.
And make your dreams come true.
For your dreams are all yours alone...
They make "just someone" you...

Inspired by:

"But only in their dreams can men be truly free
It was always thus, and always thus will be."

Keating

***

The nightmare is over,
The day has begun.
The light is such glory
And no cloud in the sky.
All lovely and peaceful
There sunshine and songs.
Already alarm clock...
O please, a second more!

*

Life: a period of material,
Placed somewhere in time and space.
Something that over
and ties the ends.
But there are open lives

*

Do I love him?
I don't know.
Maybe yes and maybe no.

Does he love me?
I hope so
O, my God, please tell me so.

***

NIL

Running fast along the bridge
Shining stars jumping in the eyes,
Suddenly, helpless, want to scream, to shout
But my mouth is closed, my voice doesnòt sound.
Stone after stone, piece after piece,
Falling from the bridge to the river -- so deep.

Walking slowly on the long, dark bridge
The shining in the eyes went long ago to sleep,
The water is calling, whispering under my feet.
Tired, aimless, I'm closing my eyes.
Trying to push different buttons in all kinds of size:
Pushing REWIND and FAST FORWARD, but the button is stuck
And then on PLAY, but the terrible music drives me nuts.
I throw the damn tape in the river, full of violence
And then STOP ----
and hear the silence.

***

Love is like energy
Turning inside, from dawn of life
Although the stormy desert of
It. Till the dusk.
Love in the night should explode.
Couples can make it so fine.
I'll be yours and you'll be mine.
I shall never bear you a grudge.
I would rather reflect on it with a forgiving touch.
Like the sea, our waves will rise high.
You'll be my girl, I'll be your guy.
I run out of ideas. I run out of words.
Never go from me, always go towards.

***

New life is born!
In the white wilderness of emptiness
New life, new wine, dying on a vine
The true heart of a black soul
Full with fears and vengeance
>From an indifferent world.
Gods and myths, ancient world, ancient wars.
Wake up, the time has come again
Time to bring up the ancient fire
>From hearts of lost warriors
Dying near the ancient lake of hope.
Hell within, hell without, hell is what the screams about
All of us were born to suffer
Time and space no longer matter
Guns, thunders, the sound of battle
Fighting the peace by the power of new gods
For new habitats, for life.

***

She was bleeding herself out of your sight
And your fears prevented you from interfering
"Sad people cannot see anything but the dark," you said, and didn't
understand that the darkness is a mirror.
"Most people are frightened from seeing themselves," she said, dying
in your hands
You watched her soul dripping slowly from her body and heard her last
words.
What you didn't hear was her soul, screaming at you, "If you want to
live, stop hiding from the darkness."
Stop hiding from yourself.

***

Everything is gay and fresh
Everything is gay and fresh
I heard a little girl singing on the bus
I told her to be quiet
And she kicked me in the ass

Now it hurts
And I feel bad
I can't believe it
I'm almost dead

It's all because of that little girl
Who doesn't take criticism well.
Next time I see her on the bus
I will kick her in the ass.
 
 

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