Education: Think for Yourself
Education is supposed to teach its students to think for themselves; however, when students are taught to follow what their elders believe it causes severe psychological damage. Analysis papers and research papers call for the author's own opinion on the subject; otherwise, it isn't complete. Readers want proof that the author gave the subject thought. If readers wanted everyone else's opinion, they wouldn't be reading that one.
Katherine Watson: I didn't realize that by demanding excellence, I would be challenging...the roles you were born to fill...my mistake.
Mona Lisa Smile
Mona Lisa Smile is a feminist film about a professor, Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), who decides to teach at a respected university with the intention of challenging a system that prepares women for marriage rather than for their independent goals through education. Katherine Watson isn't married or plans her life around getting married; however, most of her students are set on becoming wives and mothers.
One of Katherine's points during the semester was that Vincent van Gogh is packaged in a paint by numbers box. Someone who invented a new way to paint, while hopelessly poor, can now be imitated using a step-by-step hobby kit. She uses the kit as a metaphor of how the class will spend their time. Will they go along with what society wants or will they make their own statement, fearlessly?
Betty starts out as Ms. Watson's biggest critic, but soon learns the consequences of following what is expected. Giselle's freedom from social expectation makes Betty resent her; however, Giselle supports Betty when she doesn't want to admit her husband is cheating on her. When she looks at da Vinci's famous "Mona Lisa," she doesn't believe her smile is genuine—she sees herself pretending to be in a happy marriage. Eventually, Betty rejects her mother's insistence that she continue in the marriage as though everything is fine, and goes after what she wants.
John Keating: You will learn to think for yourself, again.
Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society is about a group of young men whose professor, John Keating (Robin Williams), encourages his students to think for themselves. His passion for helping students reach their individual dreams comes from his past as a student there; he knows the other professors won't allow them to pursue what they really want. For him, education frees people from the binds of what society wants them to be, and gives them the opportunity to be what they want.
In Mr. Keating's second class, he asks his students to rebel against the social norm by ripping out the introduction of their book, written by an educated "expert" of poetry. Poets believe poetry is about expression of self, but this author with a PhD destroys the real reason for poetry by trying to create a formula to measure its quality. Keating teaches that it is just as important for readers to write their own poetry as it is to read famous poetry.
Although Mr. Perry seems to not care for his son's interests, he is likely the product of parents who pushed him to choose a job based on financial stability rather than happiness. This cycle is reinforced from generation to generation. Some will see education as freedom to learn and do what they want with it; while others, like Mr. Perry, will only see it as a means to prevent financial problems. It is because Mr. Perry only sees the financial benefits that he is unable to see the psychological importance of letting Neil be involved in the arts.
Through poetry, Mr. Keating is able to reinforce the way he views life—that it should never be wasted. The saying "seize the day" becomes inspiration for the students to go after what they want without apology: Neil pursues acting, Todd gains confidence, and Charlie pursues Christine. Their perspectives are forever changed. After it seems all hope is lost when Neil kills himself and Mr. Keating is fired, the young men take a stand against the headmaster's demands for discipline by standing on their desks as Mr. Keating leaves the class, one last time, saying the famous line by Walt Whitman, "O Captain! My Captain!"
Films such as these emphasize the intention of education. Learning about multiple perspectives of a single subject can inspire one individual to change how that field works. Any social issue has adapted more points of view over time because more individuals shared their stories to help others consider how it impacts those lives as much as their own; education works this way, too. How will you leave your mark on society?
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