“Dead Poets Society“
(The novel “Dead Poets Society” written by N. H. Kleinbaum is about a secret organization, being revived by some students, who were inspired by their new English teacher. This book also shows the struggle of the young boys against the orders of their parents and the discipline they have to maintain at their school, Welton Academy.) This episode in particular introduces the extraordinary teaching methods of Mr. John Keating, the new English teacher, to the class.
The episode taking place in Mr. Keating’s class room begins with him telling Neil to read aloud the introduction of Understanding Poetry. While Neil follows his order, he draws the mathematical graph for analyzing poetry on the blackboard. Having finished he instructs them to rip the introduction out, because according to him it’s garbage. He motivates them to think for themselves, feel passion and romance, instead of simply following orders. To prove his point he quotes a poem of Whitman and then continues teaching about romanticism.
Analysis: Mr. Keating’s teaching methods
For Welton Academy with its four pillars of tradition, honor, discipline and excellence, which the teachers anticipate and follow, Mr. Keating’s teaching methods are extraordinary and probably not wanted. For instance, he encourages the students to break the rules (“Rip it [Pritchard introduction on analyzing poems] out of your books”)(p.27, ll.16-17), yet he is very enthusiastic and emotional about it, even after his fellow teacher McAllister is shocked and calls it “misguided” (p.30, l.11). He wants the boys to be the exact contrary of what the school trains them to. The school demands discipline and excellence, which is why every student has to have the correct answer to every question the teacher asks. But with that principal of learning everything by heart, any individualism will be lost. But that’s what Keating’s teaching methods are about. He wants them to “triumph as individuals” instead of “[succumbing] to the will of academic hoi polloi” (p.28, ll. 2-3), so he tries to form them to “free thinkers” (p.30, ll. 16-17). He wishes them to use their own brains instead of simply following orders and not making up their mind about what that means for them. This all, he wants to achieve by using his teaching methods and his actions in class. But not the actions make his teaching skills so extraordinary, even if it is an order to break the rules. It is how he expresses his orders: Instead of simply telling them what to do, like every other teacher would have done, he uses strange sounds, informal and slang words and his emotions: “Refuse! Garbage! Pus! […] He grabbed the trash can and dramatically marched down the aisles” (p.27, ll. 16-20). However, even if it sounds inappropriate for a teacher, for him it is a way of attracting the attention of the boys to him and therefore getting his message passed to them. To pass his course they have to use their minds, because he asks them transfer questions too. Answers in class don’t have to be right. Due to the subject they are covering, Keating recites poems, either to support one of his statements or to ask the students about their conclusions of the poem and the intent of the author. Being confronted with his questions they are forced to discuss the poems and learn from it (“Carpe Diem […] Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary”) (p.18, ll. 20-21).They also learn, how to “savor language and words” (p. 28, l.6), because according to Keating “words and ideas have the power to change the world” (p.28, ll. 7-8). Keating conveys the important things of life to them with poetry and passion (“Fire danced in Keating’s eyes”) (p.27, ll. 32-33). This is one of the reasons why his success with his teaching methods is that big. Extraordinary as they may be at this time, people do feel more animated to follow and learn if the teacher himself is motivated and full of passion for his subject. Because humanity is more animated to learn, if it’s having fun. Keating realized that and adjusted his teaching methods. With that opinion Keating was way before his time. At his time he would have been laughed at, while today this method in slightly different form is practiced.
Comment: Is it appropriate for teachers to use informal and slang words in class?
In his English classes Keating uses a lot of informal and slang words. With him his strategy proved to be successful. He taught the boys what was important for him and they really began to think for themselves, even if this sadly resulted in suicide of one of his students. But for his time it was quite inappropriate to use informal and slang words in class. The question is now, if nowadays it is appropriate to use those words in class.
Now, in a technological era, slang words are used all over. So, why shouldn’t teachers be allowed to use informal and slang words in class too?
A common problem teachers have with their class is that the students don’t listen to them. There can be quite a few reasons for that: The student is not interested in the subject, he is bored and would love to talk with his friends or he just thinks the teacher is talking too much, not getting to the point or talks in comprehensible sentences, because in the students opinion the sentences are built too complicated. Most pupils are so accustomed to the short forms that they understand them better than the regular language. For such classes it would be appropriate to use informal and slang words in class, because they would draw the attention of the students to the teacher.
Another point is: Why should teenagers always adapt to the adults? Adults can also adapt to the language of the youth. Those short forms are much more efficient and time saving than normal forms. Adults would save time they could use for their families or their hobbies and wouldn’t be complaining all the time of not having enough time for meeting friends or who knows else. That would also have some advantages for the youth. Teachers wouldn’t be so bad-mooded because of lack of time and could bear the class longer without having to give extra homework. Also: It is proven that some of our modern vocabulary words were called slang words 100 years or more ago.
Some might argue that teachers have to be models. Students should learn to behave or write and speak fluently from them. Teachers also should prepare the students for future life. And in the business world it is important to not use words that can be misinterpreted easily. You have to appear as reliable, honest and responsible. Now, does someone with informal and slang words in his vocabulary in a world full of formal words seem reliable or responsible?
Secondly, in our world most of those slang words are only understood by the youth. And even between them it can come to misunderstandings because of used short forms which were badly interpreted. In the USA teachers are having problem reading through essays of their high school students, because they are writing in short form and shortening every word with more than a syllable to one syllable. But that they don’t do out of laziness but rather out of habit.
All in all both sides have some points to their theories. I think it depends on the situation and on the class. If you teach in a class that won’t put this slang language to use it wouldn’t be such a great idea of using this vocabulary because it would be inappropriate. But if you’re teaching English to students who want to do a year abroad or communicate with native speakers, it would be appropriate to use slang words. Such students interacting with native speakers, not having to do something with business, should know some common informal slang words, because they would really come in handy.
“Dead Poets Society“