So we all know how movies can tug at the heartstrings and inspire courage and turn into solid diamond gems as time passes. There is a sizeable pool of movies that boast inspirational life lessons from its plot and cinematography, without being labelled as too over-the-top, or trying-too-hard, to just conveniently labelled as “propaganda”. The recent local drama series on Channel 8 “Don’t Stop Believin'” (the contraction in the third word really ticks me off because of the slang it seems to so cleverly boast) is an example of a really (I am sorry but I cannot lie about this) awful programme that does not reflect an ounce of reality. If the local community would take what they see at face value and form their impressions of teachers, secondary school students and schools from shows such as these, I could just well, bury my head in the ground until the world passes over and a more intelligent community takes over the planet.
Anyway, because of shows on television that can be so cringeworthy, here is a list of films that I feel has been most powerfully moving and inspiring, in all senses of the word. Granted, these films are set in different communities, cultures and time periods, but I think they educate and raise very thought-provoking issues about education and life, rather than plaster an imagined idealised reality in viewers’ minds.
Lessons of a Dream (German)
This was one of those movies I came across when I was channel-hopping during the holidays, lounging on my couch in the living room, hoping to spot something worth viewing before I left home. Foreign films usually take a while to whet my appetite, mainly because of the difference in languages, but this one got me hooked. It tells the tale of an Englishman who moved to Germany to be an English teacher at an all boys’ school, a strict, regimental institution. In it he finds himself dealing with the German’s general prejudice against the English, from both the boys, the alumni and the general public. The film also delves into issues of social and class discrimination through the taunts and frequently bullying of the a young scrawny scholar who faces the constant threat of being expelled. Values of teamwork and empathy come out of the movie too, through the introduction of Football to the boys. There are certain points in the show where it borrows too easily from cheesy inspirational movies that yanks you back into reality where you go, “Oh, it is all quite romanticized”. But for most of the ride, it gives you wings and some zesty food for thought with regards to teaching young boys become men of heart and courage. Needless to say, I was late for my appointment that afternoon.
Here is the trailer on Youtube:
Who would not think of Freedom Writers when we speak of inspirational teaching-movies? At one point (or two) the film made me cry buckets. I think the film is a treasure find because it honestly presents to you the cracks and brokenness of the community in California, and the effect those riots had on the teenagers in the High School Hilary Swank’s character Erin Gruwell was teaching at. I also appreciate how it doesn’t paint a rosy picture of becoming a teacher – happily married with a supportive spouse, lovely children, having cakes and tea with your family at home on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, it very realistically depicts the brokenness of Ms Gruwell’s home, where her husband left her because of the overwhelming commitment she made to her job and her kids (Of course, it doesn’t give us room to think about whether or not it is worth it, it just makes us feel all blurry teary, so we bury those unanswerable questions in the compassion of our hearts). Yet, I also appreciate how Ms. Gruwell’s kindness and effort to her kids was not a standalone effort – because no teacher can stand on his or her own – her parents and other members of the community chipped in to help create a powerful learning experience for these kids that lasts a lifetime and could lift up the power to love and forgive.
3 Idiots (India)
I was first introduced to 3 Idiots by a friend and fellow teacher-student while reading my Post-Graduate Diploma in Education. It was one of the movies I laughed the hardest and longest to. But beneath the hysterical nonsensical facade, with a really interesting cranky name to boot, 3 Idiots deals with the educational landscape in India, which bears are stark similarities to the educational landscape elsewhere. I, for one, can find myself relating to some of the comical parodies it draws from real life.
Perhaps the best part of this movie is that it can be found (Yes, in its entirety) on Youtube! You don’t have to be disappointed watching a movie in fragments and trying to piece together the parts, or trying to figure out what significant moments of the film you missed. And, it comes with English subtitles too. It’s a whole 2 hours long, but it is definitely worth your time.
Here’s a short clip from the movie:
Taare Zameen Par (India)
When I was on my attachment, a great teacher mentor and friend introduced this wonderful wonderful show to her students (and I). The film tells the story of an eight-year-old boy who had fascinating imagination and a strong sense of art and colour, Ishaan, who was sent to a boarding school in India because he could not excel academically. His father, and family, was naturally disappointed with his performance in school, and at one point this strained their parent-child relationship much. Of course, a teacher, comes into his life and insists on seeing him for what he could do, rather than what he could not do, and finds out that he is dyslexic. To tell the truth I cannot remember the ending of the movie, but I know it was a heartwarming tale of love and conviction between a teacher and his child. Are we willing to see our students for their gifts, not what they lack?
I think the best part of these two movies it that it stars Aamir Khan (and in Taare Zameen Par Aamir Khan directed and produced it too). I love it because they contain the best of Bollywood’s outrageously dramatic jiggly dances and good-natured comedy, a good mix of slapstick and satirical humour rolled into a jolly good time.
Dead Poet’s Society
Do I need to say more? This is one of the giants of inspirational educational films that I have heard since I was a little kid. Perhaps my parents desired to inculcate that passion for teaching in me before I could fully appreciate the film. But here is my absolute favourite scene… together with the excellent music it makes my heart flutter and chest heave. I love watching the boys’ expressions as they struggle between doing what they want to, and what they are expected to. If one day I should move one kid in the same way as Mr Keating did, I would be much content. :)
I will not deny that there are plenty of other awesome and inspiring teaching-movies out there, but from the pool I know, these are the 5 that has struck and stayed with me. Perhaps one fine day I could add more to this list and revisit it ever so often to keep that little flame aglow.