03 October 2005

"Pick three laboratory assignments from the project list and report on them every five weeks," says the school master to his pupils. These are the first words we hear spoken in class to the current crop of Welton Academy students. The school master continues on in a mildly sadistic tone, "The first twenty questions at the end of chapter one are due tomorrow," In the next scene, we see the boys drilling conjugations of Latin verbs. Following that, we see the trigonometry teacher urging his students to not test him on his homework policy. Welton Academy appears to be an educational gulag.

Then comes Mr. Keating. He enters class whistling, and proceeds to walk his students out. He takes them to a hall with pictures of alumni, and urges the boys to "seize the day, make your lives extraordinary." Mr. Keating's English class is presented as a counterpoint to the other classes taught at Welton Academy. The focus is not on hard work, but on appreciating life, seizing the day, and living extraordinarily. Instead of a severe deportment, Mr.Keating is sincere. His enthusiasm and charisma contrast with the other teachers. With Mr.Nolan, the difference is most acutely clear. Mr.Nolan takes over Mr.Keating's class. He begins with Socratic questioning, which fails, and then moves on to the text. Compared with Mr.Keating, his approach is dry and uninspriring. Shortly thereafter, his students rebel, and show their allegiance to Mr.Keating. Clearly, Mr.Keating's approach to teaching is more popular with his students.

Popularity is only one aspect of Mr.Keating's approach to teaching. His consideration of curriculum is also important. His job as a teacher is to prepare his students for the next stage in their lives. In some cases, English teachers need to work with students to prepare them for daily tasks, such as reading signs, and writing their addresses. In Mr.Keating's case, he is preparing students for post-secondary education, likely in the Ivy League. Free-thinking will help students glean more from their education. However, in a conversation with Mr.Keating, Mr.Nolan advises, "Prepare them for college, and the rest will take care of itself." His belief is that the students will benefit most their "proven" curriculum. This dedication to curriculum suggests that Mr.Keating's colleagues would achieve greater scope within the context of the Ontario Curriculum.

The Ontario Curriculum is our guide. It tells us what are students are supposed to be learning in each subject, and each Grade. In ENG3U, there are 12 overall epectations and 65 specific expectations. These expectations mostly address concrete skills. They have their roots in the expectations from earlier Grades, and lead to those found in Grade 12 English. Ultimately, this series of courses leads students to university. There is a certain tyranny to a standardised curriculum like this. However, the breadth of the curriculum incorporates a significant amount of analysis and communication. The curriculum contains expectations which require the evaluations of different sources of information, and the judgment of these for their relative worth. Perhaps most importantly is the expectation in the curriculum that students synthesise the results of their research into their own work. This is one of the highest levels of critical thinking.

It would be interesting to see how Mr.Keating would approach high school English in a modern Ontario classroom. Would he follow the curriculum, or would he put it aside, and take his class outside to teach them a lesson about the dangers of comformity? The Ontario Curriculum requires students to demonstrate creativity. independent thought, and technical skills. If Mr.Keating's goal is to train free-thinkers, he could easily do it within the scope of the current curriculum. With his charisma, subject knowledge, and sense of drama, his results would be formidable. If Mr.Keating's goal is to react against the establishment, regardless of its relative level of totalitarianism, then he would surely discard the curriculum, and take his students outside to recite poetry while practicing soccer.

There is less doubt about the approach that Mr.Keating's colleagues would take. It is clear that all of these men have subscribed to their curriculum. It is reasonable to predict that they would take a similar approach in a modern Ontario classroom. They would be driven to follow the curriculum to the best of their abilities. The question in this case is whether or not they would have the skills required to deliver it effectively. The current curriculum places little emphasis on rote memorisation and drill. Perhaps these teachers would find themseleves unprepared for the broad scope of expectations.

In conclusion, it is difficult to judge which teacher would find the greatest scope under the Ontario Curriculum. Mr.Keating may be too much of an anarchist to fully embrace the curriculum. In that case, he would likely focus his attention on developing the students' appreciation for literature, and neglect the expectations that he did not find suitable. However, if he were to embrace the curriculum, his remarkable skill as a teacher would surely lead him to explore a greater scope of activities and literature. Mr.Keating's colleagues are a safer bet. They would definitely follow the curriculum, and teach it to the best of their abilities. Therefore, M.Keating's colleagues would likely achieve a geater scope within the context of the Ontario Curriculum.