Thoughts on the 1974 Film “Conrack”

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This past week in Professor Dalton’s Education and Pop Culture class, we watched a film called “Conrack”. The film is about a man from South Carolina, Pat Conroy, who goes to a small island off the coast of South Carolina to teach the children who live there. The children on the island all attend the same two-room school which is in a run-down building at the heart of the impoverished island. Upon arriving at the school, the principal of the school tells Conroy that the kids he will be teaching are “slow” and that they need to be “stepped on” every day in order to keep them in line.It is clear from the start that the principal believes in tough love for the children and she later tells Conroy that this is solely to prepare them for the struggles thatthey will face in the real world as black people. The problem with the principals teaching methods is that when Conroy arrives at the school, he realizes that the students do not know math as simple as 2+2, the alphabet, how to spell their own names, or even the name of the country that they live in. In fact, the children are so severely behind in their learning that they cannot even pronounce Conroy’s name right and thus the name Conrack is born. (They could have been messing with him by calling him Conrack, I wasn’t sure, but I was pretty sure it was not an intentional mistake). Essentially, Conroy inherits a 5th grade class of students who have had no proper schooling before and therefore know nothing. Additionally, the principal and the school board do not see this as a problem so long as the students stay in line and understand their role and place in society.

Conroy becomes beloved by the students as he teaches them skills that will help them in life like how to swim, and uses outside-of-the-box methods of teaching the students like taking field trips and watching videos and listening to music. These new and innovative ways of teaching are rejected by the principal, and eventually Conroy faces consequences for his actions, but in the process he teaches the kids many new things and shows them things they would never have seen in their lives if it were not for him. Conroy, rather than thinking of the kids as slow and telling that to them like the principal does often, believes in the kids’ potential to learn and therefore tries his hardest to create an environment in which they do learn. Conroy also makes personal relationships with the students and serves as a positive role model in their lives during his time on the island. I think the movie was really good and it was a really good example of what makes a good teacher-something that we are studying in Education and Pop Culture class. In summation, I would say that Pat Conroy in this film shows us that to be a good teacher, you have to respect your students, believe in them, and create a curriculum that is personalized to their skills and abilities. Additionally, I would recommend this movie to anyone looking for a feel-good story despite its somewhat sorrow end.

Max Lissette

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