Australian JOHN SMITH reflects on how a recent movie shows the potential power of a dedicated teacher.

John Smith
John Smith

I was very moved recently when I saw the movie Mr Holland's Opus. I'm an old schoolteacher from way back. I loved teaching. Only the increasing disintegration of Western culture and the fact that the kids are so often the primary casualties when adults lose their spiritual and social moorings was powerful enough to entice me away from the Education Department many years ago. I felt I could do more on the streets than in the classroom.

The movie is a tear-jerker for any dedicated teacher. It's romantic, but wonderfully liberated of the value-free, self-indulgent tripe we've been fed from the theatre in this age of psychobabble. The schoolteacher has a prime opportunity to leave a struggling marriage and accept the sexual overtures of a talented, attractive, magnetic young graduate. He passes it up. From incompetent stumbling beginnings as a young composer/teacher entering education just to meet the bills, he has become a passionate and long-term-committed communicator and shaper of young minds and hearts.

I cried. I remembered another era. I recalled a determined, rigorous, demanding, classical English teacher - Bob Spearett - who was strict but compassionate, all knowing but somehow humble. It seemed to matter to him that we were trained in ultimate values and civic responsibility. Every Monday morning as senior master, he would teach us a short poem or memorable maxim. I had never read the following stanza, but I've never forgotten it from the one and only encounter, while standing on parade and repeating it at Bob's command: "Life is mainly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone, Kindness in another's troubles, Courage in your own." At that moment, I was captured. Kindness and courage have been invigorating concepts ever since. Oh the power of a value-laden, upright, committed, compassionate, disciplined, principled teacher.

Since leaving the Education Department, I have addressed probably more than 3000 audiences of senior secondary students across Australia. I've seen that look in young people's eyes when I've opened up issues of justice, moral values and spiritual motivation. Lives can be literally changed, enlightened and revived in a moment when a great idea or a magnificent spiritual insight breaks through, particularly in the minds of young, searching adolescents. I was educated as a teacher in the days when "value free" education was all the go. A pox on such outmoded rubbish. I'll tell you who leaves long life-transforming impact on young lives - and it's not casino-building economic rationalists, or worldly-wise sceptics and cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Those who shape young minds for grand and noble dedication are those who bear the marks of moral commitment, tried belief and a passion to make lives - not money. I long for my grandchildren: that they will experience the wonder of sitting at the feet of educators who know and feel something vastly bigger than themselves. In part, such a teacher changed my life. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.