Monday, March 14, 2011

Seeing Beyond the Definition of Teaching

Here is another video review I wrote for my Psychology class. I thought I would post this along with the others that I have posted as of late. This particular film, Mona Lisa Smile has really made a huge impression on my life. It reminds me of the experiences I have had at college here in Grants, where I have had the privilege to spend time connecting with a couple of teachers here that have embarked on something spectacular when it comes to awareness and knowledge. I especially love this movie and how it draws attention to what is missing in the ways of traditionalism.

I hope you enjoy!

In the film, Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts plays Ms. Watson, the character of a new teacher in the art history department at an all girls school in the early 1950's, where the only goals and aspirations for women during that time was to get married and raise a family. This school was founded on these principles and education for women was merely seen as a waiting period before marriage and wasn't found very valuable for any other purpose. Ms. Watson was forced to conform and abide with the traditions and strict obligations that this school believed in. Though, her desire was to make a difference in a very unorthodox way. She pushed the boundaries of traditionalism and reached the minds of young women to think beyond the image, beyond traditions and toward a new idea that fabricated the beginning of thinking independently. This made her dream as a teacher come true because the move forward in not only teaching but in touching the lives of these women had opened up more opportunity for her to make a difference than what she or the students formally believed possible.

As she got started, she did not realize the hardships she would endure in order to make such a difference. In her first class lecture, the students were well over prepared for what she had to teach throughout this class based on the textbook given by the school, in which caught Ms. Watson by surprise. Her first lecture proved to be an embarrassment to her as she almost felt defeated. She knew she needed to step it up in hopes to make any difference with this class, so she did. Instead of sticking to the syllabus and outlined materials in which she was going to teach from, she changed course immediately and began with a method of teaching that really would catch the girls attention because she knew that these girls needed something much more challenging. Not only in their pursuit of art history, but in the pursuit of thinking outside the lines of tradition, image, and definition.

As she progressed forward and as her unorthodox teaching skills led to something much greater, she began to form relationships with these women, where most of them were finally able to start questioning the status quo. At a glance it was almost unrecognizable, but in Ms. Watson's classroom, the energy of inquiry was magnificent. Their abilities grew from believing what a textbook said, to finding their own thoughts and opinions as something of worth and value. Ms. Watson in so many ways instilled this within them all, to seek beyond what they were told is right, to finding that their own inquiries of discovery. Not only the art they studied and its history, but the meaning inside the world of education and womanhood.

An example given when Ms. Watson would open up a dialogue about a certain painting to a deeper inquiry into that painting instead of sticking to a list of facts and history associated with its existence. She got the women engaged on a level of profound interest by a clear definition into what the artist was thinking through a piece of art, what the piece of art meant in the time it got noticed, and why it was famous. Ms. Watson not only followed her own ideas into a new set of teaching abilities, but demonstrated by the way she lived and thought outside the confines of what women have always known.

Another part of this story that is worthwhile is the sense of community these women had throughout this story. As they got familiar with Ms. Watson's way in discovering art, you could sense a great strength of sisterhood these women had together. The way they all learned together and by each other made this film even more profound in the sense of how much growth happened. It wasn't as if their education was strictly about the individual, rather, it depicted a beautiful picture of women in education who actually learned and discovered together as a whole.

She knew that her position at the school was a delicate topic of discussion among the administration and towards the end of the school year, Ms. Watson's evaluation was put to question and her contract was to be finalized. The board committee determined that if she were to stay at Welsley, her new contract would be considered conditional upon the following mandatory adjustments that included the way she taught and was forced to follow the syllabus precisely the way it came from the committee. Everything was to be approved by the school and her choices were limited as far as the teaching style she choose to follow. Under the circumstances she decided to quit in hopes to leave with some sense of dignity and value for what she did leave behind with the women she was able to influence. In a sense she left behind a legacy that would never be forgotten.

A letter to the editorial was given by Elisabeth Warren, the editor of the school newspaper and also one of Ms. Watson astounding students. “Dear Betty, I came here to Wesley to make a difference. But to change for others is to lie to yourself.” My teacher, Kathrine Watson lived by her own definition and would not compromise that, not even for Wesley. I dedicate this my last editorial to an extraordinary women who lived by example and compelled us all to see the world through new eyes. I've heard her be called a quitter for leaving; an aimless wanderer, but not all who wander are aimless, especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond image. I'll never forget you!”

This brings me to question something. Are the educators of today willing to inquire on a more deeper level in the subjects that they teach? Can they find a way to demonstrate learning by drawing out the students interests, excitement and even passion to levels which will not only enhance the students grades, but their lives? I only wonder this because it almost seems as though many students who attend any type of higher education feel that they are only in it for what they need which is a degree. Get in, get the degree and get out. I think maybe this idea that Julia Roberts' character in this film demonstrated something much more profound than just being a good actress, but a role model even to those who are seeking in giving knowledge to others even outside the normal approach to teaching. I am happy to say that my experience thus far at NMSU Grants Community College has brought this example to great light. Where I have had a hunger and love for knowledge and the educators here have watered that seed with grace and inspiration that only has inspired me more to never stop inquiring after knowledge.


Rich said...


I simply LOVED this with all my heart!!!
May the spirit of the Living God and Father launch you into the depths and to the distant places he has on his heart for you yet to discover in a journey that will never end.

Nicole said...

Ahh, thank you Rich! This is one of my favorite video reviews that I have ever done. This movie has spoken volumes to me and I felt like I was able to show that through what I wrote!

Dave said...

Wonderful here Nicole. Loved how you observed and gleaned such depth from that movie and what you shared. I think you and Rich are bent that way! PS: I just added Mona Lisa Smile to my Netflix que!

Nicole said...

Ahh Dave, thank you for your kind words... I am glad you are going to watch this movie. It is very inspiring to me and I hope you enjoy it as well!

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