Accepted: Education created for students, by students a final paper written by Emily Carter for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Accepted: Education created for students, by students a final paper written by Emily Carter for EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Upon cursory glance, the motion picture Accepted seems to be just another feel-good teen comedy. While this may be an accurate description of the movie starring college rejects who create their own university, a more in-depth viewing of the film reveals a critique of our education system. I first watched this movie as a high school senior applying to university. This film resonated with me at that time, as I was fearful of being rejected from university and having an unclear future, similar to the main characters in Accepted. A decade later, as I study for my Master of Education, I find myself coming full circle and relating the readings in my ‘Perspectives in Education’ course back to Accepted.

The movie begins with high school seniors receiving their college acceptance and rejection letters. The lead character, Bartleby, has been rejected from every college that he applied to. In response to his parent’s disappointment, he creates the South Harmon Institute of Technology. He ‘accidentally’ accepts a large cohort of students who had all been rejected from every other university. Throughout the movie, there is an ongoing battle between the students and faculty of Harmon College, a well-established and highly regarded institution, and the newly created South Harmon Institute of Technology. In this paper, I will discuss the following education perspectives as they relate to the film Accepted (Bostick et al., 2006): traditional versus progressive education, curriculum growth, and experiential education.

Traditional Versus Progressive Education

Dewey (1938) discusses the opposition between traditional and progressive education. He describes the characteristics of traditional education as the transmission of information, the conformation of morals and habits, and an institution that is “sharply marked off from any other form of social organization” (p. 18). Dewey notes that traditional education has the objective of preparing students for success in their future. He remarks that in order to benefit from the delivery of past-wisdom and discipline, students of traditional education must be obedient, receptive, and docile (p. 18). Apple and King (1977) reiterate these necessary student characteristics while analyzing a kindergarten classroom; they noted, “obedience was more highly valued that ingenuity” (p. 353). They discuss the hidden curriculum in traditional education of behaviour regulation, uniformity, participation, perseverance and “unquestioning acceptance of authority” (Apple & King, 1977, p. 353), which is justified as preparation for future work and adult life.

In contrast, progressive education has opposed all principles of traditional education in an attempt to develop a newer philosophy of education. Dewey (1938) professes a frustration with the extreme opposites and the typical ‘Either-Or’ thinking of mankind (p. 20). He warns: “there is always the danger in a new movement that in rejecting the aims and methods of that which it would supplant, it may develop its principles negatively rather than positively and constructively” (Dewey, 1938, p. 20). Dewey argues that neither system is perfect, with each form of education having its own problems. He expresses the need for a well developed, meticulously crafted philosophy of experience.

Ken Robinson emphasizes the need for change in our education system in his Ted Talk “Changing education paradigms” (2010). He illustrates the traditional school system as children on a conveyer belt, packaged by age and grade. Robinson argues that we are preparing students for an outdated future that is no longer practical, based on the archaeic notion that “if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree, you would have a job” (2010). He stresses that children have an incredible capacity for innovation, argues that creativity is as important as literacy, and that “we are educating people out of their creativities” (2006) with the current system.

Curriculum Growth

Kieran Egan (2003) discusses curriculum and the ongoing argument of what it should encompass. He delineates the progression of curriculum debates from content to timing to method, beginning with the consideration of what should be taught, to when it should be taught, to how it should be taught. The decisions of what subjects to learn and when students should learn them are traditionally made by curriculum designers, without any student input. Egan highlights ‘Open Education’, where students’ interests and needs are considered and prioritized in the determination of curriculum content. In this form of education, teachers act more as facilitators than authoritarians, guiding the learning not dictating it. He declares that Open Education “seems to exemplify the completed transition from questions of content to questions of method” (p. 14).

Kanu and Glor (2006) argue the need for teachers to transform into ‘amateur intellectuals’ who challenge past methods and question their responsibilities as educators. They discuss the transformative possibilities of currere, which teachers often avoid because it involves a disequilibrium that causes discomfort. Growth occurs as one regains equilibrium, which can be a demanding challenge; however they remark “not growing is costlier still” (p. 108). Kanu and Glor encourage the process of currere, as “the results may be new lines of action and new teaching behaviors coming from new ways of thinking about problems” (p. 111).

Experience in Education

Chambers (1994) expresses her frustration with the necessity to label our places and ourselves: “A label is not what I seek, a place is not what I seek. I seek a way of becoming. And I seek to work in a way that I can become, a place with others who are becoming” (p. 25). She discusses the need for a curriculum of place, not the traditional curriculum found in most schools. She states: “skills are not learned by reading about them in a book or by memorizing a formal description of the procedure in a classroom” (Chambers, 2008), and instead encourages learning by doing, by experience. Dewey (1938) defines a good experience as one that “arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes” (p. 38). A good experience has the potential to increase student learning. Heather McGregor (2010) details the benefits of experiential education, providing an example of a high school science trip in which an Inuit hunter catches a beluga whale (p. 138). Before that excursion, the science teacher “had never witnessed such student enthusiasm and interest in science” (p. 138). The teacher also describes “student-initiated exploration of culturally relevant material and subject matter” (p. 139), when they brought the fetus of the butchered whale back to school to dissect and study. In this example, student interest determined the curriculum and learning occurred through experience.

Analyzing Accepted

At the beginning of Accepted, Bartleby’s father says: “Society has rules. And the first rule is you go to college. You want to have a happy and successful life? You go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college. If you want to fit in, you go to college” (Bostick et al., 2006). This is a common notion, as discussed by Robinson (2010), that a college degree will guarantee a job and a successful future. This film is centered on students who have been unsuccessful in their college applications, effectively rejected by traditional education. Together they form their own college, known as the South Harmon Institute of Technology. This new college is an example of what Dewey (1938) would classify as progressive education. The students of South Harmon band together to oppose traditional education, opting for a less structured environment that focuses on learning from within as opposed to teaching from outside.

When trying to figure out how to run a college and develop a curriculum, Bartleby goes to Harmon College to experience college. Cinematically, Harmon College is made to look extravagant yet boring. The students are either falling asleep bored in class or extremely stressed out due to the overwhelming pressure of a perfect GPA. In one of the classes that Bartleby attends, the professor’s voice is transmitted over a speaker, welcoming the students to the overflow classroom. While on campus, he runs into a friend from high school who has been unable to take the courses she was interested in, as she had been told they did not meet the requirements for her major.

In contrast, the students of South Harmon Institute of Technology create their own curriculum. Their curriculum is on a giant white board, with the words ‘What Do You Want To Learn’ written across the top (Bostick et al., 2006). At first the students are perplexed as they are used to being told what to learn. Quickly, they discover their interests and passions, and succeed in assembling a curriculum. This is a good example of Egan’s ‘Open Education’ (2003), where the students’ needs and interests are taken into consideration during curriculum development. Bartleby is able to turn everyday activities into learning experiences. When his parents call and ask what courses he’s enrolled in, Bartleby looks around and answers: “statistics”, based on kids playing craps; “business”, when he sees students selling drugs; and “anatomy”, when he sees girls in bathing suits (Bostick et al., 2006). A large portion of the learning at South Harmon is through experience.

Dean Richard Van Horne of Harmon College is made aware of South Harmon Institute of Technology when he tries to buy the property. He has a goal of purchasing the properties surrounding Harmon College, in order to tear down the buildings and build a prestigious entryway, described as “a verdant buffer zone to keep knowledge in and ignorance out” (Bostick et al., 2006). This conjures the image of the sharp demarcation Dewey (1938) describes between school and other social organizations. In an attempt to obtain the property, Dean Van Horne contests the accreditation of South Harmon Institute of Technology. This leads to the pertinent scene of the accreditation hearing.

The hearing is set in the grand hall of the Ohio State Board of Education building. Visually, there is a stark contrast between the representatives of traditional and progressive education. At the table with Dean Van Horne are four nearly identically dressed white men representing traditional education, Harmon College. Behind them, their supporters are all Caucasian people, similarly dressed in light pastels, behaving as they are expected. On the other side of the room are the representatives of progressive education, where each person is visibly unique and they do not conform to our societal norms, often cheering and applauding out of turn.

The State Board of Education has three requirements for accreditation. The first is a facility, which is the building that Dean Van Horne is pursuing. The second aspect that is required of any college in order to be accredited is a curriculum. South Harmon’s unorthodox whiteboard curriculum can be seen in the background. Faculty is the third requirement for accreditation. As a progressive, open education institution, when the faculty is asked to stand, the entire student body rises. The students are the faculty, actively involved in their own education.

This hearing is confrontational for Bartleby. As he reflects on his actions, he admits that starting his own college after being rejected was wrong, but states: “out of that desperation something happened that was so amazing, it was full of possibilities”(Bostick et al., 2006). This describes Bartleby’s transition into an amateur intellectual (Kanu & Glor, 2006). As an educator, he self-reflected and engaged in Britzman’s (as cited in Kanu & Glor, 2006) negotiations of past, present, and future. This negotiation led to his desperation, his discomfort, his ‘disequilibrium’ (Kanu & Glor, 2006). Bartleby’s state of disequilibrium lead to transformation, and the creation of a progressive educational institution: South Harmon Institute of Technology. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dean Van Horne is portrayed as being resistant to change. During the hearing, and throughout Accepted (Bostick et al., 2006), his character seems to be in survival mode, as he tries to preserve his traditional college. Kanu and Glor (2006) state that survival mode prevents growth and halts the potential for transformation. As such, Dean Van Horne is preventing his college from growing and transforming.

Bartleby has an inspirational and transformation monologue. He dispels the need for the accreditation label. He expresses frustrations similar to Chambers (1994) regarding the need for labels, because he is confident that regardless of accreditation status, “real learning took place South Harmon”(Bostick et al., 2006). South Harmon Institute of Technology does not need to be accredited in order for students to have valuable educational experiences and become educated; accreditation is just a label.

The students that attend South Harmon Institute of Technology all have one thing in common: a desire to learn (Bostick et al., 2006). It is commonly believed that if you go to school and get a degree, you will get a job (Robinson, 2010). Many students in higher education have lost their desire to learn and simply have a desire to be employed. South Harmon Institute of Technology has a student body with “the desire to better themselves” (Bostick et al., 2006). These students are self-proclaimed lifelong learners. This readiness to learn is a sign of maturity in these students, a sign that they are progressing to adult learners. Readiness to learn and internal motivation for learning are key concepts of Knowles’s Andragogy (Galbraith, 2004). Many of the instructional methods and curricular design methods used by this new college are recommended by Knowles as components of andragogical practice (Galbraith, 2004). These include: involving students in curriculum development, involving learners in their own needs assessments, and encouraging students to carry out their education plans, all in an environment conducive to learning. South Harmon promotes all of the above-mentioned criteria for andragogical practice. Regardless of the design or intention, it does not justify the falsification of an educational institution.

When Bartleby is accused of being a criminal for starting his own college, he turns the tables and accuses Dean Van Horne of being a criminal himself, as he is robbing his students “of their creativity and passion” (Bostick et al., 2006). Divergent thinking, defined as “an essential capacity for creativity”, peaks in kindergarteners and decreases as children become more educated (Robinson, 2010). Ken Robinson explains that by stigmatizing mistakes, and teaching students to be afraid of being wrong, we are decreasing the creative capacity of our youth. In reality, education should be encouraging and developing creativity, not squandering it. The curriculum and educational experience at South Harmon Institute of Technology allows for the growth of creativity and room for mistakes to be made.

The film Accepted (Bostick et al., 2006) can be thoroughly analyzed by multiple educational perspectives. In this paper I have considered how traditional versus progressive education, curriculum growth, and experiential education relate to Accepted. This movie has impacted my life during different stages, which is why I chose to analyze it as my artifact for this paper. I enjoyed relating the knowledge and perspectives of different educational researchers to a movie that I cherish. In applying the knowledge and exploring the comparisons, I learned so much about a movie that I used to just watch for entertainment. Upon analyzing this film I have discovered a deeper meaning, which in turn has awakened in me a new appreciation for Accepted and the associated educational perspectives.


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