After the set up and the punchline, viewers are supposed to
laugh. Their perspectives and expectations have been totally changed.
But in the classroom, even more is expected. The students should do
more than laugh, they should learn. And in these films they do. At a
surface level they learn lessons about poetry, science and culture. But at
an even deeper level, these students have had their predispositions
shattered and their viewpoints changed.
Keating has used the incongruity theory to teach kids who once
resisted poetry to love it. They have learned to come up with their own
verses and to recite poetry with confidence. They even go on to start
their own Dead Poet’s Society, a society where the boys sneak off to a
cave late at night to read poetry aloud and perform their own pieces.
Similarly, Conroy uses the incongruity theory to teach kids who once
resisted a basic education to want to learn. His students run behind him
on the beach answering all of his questions. They now know where they
live, who George Washington was, and what war the country is fighting.
The students can form opinions about the best James Brown song and
arguments about why Conroy isn’t from Africa. They’ve made
exponential advances in their knowledge of math, science, and history,
as well as general culture and life.
I think that the lessons Keating and Conroy teach go beyond
the classroom. This is the reason the audience feels such a visceral
reaction when both teachers are forced out of their school. The
audience isn’t sad to see these teachers leave because they were good at
teaching their students basic academia. We are heartbroken because
they were able to break the expectations of their students and spark
them to approach life differently. Keating inspires his students to seize
each and every day and to go on and pursue theater or to tell the girl of
his dreams that he loves her. Whatever it is, Keating tells them to just
do what is fulfilling and not let life pass by them. On Yamacraw Island,
Conroy has grown these impoverished and uneducated students into
thinking and rational people who aspire to bigger plans in life. As the
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