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What Mr. Keating Got Right

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

What do you think of when you hear the words "Oh Captain, My Captain?" Do you hear the poem by Walt Whitman or do you hear the voice of Robin Williams and his character Mr. Keating from Dead Poet's Society?

If you haven't seen Dead Poet's Society, you should watch it. Directed by Peter Weir, this 1989 movie features a non-traditional teacher struggling to inspire not only his students but his co-workers. Set in 1959 at a boys preparatory school, Mr. Keating walks his students through different methods of teaching that stress the importance of individuality, freedom, and carpe diem.

Although, there is controversy surrounding Mr. Keating and his teaching philosophy. There are several things he got right.

"You must strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are going to find it at all."

At times, we all struggle to find our voice. Whether it be in the classroom, staff meetings, or board meetings - people want their voices heard. Yet, for many, the important word in this quote is "OWN."

How do we find our own voice? How do we take the risk to find our unique voice, especially when it may differ from others? With the variety of voices and modes to communicate, it can be overwhelming to discover your own creative voice.

Mr. Keating has his students stand on top of a desk so each one can see a different perspective of the classroom, students write their own poetry, and say inspirational quotes as they practice football. He even has them walk around the courtyard in a new and interesting way.

What can we do today to help embrace our unique voice? Make sure you research different perspectives on topics, write blogs or reflections about your views, and collaborate and communicate with peers to voice and hear differing views. Then, take the time to reflect on what you have learned and create your own stride - your own view - your own voice.

Mr. Keating got this one right! The longer we wait to help students find their creative voice - the less likely they are to find it - and the less likely we are, as a society, to thrive.

"There's a time for daring and there's a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for".

As you find your voice, you may want to take action. Many young people are protesting and standing up for what they believe in. But, it's also important to think critically. Ask questions! Is this a time to take a risk, or should I show caution? What are the pros and cons of my decision?

In a world where failure can be seen as negative, we need to encourage each other to embrace failure, be reflective about it, and learn from it. But we also need to provide each other with a safe environment, so each person feels comfortable and confident risking failure.

If we want to live and work in an environment where we are encouraged to take risks - then we have to model the behavior we hope for. That means it's just not up to others to take risks, but you also need to be brave enough to be daring!

Mr. Keating got this one right! Wise people may know when to take action and when to show caution, but wise people embrace the risk.

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman,

"O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?"

Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

How are we encouraging each other to make a difference? To use creativity? To be unique? Remember, this doesn't just apply to others - but to you - to everyone. How will you contribute to the world around you?

Before, you say, "You don't understand. I am not creative. I am just an ordinary person." Try to think differently. We all are creative. When it comes to creativity - we are all created equal. We all can contribute a unique voice to this world. We all have a part to play.

How? By allowing ourselves to try new things. When was the last time you read poetry? Went to an art museum? Saw a play? Took an adventure? Tried something new? Challenge yourself to embrace life.

We are living during an extraordinary time and it can be difficult to see past the trauma and chaos but through embracing joy and being grateful - we can help contribute to a better future.

Mr. Keating got this one right! We all can get stuck in a rut and only see our busy schedules. But - life goes on - and we all have a responsibility to try. Try to be creative - dare to look at things from a different perspective.

No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

This one takes courage. It's not easy. It sums up what we have been discussing. Use your voice. Take the risk. Contribute your creative thoughts. Don't be afraid to throw a new idea out into the universe.

We oftentimes let fear of rejection and judgment keep us silent. We sit and listen instead of standing and talking. It's important that we learn to build off of each other's ideas and work together to change the world. No judgment - just creativity.

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.

Enough said! Thanks, Mr. Keating!


Weir, P. (1998). Dead Poets Society [DVD]. Buena Vista Pictures.

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