WolfmanOz at the Movies #23

The Socratic Method

I, and I’d imagine, quite a few on this site, went to university in those long distant years ago when it used to be place of learning and having great fun. I certainly look back at my time at uni (I want to Auckland University back in the late 70s/early 80s) with great fondness and nostalgia.

Today I doubt very much if I could have put with, or tolerate the absolute wokeness and atmosphere where learning and training your mind become secondary to virtue signalling and ignorance.

There have been numerous films about university life, many tend to focus on the comedic element of the sexual escapades of male students but a few have attempted to be a bit more serious.

My favourite is the splendid 1973 drama The Paper Chase, written and directed by James Bridges and starring Timothy Bottoms as James T. Hart who starts his first year at Harvard Law School in a contract law course featuring Professor Charles Kingsfield, where in his first class, he experiences brutal humiliation from Professor Kingsfield:

Professor Kingsfield is marvellously played by John Houseman who previously was more well-know as a theatre producer (he was heavily involved with Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre in the 1930s). He absolutely dominates every scene he appears in, in a performance that deservedly won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Professor Kingsfield then explains to the students that he uses the Socratic method in his classes:

After being invited to join a study group, Hart eventually finds the courage to answer questions from Kingsfield:

Hart then finds romance with a woman who turns out to be Kingsfield’s daughter, although the film never uses this as a ruse to flesh out Professor Kingsfield who remains aloof and distant throughout the movie making the character mysterious and impenetrable.

The pressure mounts, as the course nears its end in the first year, which gets to everyone and Hart eventually is rude to Kingsfield in class:

The film ends with Hart at the beach with his girlfriend where he makes a paper airplane out of the unopened letter containing his grades and then sending it sailing into the ocean. The viewer has learnt beforehand that Hart’s grade in contract law was a 93, an A.

This is a film that is no longer made today i.e. a smart and intelligent drama made for adults with interesting characters.

It paints life at university that rings true in the pressures the students face whilst also detailing the challenges of learning and enjoying life. It’s a film I always enjoy coming back to again and again.

Enjoy.

18 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #23”

  1. It seems the old ways are still the best.

    I am astounded by the extent of waste when it comes to research into new education methods. We have had decades of quite high expenditure in education research -Joe Biden’s wife has a PhD in it – and no benefit to show for it. Our teachers are no more effective today than they were 40 years ago.

    We have had touted results such as the notion that some children are “visual learners” while some are “linguistic learners”- new practices trialled at great expense, for no benefit. The peer reviewed research papers that brought it in are now being questioned.

    The entire field is a waste.


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  2. If made today everyone got A’s. Funny how such a good actor is virtually unknown today. I looked on wiki only to realise I had seen many of his works. The problem today with movies is the same with life. The plebs want everything now, no waiting for something to develop. Flash bang wallop, been there, done that.


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  3. Having three kids who graduated in recent years I can say with some confidence that universities don’t deliver anything more or less than they ever did. Kids at uni who get bogged in ideology are no different to those who did so in my day. My impression is that there remain more than enough Houseman types who I still discipline and clarity in their work and provide good role models.


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  4. Whilst cleaning in a lecture hall at a private high school 20 years ago, i heard the then-latest advancement in educational theory described as “re-building an aeroplane whilst in flight”.

    I’m sure many educational theorists are more interested in their own progress than the effects of new ideas on the young.

    I had never heard of the film – now keen to watch it.


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  5. Having three kids who graduated in recent years I can say with some confidence that universities don’t deliver anything more or less than they ever did.

    Academics have themselves conceded that admission and graduation stadards have declined markedly over the last two decades. They’ve been in a pitched battle with administrators over it.


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  6. I think to reconcile Hubris and Roger’s comments, most of the decline has not happened within any specific course, but is mostly represented by so many students taking inferior courses today.


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  7. I’d absolutely forgotten this movie which is, indeed, everything you say about it.

    I originally came across the subsequent TV show (which I loved) on BBC 2 many years ago – the TV show was also (at least in my memory) outstanding.

    I’d like to see both again, now you’ve reminded me, but while the movie is easy to source, Amazon want squillions for the DVDs of the TV series(s). I’ll search around at bit more…


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  8. Angus Black says:
    June 2, 2022 at 10:09 am
    I’d absolutely forgotten this movie which is, indeed, everything you say about it.

    I originally came across the subsequent TV show (which I loved) on BBC 2 many years ago – the TV show was also (at least in my memory) outstanding.

    I’d like to see both again, now you’ve reminded me, but while the movie is easy to source, Amazon want squillions for the DVDs of the TV series(s). I’ll search around at bit more…

    Yes the TV series was quite good (better than most of the dross served up by US TV in the 70s and 80s), not in the same league as the movie, they tried to humanise Kingsfield too much.

    Try YouTube – all the episodes from the TV series are there.


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  9. Most parents these days think that their children are geniuses and thus entry into any university course is confirmation of that. Sadly lots of these students believe it. Oh well. The forthcoming economic crisis will educate them.


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  10. I think 2dogs is right. Dawkins made every TAFE a uni and the courses exploded. A degree today is generally ally as common as year 12 was.
    But in the core disciplines I am impressed by I’ve seen.


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  11. mostly represented by so many students taking inferior courses today

    The decline in academic standards is due to several key factors – admission grades are too low, so there are too many “students” attending universities and there are too many foreign students who can’t speak English (but they can pay lots of money to be passed regardless).

    It’s a recipe for mediocrity, wholesale cheating and free-riding on an entirely unacceptable scale. I had to work my backside off to obtain my degree, which makes me even more annoyed about what a joke tertiary education in this country is nowadays.

    As for the film, I’ll give it a miss.


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  12. This is a film that is no longer made today i.e. a smart and intelligent drama made for adults with interesting characters.

    unfortunately, intelligent movies are a dying breed. It’s either wokeshit, lecturing us about the evils of western civilisation and white self loathing tripe or plastic super heros in gay tights.


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  13. The decline in academic standards is due to several key factors – admission grades are too low, so there are too many “students” attending universities and there are too many foreign students who can’t speak English (but they can pay lots of money to be passed regardless).

    too many women are pushed into higher education at the expense of the birth rate. Less and less men end up getting a degree, which is catastrophe for the future.


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  14. the TV show was also (at least in my memory) outstanding.

    The series was pretty good.
    Thinking back, The West Wing was probably The Paper Chase of politics.
    Seeing Robert Ginty in that drive-in schlockfest The Exterminator
    was a surprise.


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  15. Uni’s are inferior – but a institute of technology – that is a real place of learning. Scream – mates and I went to a mates house to laugh at him as he flunked a subject or two – like the rest of us – was there any hope for us – when his brother emerged with this cheesy grin on his face – studying electrical engineering where he was given the exam 3 weeks in advance – he holds the exam pages up and flicks to the end page of the first half of the exam – 47/50 – then flicks to the 2 last page for the 2nd half of the exam 4/50 – total 51% – you should of seen his cheesy grin – what I can recall of the examiners remark was “ you arsie bastard” .


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  16. Our teachers are no more effective today than they were 40 years ago.

    I would argue that in primary schools the ones 40 years ago were far more effective than those today.
    My own 6th grade comprised 59 working class kids in a tough neighbourhood and every single one of them left able to read well, write, spell and work competently with numbers.
    Handwriting is no longer taught* and in some schools neither is reading. Our overall literacy and numeracy at both primary and secondary level has dropped so dramatically we are now in the middle of global performance tables instead of at the top where we once were.

    But inquiry learning is a brilliant way to learn apparently.

    * Grade 6 kids at local primary only print. And some, like my grandson, don’t even do that legibly or well. He is at a standard that back in my teaching days would have required extra attention before moving from pencil to ink and moving onto cursive. Which occurred at grade 3 level. He’s moving onto high school with a lower primary ability to put pen to paper. But that’s ok, he can do it all on a keyboard. Writing legible notes by hand or developing ypur unique signature is so outdated.


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  17. The best movie ever of university life ever was National Lampoon’s Animal House.

    The residential college this country lad went to screened it first night of O week, while plying us newbies with beer and rum and coke.

    I knew my life would never be the same again.


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