Mr. Keating encourages non-conformist behavior and recklessness in his approach to classroom control and teaching methodology. The idea that only through non-conformity and “Carpe Diem,” are able to discover themselves and the classroom materials is ineffective in the real world. Hollywood’s portrayal of the “good teacher” is often rooted in what we as adults wished our teachers in high school and college could have been. Keating encourages his students to act disrespectfully and make immature decisions. Why should he be surprised when in the course of the film when one of them actually does an act of vandalism? Does he really believe that a person of this age with limited reasoning capabilities could discern such an act?
These images in the film are stereotyped, but there are some good things that Keating does. The good thing about Keating's classroom technique is the way he sees through his students defenses and helps them to learn by breaking down barriers. In real life what would make him a valuable teacher. But Keating's ideas represent something very much like “The "American Scholar" and Emersonian thought. These ideas fit the teaching style of Mr. Keating. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed, “The scholar's education consists of three pursuits. Investigate and understand nature, which includes the scholar's own mind and person. Take action -- interact with the world; do not become the recluse thinker commenting from afar. The scholar's duty or "office" is to "cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances”
Among all of the good and the bad the fact that cannot be changed is that a student committed suicide as a result of inspiration from Mr. Keating. We are jolted out of romantic thought and remember reality and its consequences.
I taught vocational school for fifteen years in a medical, allied health program and tried to incorporate naively, some of the methods employed by John Keating in “Dead Poets Society.” I discovered that standing on desks can get you sued, if someone falls. I found out that if you manipulate a cookie cutter curriculum, it could get a teacher fired from a vocational school. I discovered that if you are the favorite teacher because of unorthodox methods, your colleagues might dislike you for it. I uncovered the fact that students may take advantage of a teacher with different teaching methods and actually not learn the material and have fun doing so.
The film portrays the student’s response to their new teacher as helping to breathe new life into a dying curriculum and teaching methods. They embrace it as a fresh breath of change in their otherwise stuffy school atmosphere. The characters in the film want to improve their lives and follow John Keating’s advice by “seizing the day.”
In the motion picture “Dead Poets Society,” starring Robin Williams, his character Mr. Keating possesses both good and poor qualities found in real life teachers.