Lawrance M. Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota)
I always warned students at the beginning of each year that I had screened "The Paper Chase" once again and was interested in using the Socratic method to spin the little tumblers of their minds. Certainly this was the film that made me want to curb my innate desire to stand up in the classroom and pontificate on every subject under the sun.
Ostensibly the film is about the pressures of first year students at Harvard Law School, but since most of us do not want to become lawyers, know any lawyers, have any dealings with lawyers or even watch television programs with lawyers, "The Paper Chase" ultimately succeeds as a film about wanting to learn and learning to think. At the heart of the film is James Hart (Timothy Bottoms), come from Minnesota to learn at the feet of the great Professor Charles Kingsfield. Despite some painful moments of confrontation in the classroom with his would be mentor —my favorite: "Mr. Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer"— Hart finds he can play the game and play it well. Having given his mind over to Kingsfield, the question then becomes whether his heart and soul will follow as well. The other members of his study group (which includes Edward Herrmann and James Naughton), make different choices and take different paths in order to survive the year. By the end of the film Hart is more alone than he was at the beginning.
As Kingsfield, John Houseman is the powerful center of the film. A producer and drama teacher for almost half a century, Houseman won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and began a new career as an actor in films and a pitchman in television commercials (however, this was not Houseman's first film, since I know he played an admiral in the political thriller "Seven Days in May"). Indeed, Houseman went on to play the Kingsfield character in the ambitious television versions of the movie. However, it is important to note that those who knew Houseman as a producer or teacher were always quick to point out that he really was acting in "The Paper Chase." There might be Harvard professors fighting over the honor of being the real Kingfield, but Houseman was indeed just doing a role.
As the autocratic master of his domain, Kingsfield is very much the antithesis of the traditional dedicated teacher usually presented in films about school, a point driven home in the film's final meeting between Hart and Kingsfield. If there is a happy ending in this film, it is achieved by Hart's character on a personal, almost private level.
Paper Chase for training tutors, March 6, 2007
Vickie J. Claflin (Louisiana)
This is a fabulous movie that not only depicts excellent teaching techniques but is a prime example of the Socratic Method. We have a no-pen policy in our tutoring program; that is, the tutors do not do any writing. Rather, the student is to do the work and problem-solve while the tutor facilitates the process. I teach the tutors at my University to use the Socratic Method of tutoring; asking reflecting questions so that the student can teach themselves how to work the problems.
I highly recommend this movie as a teaching tool and as an example of andragogical approach to learning.