This is a piece written by Michael Naragon, he is a member of our Facebook group and teaches at Community Christian School in Stockbridge, GA. Atlas Shrugged, Pt. 1 was released in theaters on April 15th and has met much opposition from the left in this country.
All teachers must occasionally endure conventions and conferences, slog through seminars about how to serve our students better. I was sitting in on a discussion during one such convention last year when the subject of teachers’ bias was addressed. Each of the teachers in the room in turn sang the praises of remaining completely neutral in their instruction, their personal beliefs never to be “imposed upon” their students.
When it came to be my time to speak, I said that I, in fact, did let the students know my personal beliefs, both in our discussions on current events and our lessons on history and government. To this day, I wish I had a camera to capture the looks of horror and disdain that were thrown my way when I made such a sacrilegious statement.
As a former graduate student in journalism, I could say with confidence that no one is completely unbiased. Period. While one may try to keep his or her views out of the classroom, they will be there, all the same, based on what they don’t say or how they frame their lectures. My stance, much to the chagrin of the teachers in that conference room, was that my students are free to argue positions or have opinions that run contrary to mine; however, since I know I’m right, I won’t deprive my students of a consistent, correct worldview when the situation presents itself. The students that have disagreed with me respect my opinions in the same way I respect theirs, and the students who share my viewpoint are able to better defend their ideas.
It should be no surprise, then, that when the film Atlas Shrugged, Part I was released in April, I was interested in taking my AP Government class to see it. What was a little surprising, though, was that my students came to me with the idea first. After getting approval from the parents and our wonderful administration, I loaded the kids into the bus, and we drove an hour to the nearest theater that was showing the film. When the movie began to roll, 22 people sat in the theater—me, my AP class, a parent chaperone, and three elderly couples.
When the film ended with Dagny Taggart’s scream of despair over the burning Wyatt Oil fields, another scream followed inside the theater as the kids realized the movie only covered the first third of the story. We had discussed this before we saw the film, but, as usual, a few of the students weren’t paying complete attention.
As we filed out of the theater, the chatter was predictable. One of my seniors was amazed that the story had been written fifty years ago, given the accuracy of Ayn Rand’s “modern” world. Many of them were disgusted by the actions of Hank Rearden’s Washington man, Wesley Mouch. All of them were inspired by the willingness of Dagny and Hank to fight the system, and all of them were asking, “Who is John Galt?” The couples who watched the movie with us all commented to me afterward that they were pleasantly surprised to see a school group at that film and that it was something the kids needed to see and understand.
After the film, we discussed what the students got out of the story. Some of their responses were illuminating.
“It’s mind blowing how someone can write a book in 1957, and it have greater meaning today than it did then,” said one student. “All I could think was, ‘Man, I need to read this book now.’ I’ve started the book and it’s, obviously, better than the movie.”
“I watched this movie and I realized that this is where we’re heading,” another student said. “I’ve known for a while that our expanding government is dangerous, but it was astonishing to see what it might look like. I don’t see how anyone could watch that movie–liberal or conservative–and not be worried about our nation.”
All of the students easily derived one of the film’s main messages: the danger of a government that values itself over its people. “In my opinion,” said a student, “Atlas Shrugged is a must-watch movie that will open some people’s eyes to the unknown factors that contribute to the government’s self-preservation.”
Several of my students are now reading the book, undeterred by its length, and enjoying it. My hope is that they will continue to think about the destructive power of an over-reaching government and the result of a trade of liberty for economic security. And to those who would claim that I’m indoctrinating my students by exposing them to such ideas, I say you’re absolutely correct. I’d have it no other way.