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A Touch of Greatness (1964)

In an era when Dick, Jane, and discipline ruled America's schools, Albert Cullum allowed Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Shaw to reign in his fifth grade public school classroom. Through the ... See full summary »

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In an era when Dick, Jane, and discipline ruled America's schools, Albert Cullum allowed Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Shaw to reign in his fifth grade public school classroom. Through the use of poetry, drama and imaginative play, Cullum championed an unorthodox educational philosophy that spoke directly to his students' needs. Many of Cullum's projects were recorded on film by then novice filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr. Weaving stunning black and white footage and rare archival television broadcasts together with interviews of Cullum and his former students, this is a portrait of a maverick teacher who transformed a generation of young people by enabling them to discover their own inner greatness. Written by Anonymous

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2004 (USA)  »

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Starring the children of Rye, Port Chester, Harrison, Town of Rye, Purchase See more »

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Featured in Independent Lens: A Touch of Greatness (2005) See more »

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A must-see for teachers
31 July 2008 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

After years of working as a social worker and psychotherapist, I wanted a change a few years back and decided to teach in middle and high schools. Although some might have seen this as a step down, I was thrilled at the change because I found the job so exhilarating. Plus, for once, I could be more myself and have fun than just sitting in an office all day long. I think I've done a pretty good job, but after seeing A TOUCH OF GREATNESS, I realize there is a lot I'm doing right and a lot I am doing wrong in the classroom--all because of the example of Albert Cullum.

In the 1960s, Albert Cullum allowed a young film maker, Robert Downey, Sr. to come into his classes and film what they were doing. Some was rather traditional, but what struck me is how unusual the classroom could be--even compared to the more free and open style today AND without sacrificing high standards. These mostly 5th graders were performing and loving Shakespeare--with gusto! And, when they discussed literature, it was usually about books supposedly beyond their ability---such as Shaw and the Greek tragedies! And the atmosphere of the classroom was fun AND democratic compared to a traditional room. To further point out how much his style of teaching positively affected these kids, they were brought back 40 years later and each of them had nothing but praise for this unique teacher. This recent meeting along with interviews were inter-spliced with the old black and white footage to make this wonderful film and an inspiration to any teacher who is willing to change to become the best they can be.

I was so impressed by this film that when it was finished, I went to Amazon and bought a copy so I could show it to my friends and colleagues--now that's the mark of an amazing film. A truly remarkable and interesting documentary.

By the way, if you liked this film, see TO BE AND TO HAVE--a French documentary about a single-room school. It's also quite amazing to watch.


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