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Jeffrey Overstreet: How I Got “Dead Poets Society” Wrong: And how a great professor changed my mind


To me Keating seemed rooted in a fear that others wouldn’t be able to understand him or know how to handle him. So perhaps he had talked himself into believing that his version of freedom would somehow always be at odds with those in authority over him. There was this sort of inevitability I felt as I watched his mentoring ignite his students. My perception is that Keating’s fear may be the reason why he didn’t seem able to guide his own philosophies about freedom, helping his students learn how to measure the effect and navigate the consequences. For me, those consequences seemed to run headlong into rebellion or drift helplessly into suicide.

To be honest, the whole movie left me feeling pretty confused and dark at 18 years old. It offered glimpses of something I desperately wanted, but knew too little about. As a result, I was too fearful to explore until many years later. I also felt my life was being ruled by those same consequences. I had been disciplined a lot as a kid for rebellion. So by 19 I was planning my own suicide. Driving my 1981 Toyota Tercel off the cliff at Turner Hill Road was the only thing I felt man enough to do. And why? Because I felt I was being chewed up in the machine of guilt over an immoral mind. I had struggled with the lusty sort of things young men do, yet with a dad who said he’d never struggled with those sorts of things (leaving me feeling hopeless), and with a youth minister who set me aflame for Jesus (and was later fired, provoking me to rebellion).

If nothing else, Overstreet held my hand for a mile down memory lane. This allowed me to contemplate, once again, how I lead my own kids as well as the 18-29 year olds I now oversee in a small group. Am I more like Keating or Neil’s father? Honesty makes me answer that I’m escaping the house of Neil’s father, running toward Keating, but ultimately past him into the arms of Jesus. Words cannot express the peace and joy and freedom I find internally when I am there with Him. I find all the escape from legalism I need, as well as all the safeguards against liberty-abuse that I need.

Reviewed by Rob Wilkerson


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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2014

About the Author: Rob Wilkerson, M.Div. (The Master's Seminary, 2000), B.S. (Luther Seminary, 1994), is a follower of Jesus in Woodstock, GA, where he works in the tech industry as an analyst and consultant. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 21 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, love one another, and make disciples. Google+ Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

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