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Education-Movie Review
by Luby Prytulak, PhD
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First posted 30-Mar-2012 11:30pm PST, last edited 12-Oct-2012 10:42am PST

The present essay reviews Goodbye, Mr Chips for the very narrow purpose of examining and evaluating what it has to say about education.  I discuss whether the movie's education message is true or false, helpful or harmful, worth heeding or deserving to be ignored.  A secondary question is how influential that message has been, with what respect it has been received, which is what prompts me to begin by taking a look at the movie's status, what Academy Awards it won and failed to win, how it ranks compared to all movies, and compared to only education movies, and how critics have received it.


Movies about education do not tend to be highly honored by the film industry — I can find only eight that have ever won any Academy Awards, and I hope that in time I will be able to review them all, and many more education movies that are not on the list because they didn't win any Oscars.  Clearly standing out in the table below is My Fair Lady (1964) which won eight Oscars.  However, My Fair Lady is not about education as it is conducted in the classroom, but rather is about a single student educated by a single teacher dedicated to that one student, which is what is meant by "Individual" in the INSTRUCTION column.  Although from such a small sample no generalization is safe, the unsafe generalization that the table nevertheless suggests is that a film is able to win multiple Oscars only if it is about individual instruction; films featuring classroom instruction have a harder time arousing the admiration that is requisite to winning multiple awards.

Pygmalion 1938 Individual 1 Best Adapted Screenplay  
Goodbye, Mr Chips 1939 Classroom 1 Best Actor
The Miracle Worker                  1962 Individual 2 Best Actress
Best Supporting Actress  
My Fair Lady   1964 Individual 8 Best Picture
Best Actor
Best Cinematography
Original Music Score
Best Art Direction
Costume Design
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie   1969 Classroom 1 Best Actress
Dead Poets Society 1989 Classroom 1 Best Original Screenplay   
Shine 1996 Individual 1 Best Actor
Good Will Hunting 1997 Individual 2 Best Supporting Actor
Best Original Screenplay

Although the above table may identify some of the most respected education films ever made, at the same time it is necessary to recognize that winning Oscars does not depend on the quality of the film alone, it depends very much also on the stiffness of the competition.  Had Goodbye, Mr Chips come out in some year other than 1939, it might well have won Best Picture on top of the Best Actor that it did win, but in 1939 the competition for Best Picture was formidable — if Gone With the Wind hadn't taken the prize, then Wizard of Oz might have, or any of several others which have since come to be regarded as classics.

Babes in Arms (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Actor

Dark Victory (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actress

Gone With the Wind (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actor/Actress
Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actor/Actress
Love Affair (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actress
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actor
Ninotchka (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture/Actress
Of Mice and Men (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture
Stagecoach (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture
Wizard of Oz (1939) movie poster
Nominated Best Picture
Wuthering Heights (1939) movie posterNominated Best Picture/Actor

And considering stiffness of competition in the Best Actor category, it seems almost a miracle that Goodbye, Mr Chips could have won when Robert Donat was pitted against screen colossi:

[T]he audience was stunned into silence when Spencer Tracy announced that Robert Donat had won the Oscar over such incredible competition as Clark Gable for Gone with the Wind, Laurence Olivier for Wuthering Heights, and James Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Although controversy continues to linger to this day about who deserved the award — Clark Gable fans insist that he should have won — it is undeniable that Donat gave his most fondly remembered and best screen performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  To Lillian Burns, this was due in part to Greer: "She inspired him to be more human, more lovable, than he had ever been on screen before — just as Kathy influenced Chips."

Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Babes in Arms
Mickey Rooney  Judy Garland:  Babes in Arms
Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind
Clark Gable  Vivien Leigh:  Gone With the Wind
Robert Donat and Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr Chips
Robert Donat  Greer Garson:  Goodbye, Mr Chips
James Stewart and Jean Arthur in Mr Smith Goes to Washington
James Stewart  Jean Arthur:  Mr Smith Goes to Washington
Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights
Laurence Olivier  Merle Oberon:  Wuthering Heights

Despite Greer Garson's beguiling performance which catapulted her from obscurity to stardom, she was fated to be denied Best Actress for several reasons.  She had never made a film before, and perhaps the Academy was reluctant to award such a high honor to one who was appearing in only her first picture.  She had not received MGM's starmaking buildup, the studio having failed to anticipate that her role would arouse so much admiration.  She was up against film powerhouses Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Irene Dunne, and Greta Garbo.  And perhaps most importantly, her appearance in the movie was brief — during the movie's 114-minutes, Katherine does not appear for the first 39 minutes, does make appearances throughout the next 34 minutes, but having died during childbirth is absent again for the final 41 minutes.  Greer herself spoke of her part in the movie as "infinitesimal".  For the reason of brevity alone, then, she may have been considered as ineligible for Best Actress, but where she could have won in the lesser category of Featured Player:

As news spread around the country that Vivien Leigh had won Best Actress honors for Gone with the Wind, the Chicago Sunday Tribune pointed out, "Greer Garson might have won an Oscar except for an error: she was nominated in the star performance division, but she was only a featured player.  She might have won in the featured division".

Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Dark Victory, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart
Bette Davis  Humphrey Bogart:  Dark Victory
Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable
Vivien Leigh  Clark Gable:  Gone with the Wind
Greer Garson, Robert Donat
Greer Garson  Robert Donat:  Goodbye, Mr Chips
Love Affair, Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer
Irene Dunne  Charles Boyer:  Love Affair
Ninotchka, Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas
Greta Garbo  Melvyn Douglas:  Ninotchka


Reviews of Goodbye, Mr Chips have been unanimously glowing right from 1939 until the present, not only with respect to the enjoyability of the movie, but sometimes also in wishing the Chips' school environment, and Chips himself, upon all children everywhere.

Metro's Leo and the British lion still are on the very best of terms, a fact most pleasantly demonstrated last night when MGM's London-made version of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" had its première at the Astor.  James Hilton's sentimental tribute to the English public school system and to its institutional Mr. Chipping of Brookfield has been rather tenderly done.  Alexander Woollcott and the other authorities who have been quoted in the ads may be guilty of whooping up its merits overmuch, but basically they are right: it is a serene, heartwarming and generally satisfactory film edition of an edifyingly sentimental novelette.  Like the story, the film is nostalgic: if we never knew a Mr. Chips, we should have known him.  He belongs to every young man's past.

Frank S. Nugent, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), New York Times Review, 16 May 1939

Goodbye, Mr. Chips premiered at the Astor Theater on Broadway in New York on May 15, 1939.  In his radio address, Alexander Woollcott proclaimed, "In a year in which the great nations of the world seem to be choosing partners for a dance of death this cavalcade of English youth becomes suddenly an almost unbearable reminder of something which in a mad and greedy world may be allowed to perish from the Earth.  I am here only to testify that in my own experience, the most moving of all motion pictures is the one called Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  "It is not necessary to agree with Alexander Wollcott that this is the best motion picture ever made, to be certain that it is a screen masterpiece", remarked the New York Herald-Tribune.  "Greer Garson, as the woman who marries Mr. Chips in spite of himself, conspires with him to give a performance of enormous sincerity which makes her relatively brief appearance in the film electric and haunting."

Michael Troyan, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson, University Press of Kentucky, 1999.


And we turn now to the question of just what Goodbye, Mr Chips teaches the public about classroom education.  Does the viewing audience understand schooling better after watching Chips than it did before?  Does the silver screen portray what we expect it to — an ideal that real schools should strive to emulate, however impossible it might be to realize in real life the perfection that exists only on screen?  Or, on the other hand, might Chips clutter the audience's mind with falsehoods and misconceptions, and present scenarios so harmful that they would best be avoided, and possibly even stamped out wherever they may spring up?

A scene which begins ten minutes from the start of the film:
Chips stops Mrs Wickett from disgorging statistics concerning a Chips tradition

About ten minutes into the movie we see an 88-year-old Charles Chipping, affectionately referred to as Mr Chips, or sometimes as just Chips, together with his housekeeper, Mrs Wickett, preparing to host any Brookfield-School students who may drop in over the course of the evening.  Whoever does arrive will find the tea kettle boiling, an iced cake ready to be divided into wedges, and a plate laden with muffins which will later in the movie be identified as "sponge cakes", and of which seven can be counted in the still below, though as they are arranged in two layers, there are perhaps two more sponge cakes that can't be seen, toward the rear of the bottom layer, making a total of perhaps nine.  The dialogue that takes place in this scene serves to establish that what we are seeing is not an isolated event, but rather a Chips tradition, concerning which Mrs Wickett is able to recite statistics, but which statistics Chips is loathe to be reminded of.


MRS WICKETT:  You sit down by the fire.  What you want is a nice cup of hot tea.

MR CHIPS:  Uh, I'll wait a bit.  Some of the boys might drop in.

MRS WICKETT:  Well, I have to pop out for a minute.  Everything's ready for your tea.

MR CHIPS:  And a cake, eh?


MRS WICKETT:  Ah, yes, there's a cake.  I wonder how many of them those boys have eaten since you first came to lodge here.  Letting them gorge you out of house and home.  Last term, 26 iced cakes, 200 rock cakes, 156 Bath buns ...


MR CHIPS:  Enough of your loathsome statistics, woman.  Go about your business.  Go!

Goodbye, Mr Chips: Mrs Wickett helps Chips prepare tea for boys who might drop in

Chips next settles down in the armchair visible on his right in the still above, before the fire on which his tea kettle is already boiling, and falls into a reverie which contains a flashback covering his 48-year career at Brookfield boarding school, the flashback lasting until this same scene resumes within the last ten minutes of the movie when Chips is awakened by a boy knocking on his door.

The same scene resumes ten minutes from the end of the film:
Chips initiates Colley into Brookfield School binge eating

The boy knocking on the door is new-student Colley, the fourth in four successive generations of Colleys to have attended Brookfield since Chips arrived.  Colley has been put up to knocking on Chips' door by senior students as a prank, presumably to annoy Chips.  To the surprise of the pranksters, Chips is not annoyed, but rather invites Colley in, and proceeds to treat him as the evening's welcome guest, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say, proceeds to treat him as the evening's welcome victim.

Colley, shown fetching the tea kettle from the fireplace, can be seen to already tend more to chubby than to wiry.

Goodbye, Mr Chips: Colley already tends more to chubby than to wiry

LEFT BELOW:  Chips having just made his first cut on the far side of the iced cake, where it is not presently visible to the camera, now rests his knife on the cake at a position counterclockwise to that first cut, poised to create for Colley a wedge of normal size.

RIGHT BELOW:  But having taken a look at Colley sitting to his right, and perhaps prompted by sympathy or affection for Colley actuated by remembrance of Colley's forebears, Chips decides to give him a more generous piece, and so repositions his knife still farther counterclockwise, so as to capture within Colley's wedge of cake an additional column of three walnut-halves.

Goodbye, Mr Chips: Knife is poised to cut Colley a normal slice of cake Goodbye, Mr Chips: Knife is repositioned to cut Colley a larger slice of cake

LEFT BELOW:  Even before Colley has had a chance to attack his super-sized slab of iced cake, shown perched precariously on his lap, Chips says "Try one of those sponge cakes".  The tops of the muffin-shaped sponge cakes can be seen at the bottom of the screen, just right of center.

RIGHT BELOW:  The camera immediately begins tilting downward toward the sponge cakes at which Colley has turned to look — perhaps seven can be counted in this improved view, but whether all the sponge cakes in the bottom layer are visible may be doubted.  We might be content to retain the estimate of nine that had been entertained above.

At the same time, the upcoming scene, consisting of a close-up of the now-empty plate on which the sponge cakes had been sitting, begins to fade-in, conveying that considerable time has passed during which Colley has managed to devour all the sponge cakes, all nine of them if our estimate is correct, and presumably his slice of iced cake as well.

Goodbye, Mr Chips: Try one of those sponge cakes, says Mr Chips to Colley. Goodbye, Mr Chips: The empty plate signifies Colley has eaten all the sponge cakes

Let us recapitulate.  From night having fallen, we may infer that Brookfield students have already been fed their dinners and are sated, and will soon be abed.  Nevertheless, no sooner does Colley make his appearance within Chips' chambers, than Chips proceeds to ply him with desserts, namely one particularly-large slice of iced cake and nine sponge cakes, not a whit deterred by Colley's seeming already to be a little on the plump side.  Mrs Wickett's statistics indicate that this incident is not isolated, but is more in the nature of a Chips tradition.

A brief digression to the question of student security

Colley is a new student, and therefore can be inferred to be among the youngest and most naive at Brookfield School, and therefore in need of the strongest protection.  In any well-regulated school, his location would be known to school officials at all times — he should be known to be either in class or out on the sports field or on a group outing or in the dining hall or in his dormitory, and if he is given unsupervised time, then it must be within a strictly-defined area to which the public does not have access, and from which the student cannot easily absent himself.  For among the youngest and most naive of students to disappear for an hour or two should be the occasion of alarm and search.

And where is it that Colley did disappear to for an hour or two?  Into Chips' lodging.  If Chips were on the teaching staff and living on campus, this would be bad enough, as student's visiting staff in their lodgings should be strictly prohibited.  All contacts between staff and students should be in a public location and for a specified duration, and for a sanctioned purpose, and including many students and not restricted to just one.  The idea of staff meeting with students who-knows-where and who-knows-for-how-long, and who-knows-for-what-purpose and in privacy is anathema.  We see that Colley's meeting with Chips met none of these requirements.

And let us not forget that such approved contact is sanctioned only for a staff member, which is to say an official who is qualified to meet with the students, who is accredited by the school — and that this supremely important requirement is not being met either.  That is, Chips is around 88 years old, and has been in retirement for about 15 years.  He no longer holds any position in Brookfield School and performs no work there.  Although he had in the past been qualified to meet with students under the conditions outlined above, he lost that qualification the day he retired.

And also, as Chips is no longer affiliated with the school, then if the school does provide lodging for staff, it will not provide lodging for Chips, as he is not staff.  Most likely, Chips lives off campus, somewhere near the school.  Little Colley, then, has probably spent an hour or two in the off-campus lodging of a single unemployed man, and done so without the approval, or even the knowledge, of either Colley's parents or of Brookfield School.

And a word on another kind of security.  Is it prudent to ask a young boy to get a kettle of boiling water from the fireplace?  The kettle has had flames licking up its sides, and so the handle will burn anyone who grasps it unthinkingly.  Colley, coming from an affluent family where servants do the work of food preparation, may have had no kitchen experience handling boiling liquids or experience with dangerously-hot objects of any kind.  Not only might he burn himself by grabbing the kettle handle without some kind of insulation, but even if he does use an insulating pad, if that pad is small or inexpertly positioned, he might easily make contact with the hot handle, which could make him drop the kettle and which could result in his getting scalded.

Chips should not have asked a young boy whom he knows nothing about to fetch a boiling kettle.  If he did ask, he should have monitored closely, to see that the fetching was being carried out safely.  Chips, however, is oblivious to questions of safety.  As Colley goes about fetching the kettle, Chips has his back turned and monitors nothing.  Anyone who is safety-conscious would know also to not put a question to someone doing something dangerous — having to answer a question is distracting.  Some movie viewers may find Chips loveable, but those who are alert to protect children from harm will more likely see him as a walking accident-production machine.

LEFT BELOW: Chips asks Colley-IV, whom he has just met and knows nothing about, to fetch a kettle of boiling water sitting above a fire, and which has been seen to have flames licking up along its sides.

RIGHT BELOW: Colley turns out to be experienced enough to grab the handle with a cloth that he found sitting nearby, but the cloth is so small that it is barely visible in this still.  And the spout is aimed right at him!  And reaching in from that angle places his ventral wrist right up against the hook on which the kettle hangs, and that hook will be burning hot, hotter than the kettle because the kettle temperature will not go much above the boiling point of the water that it contains, whereas the hook does not share that moderating influence because it is not in contact with water.  Also not conducive to safety is that the action requires crouching and reaching.  If Colley underestimates the weight of kettle plus water, and if he tries to lift the kettle using only his fingertips so as to avoid his hand extending beyond the insulating pad and touching the kettle handle, and using his fingertips also so as to avoid letting his wrist touch the hook, then he is liable to lose his grip and drop the kettle.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Would you fetch me the kettle? Goodbye Mr Chips:

But how did the Chips bingeing tradition begin?

Chips' first 23 years of teaching at Brookfield were a disaster.  He was widely disliked, and even hated, for reasons that will be examined further below.  Everything turned around for him, however, when on a hiking holiday in Austria he met Katherine, 25 years of age to his 48 would be my guess.  Nevertheless, the story runs that the two fell in love and married.  When Chips arrives back at Brookfield with his girl-wife, she immediately proceeds to sweep staff and students off their feet with the same vivacity that she had swept Chips off his feet.

The still on the right shows Katherine's first encounter with some of the Brookfield boys, whom she spontaneously invites to a regular Sunday tea.  The boys are excited by her arrival, and newly-respectful of Chips for being able to land such an impressive wife.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine meets some of the Brookfield boys

At the first such tea are nine boys seated at a round table, but who are not visible immediately, as the camera starts zoomed in on a muffin (as Katherine calls it) that has jam smeared across its top.  Or, maybe that's not jam — maybe the muffin has gotten burned in the oven.  No matter.  Katherine is holding the pan with this jammed or burned muffin up to the face of student Bullock, the chubbiest of all the boys at Brookfield.  However, Bullock has already eaten his fill, and now looks down at this muffin with what might be nausea, and says he doesn't want it, but Katherine won't take no for an answer — she positively has got to get rid of this muffin, and so somebody is going to have to eat it, and she has chosen poor, nauseated Bullock.

KATHERINE:  Now, Bullock, you don't mean to tell me that you can't find room for just one more muffin?

BULLOCK:  No, thank you.  Really, Mrs. Chipping.

One might wonder precisely what "just one more muffin" might mean.  Exactly how many muffins has Bullock already eaten?  If Katherine had invited him to have "a second muffin", we would know, but "just one more muffin" implies more than that, but how much more the movie viewer is not told.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine pressures Bullock to eat another muffin Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine continues to pressure Bullock to eat the last muffin

But Katherine is unrelenting.  Looming over Bullock, pushing the muffin into his face, she increases the pressure on him by means of a joke, which sets the students to laughing, upon which Bullock's resistance collapses, as is shown in the left still below.

KATHERINE:  Last muffin means a handsome wife and ten thousand a year, you know.  I should risk it for the sake of the future Mrs Bullock.

STUDENTS:  Mrs Bullock!  Mrs Bullock!

The students break out in uproarious laughter, upon which Bullock takes the proffered muffin out of the pan with his fingers, himself laughing now, and bites into it.  If Bullock ends up vomiting on Katherine's tablecloth, she will have no one to blame but herself.

No one takes the trouble to point out that the advice Katherine has given Bullock is the opposite of the truth.  The truth is that it is only by eating less that Bullock will have any chance of attracting "a handsome wife".  The truth is that Katherine is putting Bullock on the road to obesity, from which the probability of winning "a handsome wife" is low.

And after her victory over Bullock's best interests, Katherine is not satisfied to retire from the field of battle to savor her triumph, she quickly lights into Martin for hanging back from joining the obesity brigade, but Martin is an athlete, and his excuse gets him off the hook, especially as that excuse is reinforced by Chips, which is what is happening in the right-hand still below.

KATHERINE:  Why Martin, you hardly ate anything.

MARTIN:  I'm in training, Mrs Chipping.


KATHERINE:  Oh, really?

MR CHIPS:  Oh, yes!

Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine succeeds in making Bullock bite into the last muffin Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine says Why Martin, you hardly ate anything

The scene above raises related issues.  If Chips teaches a class of around 36, and if he is shown above hosting only 9, then where are the other 27?  Is the price of having a gay time with 9 that the remaining 27 feel left out?  Or does a different group of 9 come on successive Sundays, so that any given boy comes only once a month?  And is it to be expected that boys throughout the school will fault teachers who don't have effervescent wives who host pig-outs?

LEFT BELOW:  Another instance of Katherine promoting inadvisable eating.  Katherine starts by recommending that on his dormitory inspection following the lights-out bell, Chips should cough before opening the door to Room 11, so that the boys will have time to hide the food package that one of them has just received from home.  However, Chips does not cough when he reaches Room 11, and when he throws open the door, the scene that greets him is the one on the left below, which is to say not the proper scene of boys in their beds asleep, or about to fall asleep, but the improper scene of boys feasting.


KATHERINE:  Lights out.  You taking dormitory inspection?

MR CHIPS:  Yes, shan't be long.



KATHERINE:  Cough a little before you come to number eleven, will you?

MR CHIPS:  Now, Kathy, why?

KATHERINE:  Jones Minor got a tuck box from home today.  Did you ever have a dormitory feast when you were a little boy?

MR CHIPS:  Well, I do remember once, but that's quite beside the point.


MR CHIPS:  Kathy, I sometimes think you're trying to pull Brookfield down, stone by stone.


MR CHIPS:  Hm!  Thought I heard a noise.  Must have been the cat.


RIGHT BELOW:  Even when the subject of conversation is the war — this is long after Katherine's death — Chips teaches his students to follow the Katherine doctrine to turn everything into a joke and keeping on noshing.

BOY ON FAR RIGHT:  There were sentries on every bridge at home, with bayonets fixed.

SHORTEST BOY:  My uncle saw the Russians come through.

BOY IN FRONT OF CHIPS (WES):  How did he know they were Russian?

SHORTEST BOY:  Easy, Wes.  They had beards, and snow on their boots.  [EVERYBODY LAUGHS]

Goodbye Mr Chips: Late-night dormitory feast Goodbye Mr Chips: Katherine doctrine continues, keep noshing while you joke

Hollywood's solution to the problem of a man's bad teaching and general unpopularity, then, is to get himself a bewitching wife who will amuse the students with jokes and stuff them with desserts.  And so it was Katherine who started the bingeing tradition, and when she dies, Chips carries on as much of it as he is able — the desserts and jokes part — though without the beguiling wife the event is not nearly as jolly, and attracts not nearly the volume of traffic.

And, yes, Katherine is attempting to pull Brookfield down, stone by stone.  For Katherine, rules just get in the way of fun, but the responsible educator looks into the future beyond the immediate fun, and sees harm that is too heavy a price to pay for the fun.  For example, a boys' dormitory is perpetually threatened with infestation — flies, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, mice, and rats.  Boys eating in their dormitory strew food which feeds all these vermin.  Living with such vermin is too heavy a price to pay for the pleasure of dormitory feasts.  That is one reason why food must be banned from dormitories, and why Chips should have confiscated the dormitory feast, ordered the boys to brush their teeth, and urged the headmaster to ban food packages from home.  The first sighting of cockroaches scurrying over the boys' beds at night, not to mention over their faces as they sleep, provides justification enough for what might otherwise seem to be a needlessly austere policy.

Also ignored by Katherine's epicurean bent is the heavy price of obesity, with its attendant diseases and premature death.  She is concerned only with immediate fun, and sees no connection between the gorgeing that she encourages and the punishment which is to follow.

Then there is tooth decay.  How many of the edibles in that food package were desserts or sweets?  And are those boys in the habit of brushing their teeth after they finish their dormitory feast?  Tooth decay and premature loss of teeth are too high a price to pay for following Katherine's doctrine of sugar-bingeing one's way to happiness.  Chips should at the very least have reminded the dormitory feasters to brush their teeth before retiring.

Sugar addiction and bingeing, then, is the thread woven into this movie from beginning to end: the Mrs Wickett loathsome-statistics scene some ten minutes into the movie, and Colley's mega-binge, some ten minutes before the end of the movie, and sandwiched in between is the miraculous discovery which transforms Chips' career from a grand failure to a grand success — the discovery of yucking it up while sugar bingeing as a means of uplifting abysmal teacher ratings.


(1)  Headmaster Dr Wetherby Metes Out Collective Punishment for the Opening-Day Attack

Chips first class turns into a melee which is only suppressed by headmaster Dr Wetherby walking in, and announcing that he will cane the entire class on the following day.  In other words, the punishment that he chooses to administer is not individual, it is collective.  However, a review of the details of the melee will serve to reveal why collective punishment is unjust in this particular instance, and also why it has been excluded from modern justice systems.

The melee begins just as soon as Chips walks into class for the first time — his mortarboard hat is knocked off by a wire stretched across his path at hat level.  But in the class of some thirty to forty boys, how many might have actually participated in the placing of that wire?  Perhaps only one, perhaps two, it would seem three at most.  Following that, the boys kick the hat across the floor, on the pretext of trying to pick it up while inadvertently kicking it beyond reach.  But to speak of "the boys" kicking the hat is to speak inaccurately — in fact, only one boy can be seen doing so in the still on the right below, and the total number involved in the entire kicking sequence is small.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Opening-Day Attack begins by knocking off Chips' mortarboard hat Goodbye Mr Chips: Opening-Day Attack continues with kicking Chips' mortarboard hat around the floor

The hat is next tossed about in the air with maybe five boys reaching for it, though the number who actually get it in their grasp is smaller.  Colley standing on the dais ends up with the hat, and Chips' attempts to retrieve it are deliberately blocked by a phalanx of perhaps five boys.

Goodbye Mr Chips: During the opening-day attack, the class tosses Chips' mortarboard hat around Goodbye Mr Chips: During the opening-day attack, a phalanx of boys keeps Chips from retrieving his hat

Colley alone then pretends to be trying to get the hat back into shape by whacking it across his knee, and then pretends to be cleaning it by whacking it with the blackboard-erasing rag, thereby both misshaping the hat further and staining it with chalk dust.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Colley pretends to slap Chips' hat back into shape Goodbye Mr Chips: Colley pretends to clean Chips' hat by whacking it with the chalk-erasing rag

Not long after, the boys mob Chips, and actually pull him down low enough that he cannot be seen.  Perhaps that is his hair visible in the right-hand still below, which might be the case if he had fallen only to his knees, but perhaps that is not his hair and he has been altogether flattened.  At most, there may be twelve boys encircling him, though the outer ring may consist more of spectators than attackers.

Goodbye Mr Chips: The boys begin mobbing Chips Goodbye Mr Chips: The boys have brought Chips down to his knees, or maybe have flattened him on the floor

As headmaster Dr Wetherby enters, he is hit in the face by a flying book, which must have been thrown by a single student.  The headmaster proceeds to flaunt that he does not merely intend to inflict collective punishment on this one occasion, but that he has gloried in collective punishment for at least the past eighteen years.

HEADMASTER DR WETHERBY:  It is just eighteen years ago this term since I had occasion to cane the entire lower school.  The young gentlemen of that day came honestly by their punishment.  I think I can say the same for you.  You will present yourselves at my study tomorrow afternoon in alphabetical order at intervals of three minutes starting at three o'clock.  I believe I can promise you that I have lost none of my vigor.

Goodbye Mr Chips: A flying book hits headmaster Dr Wetherby in the face Goodbye Mr Chips: headmaster Dr Wetherby announces the collective punishment of flogging the entire class

The conclusion supported by our scrutiny of the opening-day mayhem is that only a small proportion of the class was involved in any one incident, and furthermore that if it tended to be the same boys involved in the various incidents, as is likely, that only a small proportion of the class bears any guilt.

As further evidence that the boys did not participate equally in the bedlam, we can see on the left below that they differ greatly in size, and since many of the misbehaviors could only have been accomplished by boys that are bigger and stronger, there is reason to suppose that the smaller and weaker boys contributed less.  And on the right below, we see the best evidence of differential participation — during the height of the harassment of Chips, most of the boys remain behind desks.  Some are far enough toward the back of the room that they can barely see what's happening, and cannot be imagined to share any responsibility for what others are doing at the front.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Students in Chips' class differ greatly in size Goodbye Mr Chips: Most students don't participate in the opening-day attack

It seems to follow, therefore, that justice would have been served if the ringleaders — perhaps no more than half a dozen in number — had been identified and if they alone had been punished.  All the rest might have been no more than reprimanded either for not acting to stop the misconduct, or for not betraying the attack to the authorities while it was yet in the planning stage.  But to administer severe punishment to, say, 36 boys when only six of them deserve it is to punish five out of six of them unjustly, and to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

We see, then, that Brookfield school endorses and practices the barbaric form of punishment known a collective punishment whose chief defect tends to be that the vast majority of those who are punished are guiltless.  Headmaster Dr Wetherby boasts that he has caned an entire class before, and so if he repeats the procedure in the present situation, it must be that during the intervening years he has had no occasion to review the propriety of doing so.  He is simply a twopenny tyrant who has become habituated to the application of brute force.

(2)  Mr Chips Collective Punishment Results in Brookfield's Loss of the Cricket Trophy Cup

Following the above donnybrook, the headmaster instructs Chips that unless he can learn to control a class he should think of pursuing a career other than teaching.  Taking the headmaster's admonition to heart, and imitating the Headmaster's precedent of collective punishment, Chips issues a detention order to his whole class for what offense we are not told, and to be served on the afternoon of the day of the offense.  So, here we have Chips' justice error number one — imposing collective punishment.

However, an important cricket match is to be played that same afternoon between Brookfield and its rival Sedbury, such that Chips' detention punishment will prove to be more severe than he had intended by the detained class being unable to attend the game.  Worse than that, Brookfield's best cricketer, Maynard, is in Chips' class, and so will be among those detained, and so will not get to play, and whose absence from the field will lower Brookfield's chances of winning.  Chips' punishment, therefore, will fall particularly heavily on Maynard, and furthermore might prove to be a punishment on the entire school, the punishment of losing the game, and of losing the trophy cup which is currently in Brookfield's possession.  The class brings this scheduling clash (between the detention and the cricket match) to Chips' attention, but he feels that the information was communicated so insolently that it was inadvisable for him to amend his decision.

Here, Chips commits his second error in administering justice — when good reason is brought to his attention for a re-scheduling, he refuses because of the impolite manner in which that good reason was communicated.  What Chips is doing here is punishing the class, including Maynard in particular, and the whole school too, in order to avenge himself on the person or persons who spoke to him impolitely.  Again, there is no attempt here to narrow the focus of punishment upon the wrongdoer or wrongdoers — Chips is happy to wreak his vengeance on everybody.  What he should have done was to allow the new information to defer the detention to a later time, and as a separate matter, to have taken whoever-it-was to task for impoliteness.

Neither Chips nor the other masters nor even the headmaster seem intelligent enough to recognize that no matter what Chips does, he cannot escape deviating from his original plan, and thus losing face for so deviating, granting for the sake of argument the film's assumption that a deviation so trivial does constitute a loss of face.  That is, if Chips re-schedules the detention, then he will be deviating from his original plan to hold it that afternoon; if he fails to re-schedule, then he will be deviating from his original plan to impose mild punishment.  Unable, along with the headmaster and other teachers, to recognize the inescapability of one deviation or the other, Chips opts for the wrong one, falsely imagining it to be no deviation at all, or somehow the lesser deviation, where in fact it is the one that will arouse the greatest discontent, the one that will do most to lower Chips in the students' esteem.

The foolishness of Chips' decision can be appreciated from another point of view, which is that the scheduling of the cricket match against Sedbury constitutes something like a prior contract which placed everybody at Brookfield and everybody at Sedbury under a network of obligations, as for example an obligation to Sedbury to provide a playing field and to provide the Brookfield cricket team, and even to provide Brookfield spectators who would join Sedbury spectators to watch the game from the bleachers.  An obligation to parents too, perhaps, to allow them to watch the match together with their children who were enrolled in Brookfield.  This implicit contract obligated all Brookfield students to attend so they could cheer their team.  The implicit contract obligated the full cricket team to play.  Therefore, Brookfield School had already bound all Brookfield students to this game in one capacity or another, and so that Chips had not the right or the authority to override that earlier contract.  In case of a clash, it is the Chips detention that should be overridden, because it was the later of the two, and also because it could be easily re-scheduled whereas the cricket match could not.  We see most unambiguously the significance of Brookfield yielding precedence to the Chips detention — the significance that Brookfield is being run by incompetents, run by a staff incapable of extricating themselves from the most elementary of dilemmas, run by a staff whose inability to administer elementary justice results in suffering and demoralization for the students.

LEFT BELOW:  Before he discovers that Chips intends to keep Maynard from playing, headmaster Dr Wetherby radiates optimism that Brookfield will keep the trophy cup that he gestures to in front of him:

HEADMASTER DR WETHERBY:  Before we leave I want to wish our cricket 11 the best of luck against Sedbury this afternoon.  This year, Sedbury claims to be sending us the finest team that ever came out of a very fine school.  Well, we shall give them a hearty welcome.  We shall give them a big tea, but I venture to predict we shall not give them the cup.

RIGHT BELOW:  The class sits in detention while through the open windows can be heard the sounds of the cricket match that they are missing.  Best-player, Maynard, is in the foreground struggling mightily to focus on the assigned work.  Colley, on his left, looks with commiseration upon Maynard's particular suffering.   Given that this is collective punishment, it is conceivable that best-player Maynard took no part in whatever offense the class is being punished for.  It may be, for example, that several students didn't have their homework done, and in a pique Chips detained the entire class, and yet Maynard may have been one of the students who did have his homework done.  Maynard is furious because of the unfairness of the collective punishment, and he is doubly furious because twopenny tyrant Mr Chips refused to change the scheduling of the punishment, thus imposing on the entire class a much harsher punishment than had been intended, or than anyone in the class deserved.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Headmaster Dr Wetherby is optimistic that Brookfield will keep the cricket trophy cup Goodbye Mr Chips: The class sitting in detention can hear the cricket match being played outside

Written on Maynard's face is his frustration at not being able to play for his cricket team and lead them to victory, and his hatred of Chips for the injustice of imposing collective punishment, and for his irrationality in refusing to reschedule the detention.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Maynard suffers terribly for not being allowed to lead his team to victory in the cricket match

COLLEY:  Oh, all right sir!  Sedbury's beaten us.  We've lost the cup.  It's not just us, it's the whole school.  We know you don't care how the fellows feel.  Perhaps you don't want to be liked!  Perhaps you don't mind being hated!

Goodbye Mr Chips: Colley tells Chips, Perhaps you don't mind being hated

(3)  Mr Chips' Summary Caning of Burton

By "summary" I mean "conducted without the customary legal formalities".  One customary legal formality is to adhere to approximately the following sequence: inform a person what offense he is accused of and what the evidence against him is, listen to his defense, decide if he is guilty, and if that decision is guilty, then punish him.

Mr Chips, in contrast, employs a different sequence.  First, he decides that someone is guilty of something, but doesn't tell anyone.  Next he punishes that someone, in this case by lashing him six times with a cane across the backside.  And only after the punishment does he disclose the offense, but cursorily and without any supporting evidence and thus without allowing the suspect to examine and challenge that evidence, and naturally without allowing the accused to present exculpatory evidence.

In short, the Chips procedure is punish first, disclose the offence afterward, and nothing more.

Mr Chips raises his voice to its loudest and most threatening when he repeats: "Get over that chair!"

Goodbye Mr Chips: Chips commands Burton to Get over that chair

In the face of Chips' heightened ferocity, Burton complies, and submits to his six lashes in silence.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Burton prepares to receive his six lashes

And here is the totality of what was said:

MR CHIPS:  Burton, I understand you've been impertinent and disobedient to Mr. Smith.

BURTON:  I've written the lines you've given me.  I've done the punishment.

MR CHIPS:  Providing you do the punishment you think yourself entitled to play stupid practical jokes, is that it?  Sit down.  I want to know the reason why you do this kind of thing.

BURTON:  I do it because the whole crowd of masters here are a lot of weak-kneed women.  They're not in the army because they're not fit to be, or too old, or too frightened.  They get it back on us by being twopenny tyrants.  [BURTON HAS BEEN RAISING HIS VOICE AS HE SPEAKS.]

MR CHIPS:  Before you go on with your interesting speech, get over that chair.  [MR CHIPS GETS HIS CANE FROM A CORNER OF THE ROOM.  BURTON HASN'T MOVED.]  Get over that chair!  [CHIPS IS YELLING HERE.  BURTON OBEYS.  CHIPS LASHES HIM SIX TIMES]

MR CHIPS:  Get up.  Sit down.  You'll find the armchair the most convenient now.  It didn't amuse me to do that, Burton.  Very soon now, you'll be an officer in France.  You'll need discipline from your men.  And to get that, you must know what discipline means.  Now, you despise the masters here because they're not young enough or strong enough to fight.  You might like to know that every one has done his best to join the army.  We take no man unless he has done that.  I'm headmaster now simply because every man fit to be headmaster's fighting in France.  I'm a wartime fluke.  A temporary officer risen from the ranks.  But I'm going to keep Brookfield together till the war is over.  Do you understand?

BURTON:  I didn't know that, sir, about the masters.  I'm sorry.

MR CHIPS:  If I thought you hadn't any good in you, I shouldn't have bother to tell you.  Now, are you gonna stand in and do your share?

BURTON:  Of course I am, sir.

MR CHIPS:  That's right.

But what was Burton caned for?  It was not for anything he had done prior to entering Chips' office — those were things Burton had already been punished for, or things that Chips merely wanted to discuss.  What Burton was lashed for was his angry and defiant outburst beginning with "I do it because".  Let us analyze this outburst, asking what there is in it that might deserve punishment.

One thing that Burton says in that one statement is that the masters act like "twopenny tyrants".  However, we have already seen above that not only masters but headmasters do in fact act like twopenny tyrants.  (It was in preparation for evaluating Burton's use of the expression "twopenny tyrants" that I scattered it in above discussions of injustice at Brookfield.)  We have seen the Brookfield headmaster acting like a twopenny tyrant when he caned an entire class for misconduct committed by something like six students in that class.  We have seen Chips acting like a twopenny tyrant when he imposed the collective punishment of detention on his class, and on top of that refused to reschedule that detention because he wanted revenge for having been spoken to impolitely, with the result that the class was subjected to punishment more severe than had been intended, and the school suffered the punishment of losing the match against Sedbury and forsaking the trophy cup.  And Chips is about to demonstrate again his predilection for twopenny tyranny by caning Burton without first informing him for what offence, and without hearing Burton's defense.  It is reasonable to expect that Burton has seen several instances of twopenny-tyranny at Brookfield, and that if asked to substantiate his accusation with data, would be able to.  On the question of twopenny tyranny, then, Burton is to be commended for having recognized that it exists, and for having had the courage to speak out concerning what he has recognized.

Next, Burton's statement that the masters are "a lot of weak-kneed women" is too vague to be evaluated, and the more concrete things that he says immediately after may be taken to explain what he means by "weak-kneed women".  The elaboration that Burton adds is that the masters are not in the army for three reasons: (1) they are unfit, (2) they are too old, and (3) they are too frightened.  However, Chips himself immediately agrees with the first two of these — that the Brookfield staff is not in the army because it is too unfit or too old.  Every one of them, says Chips, has been rejected for service for these two reasons.  He himself is headmaster only because he is too old to serve in the army.  So, as far as the first two reasons are concerned, Burton is right, and Chips agrees that Burton is right, and so we still have discovered no justification for caning.

That leaves only one thing that Burton says that might have justified caning.  Burton says that some masters have avoided military service because they are "too frightened", or in other words that they are cowards and shirkers.  It is not wrong of Burton to consider this possibility.  To prosecute war successfully, it is necessary and desirable that cowards and shirkers be watched for and identified.  If a malingerer could be proven to exist among the Brookfield staff, then it would promote the war effort to expose and shame him.  Burton's only fault here, then, would have had to be not that he identified shirkers, but that he misidentified them.  But Chips falls short of refuting Burton's accusation when he says "You might like to know that every one has done his best to join the army.  We take no man unless he has done that."  This assertion from Chips is not evidence, it is at best an introductory statement that would appropriately be made prior to the presentation of evidence.  That is, Chips does not follow his introductory statement with a list of masters, and with a production of documents showing good reason why each has been rejected for military service.  Rather, he implicitly demands that Burton accept this conclusion without proof.  And Chips does not ask what Burton's evidence is for believing that certain masters are "too frightened".  Maybe Burton has such evidence.  Maybe Burton has overheard one or more masters confess that they are not in the army because they fear being wounded or killed.  Maybe he has heard one or more masters admitting this openly, on more than one occasion, in the presence of witnesses other than Burton.  If Burton affirms that some masters are not in military service because they are "too frightened", it is unjust to punish him without asking to see his evidence.

In short, Burton and Chips have different perceptions of the Brookfield staff.  It is possible to ascertain which perception is more correct by examining the evidence for each side, but no such presentation of evidence is permitted, and so no weighing of evidence takes place.  And even if such a weighing of evidence did take place, and even if Burton were proven wrong, this would be no justification for caning him.  One does not cane a student for being mistaken, for not having taken into consideration evidence that was unavailable to him.  In fact, would it not have been the obligation of the Brookfield staff to stop suspicions from arising and rumors from circulating by publicly disclosing their reasons for not being in military service?  True, Burton relying on incomplete information might have arrived at an erroneous impression of shirking, but he did not arrive at that wrong impression by willfully ignoring available evidence to the contrary.  He did not slander a master out of sheer spite in disregard of reasons not to.  If Burton was under-informed it was because the staff chose to under-inform him, chose to project the false appearance of shirking or malingering or cowardice when it was within their power to project the true appearance of physical unfitness.  If Burton was wrong, then he was understandably wrong, and his error needed to be corrected by exchange of information.  What was not needed was to have his speaking on the question suppressed by caning.

What this movie projects, then, as a model for admiration is the exercise of brute and mindless force.  Burton was caned because he dared to speak of his superiors disrespectfully, caned even though that disrespect might have been deserved.  Mr Chips reconfirms our impression that he is a twopenny tyrant, and it might be conjectured the only reason that he is not a full-blown tyrant is that he has not been given the power to become one.  But he may be considered to be a tyrant to the full extent that circumstances permit.  He shows no capacity for submitting his own conduct to review by reason or by consideration of the due process that is necessary for justice to prevail.


All we ever see Chips teaching is Latin, which is an undeniably valuable subject of study, as for example for linguists or psycholinguists or historians of Roman times, and so on, and of each profession the world needs a goodly supply of practitioners, just as it needs experts in a large number of areas with which the layman is largely unacquainted.  However, Brookfield is not a school for manufacturing linguists and psycholinguists and Roman historians, for which reason it becomes pertinent to keep in mind that Latin is a dead language, and so is less useful to study in the course of a general education than living languages such as French or German, and far less useful to study than science or mathematics which is the language of science.  Perhaps the argument can be made that the study of Latin improves command of English, or somehow upgrades the quality of the students' cognition; however, it might be hard to demonstrate that the study of a living language such as French or German would fail to bring equal benefits.


Sir John Colley to Chips' right, and headmaster Dr Ralston to his left, all agree that failing to learn Latin is cause not for shame but merriment:

MR CHIPS:  Sometimes when people speak of Sir John Colley, our respected chairman of governors, I think to myself, "Oh, yes, a jolly little chap with hair that sticks up on top and absolutely no idea of Latin verbs."

Goodbye Mr Chips: Everybody laughs when Latin is not learned

Because all characters in Goodbye, Mr Chips understand that for most people Latin has negligible use, then all characters also understand that the amount of Latin Chips succeeds in teaching is of no importance, such that when Chips recollects how little Latin some particular alumnus learned as a boy, that alumnus receives sympathy and almost a congratulatory pat on the back.  With no motivation to master Latin on the part of the students, and no motivation to get students to master Latin on the part of their teachers, it is little wonder that Chips is able to tell headmaster Ralston "Modern methods, intensive training, poppycock!"  Why bother? is Chips' attitude.  I'm here to warehouse the boys until they're old enough to be sent out into the world, and the less they learn the happier they are, and the less I teach them the less work for me.  Nobody has ever told me that my students are learning too little Latin; the possibility of anyone ever telling me that is unimaginable.

Brookfield, then, is represented in Goodbye, Mr Chips as a school in which the main subject of instruction is recognized by all, even Chips himself, as a useless subject which there is no reason to learn well, an attitude which it is necessary to regard as irresponsible and destructive.  The responsible and constructive attitude is that there is a long list of skills whose mastery will smooth the student's path through life, and increase his chances of being helpful to his fellow man, and which therefore will also enhance his employability and boost his remuneration.  The responsible educator does not lose sight of the usefulness-employability-remuneration connection.  Although the correlation between usefulness and remuneration is far from perfect, a positive correlation does exist, and pay can be taken as a measure, however imperfect, of that usefulness.  Thus, if one goal of education is to produce an individual useful to his fellow man, then that goal is closely related to, is often synonymous with, the goal of producing an individual who can command a good salary.  As Chips is not in the business of teaching anything useful, or of graduating students who are employable, then of course he scoffs at his opposites as being preoccupied with money:

MR CHIPS:  I know the world's changing, Dr Ralston.  I've seen the old traditions dying one by one.  Grace, dignity, feeling for the past.  All that matters yet today is a fat banking account.  You're trying to run the school like a factory for turning out moneymaking, machine-made snobs!

Although the movie does not address the propriety of chuckling indulgently at low achievement, we might be safe to assume that even in 1939 when the movie was made, and even decades before that when the action takes place, such indulgence toward academic failure would be judged impermissible in areas of study other than Latin.  A doctor would not be the object of sympathy for having failed to understand disease transmission, because his lack of understanding would cause his patients to die.  An engineer would not be the object of indulgence for having failed to understand structural strength, because his bridges would collapse.  A lawyer would not be the object of affection for having failed contracts, because his clients would go bankrupt.  If you want to make yourself lovable, it is a useless subject like Latin that you must fail.

Does the movie Goodbye, Mr Chips give any indication that Brookfield teaches anything but Latin?  Well, some weak indication.  Over the holidays, the boys were asked to read Kingsley's Westward Ho!, and on the first day of class, Chips asks them to write a review of the book, which is a little incongruous, as he is a Latin teacher, but never mind that now — the information serves to indicate that English literature is being taught.  Oh, and Brookfield does have a German master, obviously teaching German, but we are given no look inside his classroom and so are unable to estimate how many Brookfield boys study German.  There are many other teachers, but we aren't told what they teach — maybe it's just Latin at more advanced levels, or maybe ancient Greek.  There is no indication that mathematics or science are being taught, and indeed the words "mathematics" and "science" are never spoken in the movie.

In attempting to fire Chips, headmaster Dr Ralston talks of wanting to "make Brookfield an up-to-date school" and of not "clinging to the past", but the movie does not elaborate what he might mean, as for example whether he means he would like to teach less Latin and more science and mathematics.

And the responsible educator does regard efficiency as important in teaching.  There is a vast amount that it is useful to know, and only a limited time in which to learn it, and indications are that students learn far less than they need to, and far less than they are able to.  And so it raises hackles to hear Chips decrying what may be exactly such efficiency in the first of these two sentences: "Modern methods, intensive training, poppycock!  Give a boy a sense of humor and a sense of proportion, and he'll stand up to anything".


The second of the above two sentences — "Give a boy a sense of humor and a sense of proportion, and he'll stand up to anything" — brings to our attention the error of Deflection to the unmeasurable.

Deflection to the unmeasurable occurs when a teacher is bad at teaching some traditional subject, say French or Algebra or Chemistry, or Latin, and excuses his non-performance by pointing to supposedly more important skills that he supposedly does teach well, such as (to echo the words Chips has been quoted as saying above) the following six: (1) "a sense of humor", (2) "a sense of proportion", (3) the ability to "stand up to anything", (4) "grace", (5) "dignity", and (6) "feeling for the past".  Sounds good to be teaching these things, until you stop to think about it.

The first thing that must be asked is whether Chips, or anybody at Brookfield, actually does teach these six subjects, or even any one of the six.  If anybody did teach them, then we would expect to find textbooks on sense of humor, sense of proportion, and so on — but there don't seem to be any such textbooks, not in this movie, not in any school anywhere.  And when a school teaches anything, it wants to see how much the student has learned, and so administers examinations, and yet we are safe to assume that neither Chips nor anybody else at Brookfield ever examines students to see how developed are their skills in the areas of sense of humor, sense of proportion, and so on.

But if no one ever measures these skills or traits, and at the same time no one can even imagine any test that could be administered, or measurement that could be made, or indication that could be observed, to ascertain the level of competence in these areas, then might it not be appropriate to refer to them as "unmeasurable"?

And when a skill is unmeasurable, then certain conclusions follow.  First, that the teacher cannot tell whether one student has more or less of that skill than any other student.  Second, that the teacher cannot tell whether the student has more or less of that skill at the end of a course of instruction than he had at the beginning.  Third, that a teacher cannot tell whether he himself has more or less of that skill than the students, and so cannot tell whether it is him that should be up in front of the class trying to teach it, or whether he should more appropriately sit at the students' feet and try to learn it from them.


Not many enjoy a pun based on a Latin expression as wholeheartedly as does Bullock.

Goodbye Mr Chips: Not many enjoy a pun based on a Latin expression as much as does Bullock

Take sense of humor.  Remember that Chips' first 23 years at Brookfield constitute his humorless period, before stand-up comic Katherine arrived on the scene.  Katherine it was who taught him to be funny.  And so how much sense of humor did Chips teach his students during that 23-year dry spell?  And Chips was so ungifted in this area that even under Katherine's tutelage, he never progressed far, never became funny the way she was funny.  She spontaneously saw the humor in every situation.  Her humor was creative and was appropriate to what was happening around her.  Chips' humor was of a lower order.  Most typically, he would latch on to a pun concerning something he happened to be teaching, so that the next year, and the year after that, and forever after, when he arrived at the same point in his teaching, he would draw attention to the same pun.  His humor, then, tended to be more a regurgitation from memory than an original comment on the immediate social situation, and as a result would be expected to elicit only a weak audience response, said in modern times in response to a pun to be a groan, but in Goodbye, Mr Chips eliciting, at least in Bullock, unstinting mirth.

It must be admitted that once in a while Chips does manage to hit the humor nail right on the head, but he nevertheless overall exhibits a predilection for dry puns and repeated themes, the leading variety of repeated theme consisting of recollecting an event connected with a forebear and anticipating its repetition in a descendant, as when Chips says to a third-generation Colley, "Scrapper too, your grandfather.  Caned him more than once.  But I'll do the same for you any time you need it", or as when he says to a third-generation Morgan, "Hello, Morgan.  Still growing out of your trousers?  Your grandfather's trousers were short.  Runs in the family.  Morgans are always three inches ahead of their trousers."

And let us now go on to ask whether the boys are so deficient in humor that a man who himself does suffer from a deficiency should try to teach it to them.  Consider the sense of humor that the boys exhibited during that opening-day attack.  Their action was impeccably choreographed — the knocking off of the mortarboard by the wire, the kicking it around on the floor in a way that Chips could not retrieve it, the tossing it in the air beyond Chips' reach, then Colley's masterful pretending to whack it back into shape and pretending to whack it back into cleanliness while a phalanx of boys kept Chips from interfering with Colley's performance.  That was really funny, funnier than anything Chips was able to come up with over the course of his entire career.  And all the while during that opening-day attack, the boys' repartee was equally masterful, as for example:

MR CHIPS:  Silence!  Silence!  I'll have no more of it!

COLLEY:  No more silence, sir?

ROUND-EYEBROWED BOY:  Sir?  Who was Queen Elizabeth's husband, sir?

MR CHIPS:  She didn't have a husband.  Surely you know what she was called?

ROUND-EYEBROWED BOY:  No, sir!  What, sir?

MR CHIPS:  Well, she was called the vir ... vir ...  Well, she was called the ... the...  Never mind!

ROUND-EYEBROWED BOY:  Oh, sir.  Please, sir.

MAYNARD:  Please, tell us, sir.

MR CHIPS:  Get on with your work!

What the evidence shows is that the boys have a much keener sense of humor than Chips.  They are more quick-witted.  They are more competent at repartee.  They dominate Chips, they outclass him.  The boys are in control, Chips is in confusion.  They demonstrate that they are able to not only knock him off his feet physically, but also to reduce him to a state of helplessness mentally.  They bring to the fore the question of whether the class is more intelligent than the teacher.

What this movie is about, perhaps, is what happens when a slow-witted man is given command over a group of boys many of whom are smarter than he is.  His justification for being in command is that he is older and bigger, and that he has taken a few courses in a subject that nobody knows much about, and nobody cares to know more about — Latin.  The boys sense their inherent superiority, and grasp the feebleness of the justification for this mediocrity appearing before them and trying to teach them a worthless subject.  They naturally, and justifiably, rebel.  They have the right of the oppressed to chastise the oppressor for his arrogance, for his effrontery, for his presumption in attempting to rule them.

  Goodbye Mr Chips: Chips commits the error of Deflecting to the Unmeasurable

But to return to teaching unmeasurables — we see Chips taking credit for teaching the boys something — sense of humor — that evidence shows they already have in bulk, in excess, and that evidence also shows that he is particularly deficient in, and we see that Chips is able to claim that he instills sense of humor precisely because it is never measured, and so that his claim is not readily disproven by reference to test performance.

In fact, if Chips does anything in the realm of humor education, it is to punish and suppress outbursts of humor, to weaken what he takes credit for strengthening, to tear down what he takes credit for building.  The boys are thrashed precisely for flaunting their superior sense of humor.  What Chips really wants is not funny boys — he's already got more of those than he can can handle — he wants docile boys who give him no trouble, boys whose sense of humor is limited to laughing at Chips' puns, boys like that Bullock above who seems about to bust a gut in appreciation of a Chips pun, but has not been taught to come up with puns of his own.

Humor-gifted boys, to Chips, are not boys who knock his mortarboard off.  When Burton describes teachers as "a lot of weak-kneed women", which happens to be true, Chips does not give him credit for humor, though Burton's description is as funny as anything Chips is ever able to come up with.  Or when Burton describes teachers as "twopenny tyrants", which also happens to be true, he also gets no credit for humor, though he deserves some.  Instead of Chips recognizing Burton's capacity for humor, Chips flies into a rage and flogs him.  So much for teaching humor at Brookfield.

Beware the teacher who takes credit for teaching subjects not on the curriculum, subjects for which no textbook exists, subjects whose level of achievement is never tested, subjects which the teacher himself cannot prove he has mastered, and cannot prove even that he knows more about than his students.  Such teachers invite us to stop looking at the measurable things that show how poorly they do teach, and to focus attention on the unmeasurable things that they — gratuitously — take credit for teaching well.  The sin of such teachers is that they deflect to the unmeasurable.  Chips is an example of such a loser who dons a mortarboard and gown and struts about impersonating a teacher, and canes boys for being funnier than he is, but nevertheless claims that because he gives them a sense of humor, they are able to stand up to anything.  And yet the hypocrite Chips can be seen to not want boys who are able to stand up to anything, he wants boys who submit, who lick his boots, which is the same as every tyrant wants.  When Burton does stand up to Chips, Chips canes him, and becomes pacified only when Burton accepts the caning without protest, and only when Burton abandons his campaign of seeking redress for grievances.


If you do send your slim and healthy son to Brookfield, you may find that at the end of the school year he is returned to you obese and dyspeptic.

And if you do send your son to Brookfield with a healthy set of teeth, and with habits of tooth brushing and flossing established, you may find that when he is returned to you at the end of the year, he has a mouthful of cavities, and has abandoned his tooth-brushing regimen, defending his abandonment of his habit on the grounds that none of the other boys brushed their teeth, and they laughed at him for doing so.

And if you do send your son to Brookfield in the hope that he will begin to take an interest in any of the many subjects which leads to a career, you may find at the end of the year that he has studied mainly Latin, and that the Latin that he has learned was negligible, and that he has developed a blanket distaste for learning and for reading, and in any case that he learned from his masters, particularly from Mr Chips, that one's grades in school didn't matter, as all kinds of people that had been unable to learn Latin went on to occupy positions of authority, and make a lot of money, and have a lot of fun.  In this connection your son might express a new ambition that he has formed — that of one day returning to Brookfield and sitting up on the dais at the head table in Big Hall, rich and powerful and respected, and laughing together with everybody in the Hall for having once failed Latin.

And if you do send your son to Brookfield, you may find that he does come back with warm recollections of pleasures that he has experienced, as for example the company of the vivacious wife of one of the masters who kept inviting boys to their place for tea and dessert, and who was really funny, and who encouraged all the boys to eat their fill, and beyond, and after leaving whom and attempting to do homework made the Latin textbook seem particularly dull in comparison to the delight of her company.

And another set of happy memories may turn out to be one of the boys in your son's dorm room receiving a weekly shipment of assorted chocolates from his parents, which was devoured by everybody in that dorm room at night after lights-out inspection.

And your son may report back to you another happy set of memories concerning the man who lived in a house not far from the school on whose door anybody could knock and get instant admission, and be invited to eat as much as he pleased of an array of delicious cakes and desserts, and be welcome to sit around listening to stories and laughing.  Too bad about the scalding of his leg where he had spilled boiling water from the kettle, but accidents are unforeseeable acts of God and nobody's fault, and if parents are overprotective, their children will never learn to take care of themselves.

And if you do send our soon to Brookfield, you may find him describing how many times he had been caned as part of a collective caning of the entire class for the misconduct of a small gang of delinquents whom the school refused to expel because it valued the financial support of their affluent parents.

It would appear that the creators of the movie Goodbye, Mr Chips are so ignorant about education as to display one of the worst schools imaginable as if it was one of the best, and it would appear also that film critics, and the viewing public generally, are also so ignorant about education that when shown one of the worst schools imaginable they nevertheless greet that apparition with sympathy and with a yearning to impose such a school on their children.


We have seen that almost everything that the film shows about Brookfield School is harmful, and now we glance at the things that the film could have shown if Brookfield had been any good.

What could have been shown is teachers convincing their students that the pleasure of intellectual mastery is one of the most profound and most enduring that it is possible to experience.  Also could have been shown is students having all obstacles to learning removed, attacking one subject after another and progressing in each to a high level of mastery in a fraction of the time that it had previously taken them to achieve failing grades in those same subjects.

What could have been shown is that just as Chips fears his students' superior sense of humor, and does everything he can to stamp it out, he similarly fears their capacity to learn everything rapidly, which capacity Chips has lost upon entering adulthood, and as a result of that fear, does everything he can to block all their learning.  Consider, for example, that in Roman times, every child mastered Latin to a level of fluency far above Chips'.  Consider, as an example illustrating this principle, that all the children in Chips' class have mastered English to a high level of fluency, and that they did so within a short time, and without formal instruction.  Learning a language for a child, one might say, is child's play.  Children can learn their French father's native language at home, even while they learn English at school, and then can go off to holiday with their mother's family in Italy and learn Italian there, and they can learn those three languages simultaneously and to a high level of mastery, and they can do it without any sense of exertion, and they can do it without studying the languages in school.  It follows that all the students in Chips' class could learn Latin to a high level of mastery in a fraction of time that they normally spend hating Latin while failing to learn it, and they could do this without all the rigmarole that Chips has them go through.  That rigmarole is a sham, it is a pretext of productive labor to justify Chips' salary.

Allow me to insert a personal observation.  I studied Latin in Grades 9 and 10, which were the first two years of high school in Toronto in the 1950s.  I hated it, and I learned next to nothing.  I found Latin preposterous and unworkable and unnecessarily complicated.  How could anybody speak a language that required one to keep track of the cases Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Vocative, Ablative?  What would be the point?  I set up a wall of resistance against learning this bizarre language, and my wall held.

And yet I was fluent in Ukrainian, and I had experienced no sense of effort in learning it, and I experienced no sense of rebellion for its being preposterous or unworkable or unnecessarily complicated.  And yet, Ukrainian has a case structure almost identical to Latin's.  Ukrainian has Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Instrumental, Vocative, Locative.  Ukrainian, even, is a shade more complicated than Latin because it has one more case, and the very rules that I balked at learning in Latin were ones that I had already learned and was already applying fluently and effortlessly in Ukrainian.

I understand Colley because I was once in his shoes.  No one ever pointed out to me that what I found unworkable about Latin seemed workable enough to me when I spoke Ukrainian.  No one put to me the fascinating riddle of why some languages throw away the case system, which Latin did when it became Italian and French and Spanish and Portuguese, while other languages, like Ukrainian and Russian, kept the case system intact.  No one ever explained to me that all this seemingly pointless complexity in Latin and Ukrainian does serve a purpose, does bring practical benefits, in fact extremely important benefits, in fact supremely important benefits, that can be realized in no other way.  And most relevant here is that no one really tried to teach me Latin, I was only forced to participate in the sham of pretending to learn Latin, the same that way Colley was, and I felt the same rebelliousness.

And, most importantly, what Goodbye, Mr Chips failed to show is how the learning that goes on so effectively out of school can be brought into the classroom.  What Goodbye, Mr Chips failed to show is students soaring to intellectual heights far above Chips, which would be his nightmare, and which nightmare he fights to ward off when he exclaims, "Modern methods, intensive training, poppycock!"


At the very beginning of Goodbye, Mr Chips, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer displays its roaring lion encircled by the Latin words ARS GRATIA ARTIS.  What do these words mean, and why does MGM display them so prominently?  Translated, they say "Art for Art's Sake", which doesn't answer either question.

What ARS GRATIA ARTIS means is that MGM considers all its movies, and Goodbye, Mr Chips in particular, to be works of art, and art is under no obligation to teach, to improve, to uplift, or even to tell the truth.  Art for Art's sake really means Art for the sake of making money, no matter what lies it tells, no matter what harm it inflicts, no matter what lives it ruins, and no matter what institutions it subverts.  In the present instance, ARS GRATIA ARTIS means that Goodbye, Mr Chips should be allowed to make money without censure even if it degrades and perverts public understanding of education.

In brief, the meaning of ARS GRATIA ARTIS is DON'T BUG MGM!  Don't bug MGM about failing to improve education, because MGM is not in the business of improving education or improving anything, or spreading truth or furthering enlightenment — it's a bunch of artists producing art for art's sake.  But then why isn't that motto which encircles the head of the roaring lion presented in English, and why isn't its purport made plain, as by replacing ARS GRATIA ARTIS with DON'T BUG MGM!  The reason is that MGM wants its self-serving attitude to have the appearance of ancient wisdom, handed down from Roman times, and a wisdom furthermore that has been vetted and endorsed by scholars, because who else but scholars would be reading Latin, and passing along in Latin rather than in translation the pearls of wisdom they discover?

Well, MGM may wish not to be bugged concerning the effect its products have on society, but society is obliged neither to believe that movies are without effect, nor to believe that what effect they do have is beneficial.  Society is free to examine movies and describe what effect they seem likely to produce, even if that effect is harmful and even if the disclosure of that harmful effect makes moviemakers squirm.  And an examination of Goodbye, Mr Chips does point to the conclusion that it beclouds public understanding of education, and that it points education reformers in destructive directions.

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