I saw the movie Whiplash last night, the eighth and final film I had to watch in the "Best Picture" nomination list. While no one is expecting the movie to take the top prize, J.K. Simmons is largely seen as a lock to win the "Best Actor in a Supporting" role Oscar this year. The movie tells the story of JK Simmons as a "maniacal" band director who pushes his players to the brink of exhaustion with verbal harassment, demanding rehearsal schedules, and psychological competition. Even from the first few minutes, it's clear that this isn't someone to mess with.
While I'll leave the specific details for those who actually watch the movie, one of the main questions that arises is "what's needed to push someone to the next level"? JK Simmons' character believes that only by being intense, extreme, and dismissive can he challenge people to do better than they think they can. At one point in the film, he states that "Good Job" is the most damaging phrase in the English language as it freezes the student at their current level. It's really...the opposite of what most teachers practice today, but this director sees it as a necessity.
While I have no plans to start throwing chairs at students' heads just to mess with them, it did make me wonder if there's a point to be made here. Much of my work over the past two years as been about student-centered and student-drive experiences...but what about those who say students only grow when they're uncomfortable and lost? Both views can't be right...so which is it? Are our affirmations pulling our students up, or keeping them stationary? Do our students even know if they're rushing, or if they're dragging?