A TOUCH OF GREATNESS
navigation


Talkback

This comment area is closed to new submissions. Visit ITVS.org to continue the conversation about this film.
page: 1 | 2 | 3

1/18/05
Renee W
Oxford, MS
My children and I watched this on PBS last week. They were as interested in it as I was and were late getting to bed just to watch it.

I will be graduating in May with a B.A. in Elementary Education and this program was extremely encouraging and motivating for me as a new teacher.
1/18/05
Charles E. Walton, IV
Birmingham, Al
Something woke me from sleep last night in my hotel in Roanoke,Va. at 4:00 am. The television was on and it was playing this incredible story. I was so moved I tried to buy it last night to show everyone I know. I only wish there could be a "Mr.Cullum" in spirit in each school. I am too much of a realist to even wish. This film at least validates the efforts of the ones that still try. Reading your talkback section was a self portrait of my ugly face. I was a disruptive class clown trying my best to undermine the class for my troubled attention needs. I have not stopped thinking all day -what if.....what if, I had been lucky enough to have been exposed to such knowledge and influence. One can only imagine how, not just the class clowns like me but the troubled students and the truly gifted could change the world with the gifts this man gave. I am in awe.
1/18/05
Marilyn (Grimes) DeRoy
John Day, Oregon
Your program about Al Cullum caused much excitement for my family as "Al Cullum" has been a household word for us since my dad became superintendent of schools in Rye, New York in 1962. Al was just his kind of teacher, and my two brothers had the privelage of partaking in his memorable classroom adventures. My dad was able to express his feelings for Al's teaching style when asked to write the preface to Shake Hands with Shakespeare, a book that has gone on to bring enjoyment to students that I've taught. It was wonderful to see Al acknowledged for his Touch of Greatness!
1/18/05
Estelle Haferling
New York, New York
Joy to the world. Joy from a child. This man Albert Cullum understood the core of the human spirit. He was not afraid to be himself and to help others freely express themselves. I don't think humiliation or embarrassment were part of the story in his classes. You did what you did and learned from it.

This wonderful documentary reminded me of the production of the school play "Islands" which was made in Maine and which had a staging on Broadway in 2001. We here so much about the big deal heroes. Mr. Cullum is surely one of the special people and his students were so lucky to have been in his class.

It doesn't have to be school where soul murder occurs (definition: stealing the joy of a person). The workplace is all too often the deadly setting for adults to play out the loss of joy; for mediocre bosses to strip the joy and spirit of workers. Please show this superb documentary again. I smiled throughout and experienced such joy. Thank you, thank you so very much.
1/18/05
Jeff Driscoll
East Bridgewater, MA
Congratulations and bravo to Leslie Sullivan and Catherine Gund on this amazing film. I had the great pleasure to get to know Al Cullum quite well during the last years of his life. My mother is the secretary in the Education Department at Stonehill College where Al taught for the last years of his life.

I am a public high school teacher at an inner city school and Al inspired and helped me a great deal when I entered the teaching profession. Al is the one who told me to keep a journal during my first year of teaching to chronicle the ups and downs of that year. He also taught me that I could indeed still inspire my students with creative techniques and lessons that engage them, even in high school!

I have read the talkback entries of so many and I am touched by the thoughtful comments about Al and this film. Let me just share a few more things about Al that speak to his humbleness and how interesting he was. He was an Army veteran during World War II, loved opera and was a rabid hockey fan. He loved the New York Rangers and later the Boston Bruins. In fact he was a season ticket holder during the days of Bobby Orr!!

I last had 'lunch' with Al in May of 2003, two months before he passed. His body had failed considerably and he was weak physically, but NOT in spirit. His mind was as sharp as ever and he still had his great wit and humor. He still wanted to know all about my teaching and my students. He inspired me that last time I saw him by just being himself....A Touch of Greatness.

Rest Assured, he is watching down from on high enjoying that so many are still learning from him. Let his legacy and his love of teaching, learning, and children live on.

Al did not teach different subjects or facts or figures....Al taught children!!

Thanks again Leslie and Catherine for this wonderful film. I know 'Mr. Cullum' is very proud of this.
1/18/05
chicago, IL
I only saw the tail end of the program (about 20 minutes). I was struck by one of the teachers saying that, essentially, one cannot be an innovative teacher without incurring the wrath of the incompetents, the mediocre, and/or the indifferent teachers/administrators. As a former substitute teacher for the Chicago Public Schools (about 3 months in toto), I found that to be absolutely true!

It seems I have a natural knack for teaching EMH students. At one school, I subbed for a special education teacher. When the 'retard' students actually began to learn, to understand what I was teaching, the teacher's aide stopped me. Mid-sentence! She had already told me that the students were essentially unteachable and here I was putting her to the lie. And she wasn't having it! I remember we were reading about electrical conductivity. The book said that rubber did not conduct electricity well (I think I'm remembering correctly). The students were frowning or looking at me blankly. I used as an example, the rubber boots that firemen wear so that when standing in water, they won't get shocked by any loose live wires. It was more detailed, but the upshot was that the students' faces ALL lit up and they watched me now avidly instead of passively. They were learning! The aide saw what was happening and put a stop to it.

At a Chicago public high school for the retarded, after 2 days of subbing, I became the talk of the school. One student who never talked to teachers was talking to me (interestingly, it so upset her when she realized this - it was her one claim to fame - that she moved to another desk on the far side of the room away from me). I never sat behind the desk; I was on the move and interacting personally with every student. I treated and talked to each student as a student, not a 'retard'. It turned out I had a particularly difficult class. Teachers would peek their heads into my room to see what was going on because my room was never that quiet. Gratifyingly, almost every teacher appreciated my efforts - and success! - with the class. On the 3rd day, however, the principal dismissed me. The clerk in the office hid her head in shame, embarrassment, commiseration, whatever, when I signed out for the last time. It turnedout that having heard about the wunderkind sub, the principal felt that I was 'over-reaching' myself in that I dared to control a class that was considered incorrigible, through kindliness, dedication, and belief in the students' abilities to learn. That the students were responding AND LEARNING he considered an affront. I was a sub, not a REAL teacher (the reason I was given for the dismissal was that the regular teacher was returning early from vacation, the next day. It was not true, but as my work spoke for itself, he had no other option except to lie about my performance. Which, thank heaven for small favors, he did not).

I have not, and do not anticipate subbing ever again. The mediocrity and 'don't rock the boat' status quo (thankfully, at the EMH high school, this was not the case with most of the teaching staff, just the affronted principal, which incidentally, I never even met) are enough to drive innovative teachers with a drive to excel at all they do, away.

My sister is a certified teacher in the public school system. When I told her of my experiences, she was not surprised. An innovator herself (2 of her former elementary students who became honor society students in high school, independently and unaware of the other, nominated her for a Golden Apple award - usually only ONE student nominates a former teacher), she was disgusted but, having paid the price for her own excellence, understood perfectly the intimidated, status quo mediocrity behind the aide's and principal's efforts to thwart my reaching the minds of the students.

I, too, am finally NOT surprised. My first few years in public school were a total learning experience. My family moved and at the next school, I was INNUNDATED with uncaring, unresponsive, disdainful and medicore teachers. My high school educational experience was so dismal that I remember thinking in my sophomore year that I had better graduate fast before I became 'dumber and dumber' (in 8th grade, I was reading at a 12th grade level; in 10th grade, I dropped 2 levels in reading to a 10th grade level). As a substitute teacher, I saw how the system keeps its children's minds passive, inactive and oftentimes uninvolved and disinterested in the learning process. It does this through chaining to standardized methodology, any of the teaching staff's creative and innovative approaches to teaching individual as well as groups of students. This approach works fine for the unenlightened, the barely competent, the disinterested teacher. It stifles, frustrates, and eventally drives away the gifted, the strivers for excellence in teaching.

The Indie program - what I saw of it - was excellent. Will it change administator and/or teachers' attitudes toward maximizing students' learning potential? I doubt it. The mediocre, the incompetent, the just plain mean and petty not only out-number the dedicated and gifted, they are in charge of the system. Thanks for this opportunity to vent.
1/18/05
madhu sintgh
Wyncote, Pennsylvania
I chanced to see "A Touch of Greatness" because of a rare bout of insomnia. It took me back to my student days of reading Charles Lambs version of Shakespeares stories.Growing up in India and going to a Catholic school- which I loved-we had to read a Shakespeare play in the original every year;I do not remember enjoying the classes very much but I am left with an abiding appreciation for Literature. Coming back to the present times- I have a two year old and I will try to remember never to underestimate his power of understanding and appreciating new and different things. I was lucky to have a few teachers who made learning come alive and become almost effortless. Miss Gupta who taught Geography so passionately that I can still remember names of rock formations in the Sonoran Desert when I go hiking today. Miss Bir who taught me to believe that I was worth something and taught me the great power of good writing. Thank you for giving me ways to make my life more meaningful.
1/18/05
Karen Kramer-Ley
Wallkill NY
I first learned of the work of Albert Cullum by marrying into a Rye family whose children were taught by him. I have heard the stories for 20 plus years of his wonderful classroom activities and was also moved to tears by this documentary on how great school can be. Make no mistake-these children worked very hard in preparation for these activities. Memorizing facts, figures,words, and lines for all the different lessons-not only theatre pieces. My husband especially recalls the Senate and Congress projects.

I used the family copy of Mr. Cullum's book "Push Back The Desks" as an inspiration for my own lessons at The Alternative Community School (ACS) , a public school in Ithaca NY whose teachers have also always tried to make learning exciting and experiential the way Mr. Cullum did. I would like to thank the first principal of ACS, Dr. David Lehman who stayed principal for, I believe, more than 25 years, for creating and maintaining The Alternative Community School , a place that strives to make learning exciting. Of course he couldn't do that alone, so thanks to all the staff and family members that work together as a team to make ACS and other places of learning successful for children. If Mr Cullum's books are no longer in print can something be done to get them back in print?Thanks to the filmmakers for their work. Great Job.
1/18/05
e.h.

Watching this, I felt a need to incite an educational revolution! I wish I had had professors to inspire me now as Cullum has inspired others...

Truly an inspirational man.
1/18/05
Richard Via
Honolulu, HI
Laurie sent an e mail leting me know you had heard from me, thank you! There is so much that I would like to tell you about him. I am sorry that he is gone, but happy that his last days were so happy for him.

Aloha, Dick
1/18/05
Spike Dolomite Ward
San Fernando Valley, California
What an inspiration: "A Touch of Greatness" and Albert Cullum. As an arts education activist, I couldn't agree more with everything I saw and heard in this film. I'll be ordering many copies of this film to distribute to schools in the San Fernando Valley.

I started a nonprofit 5 years ago to fill a void that has been present in public education for an entire generation: the absence of the arts. We are in the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the worst districts in the entire country. To date, this nonprofit provides services to about 4,000 students (two comprehensive arts education programs in two Title I elementary schools, and supplemental support to several other elementary schools with supply donations, field trips, and cultural assemblies. We also donate art and music supplies to middle and high school art departments to take the burden off of teachers who are expected to purchase supplies out of their own pockets or fundraise to do their jobs.)

As an activist, I believe to the very depths of my soul that the arts are absolutely critical to a well rounded education. In my experience over the past five years, I have seen many children pulled up out of the where they have suffered with labels such as "ADD," "learning disabled," "behavior disorder," or "too dreamy." Through the arts, these kids are finally being given a chance to succeed at school. They have become visible, comfortable and respected.

Sadly, though, with the No Child Left Behind Act and standardized testing, these kids can not be assessed creatively by their teachers. If they don't fill the bubbles in just right on these ridiculous tests, then they don't get rid of their labels. Teachers have been forced to marginalize their classrooms by separating the kids who are not easy to teach from the rest of the class by assigning these labels. If they can be assessed with any sort of disability, then they go into a special file where the teacher no longer has to be fully responsible for teaching them. And the schools don't have to worry about their test scores bringing down the school's test scores. That's what education has been reduced to. Not only does public education deny children a well rounded education by teaching the arts, but it also gives up on creative kids. They are outcasts, misunderstood, and too much work for classroom teachers who don't have enough time in the day to prepare their kids for the next test. Teachers can no longer be creative in how they teach. Everything is scripted for them and they are under a tremendous amount of pressure to make sure that their kids test well in the spring. And those kids who are, and always will be, easy to teach, well, they're public education's little soldiers. If we can marginalize every kid who doesn't test well, then our school will get a good report card. Thanks, George Bush!

We need the arts to save the kids who have fallen through the cracks. At-risk kids need the arts so that they can safely express themselves. We need the arts to challenge the good test takers to climb outside of the box to explore the limitless possibilities that lie outside of the box, those possibilities with no one right answer. We need the arts to restore creativity to teaching as a profession. Where would we all be if Einstein's mom was told that he had ADD and needed to be medicated? Sitting in the dark, that's where! Great test takers are not always great thinkers!

I totally agree with Mr. Cullum's comment about public education being the cancer of mediocrity. As a parent, I'll be pulling my kid out of public education after this school year.

As sad as it is to lose such a man as Albert Cullum, he lives on in his students, his work, and this film. I'm going to order a box of them today!
1/18/05
scott
los angeles, CA
What an amazing human being. Thank you for making this film and telling the story of this man's impact on our planet. in a day and age where reality television stars are made and played for their emotional breakdowns or their lack of intelligence its wonderful to see a portrait of a man's heart and how that touched so many people. The interviews with the students and their ability to vividly recall their experiences is testemant to the fact that we need to pay more attention to the children. Parents and teachers really need to understand their responsibility and the impact that they have. When the girl who played Ophelia said that she was afraid to do the part because her music teacher told her that she couldnt sing well, my eyes welled up. Kids just do things with joy and love until someone judges them and tells them they arent good at it and then the spirit is crushed. A child is just a tiny adult that has not yet succumbed to self imposed limitations. As adults we need to not impose our limitations on them. Albert Cullum was an amazing man for walking a different path and for honoring and encouraging the human spirit. Congratulations to all who had the pleasure of being educated by this man.
1/14/05
Christopher Grimes
Citrus Heights California
I was excited to learn of the release of Touch of Greatness. I was one of the students in the Push Back The Desks project in Rye, New York in the 1960's. I subsequently went on to a profession as an educational planner. I believe that my early experiences in first grade with Mr. Cullum provided me with a foundation that drives me to provide school environments that allow students to experience hands on education. It is also surprising to find out that my 15 minutes of greatness occurred when I was 7 and only now made it to the TV! I am curious what became of my fellow students from Midland School.
1/14/05
Leslie Neidig
Louisville, KY
My 16 year old son Cody actually sat down and watched this documentary with me. He took a break from his computer games to get a Coke. Cody usually takes a minute on his way back to the computer to sit down and give me a hug and then off to gamerland he goes.

Not this time.

He actually sat down and watched a black and white documentary. Then Cody said Albert Cullum was cool.

For me to say I loved this story is an understatement and nothing compared to being called cool by a 16 year old boy in 2005.
1/14/05
Shawna DeRice
South Portland, Maine
I am one of Professor Cullum's students. I feel very priveleged to have spent my college years learning from such a wonderful man. I graduated a year before he passed away. Right up until the end he was inspiring education majors to remember that learning is not measured by tests, but by the interest and involvement of the students. I was very happy to see this video and can remember him telling us about it. The world has lost an irreplaceable tresure.
1/13/05
Las Vegas Nevada
As I watched this film, I was literally moved to tears as it brought back some extremely painful memories of childhood. I could really identify with David Pugh because I also was considered the "troublemaker" that caused teachers to cringe at the start of the school year when they saw my name on their roster. Unfortunately, I never found my Mr. Cullum and lived a tortured existence until I was able to overcome my demons about 5 years ago. I first started public schools as a first grader in 1979 and never intended to cause problems in class. However, I soon caught the teacher's wrath for day dreaming constantly and getting up from my seat too often. I didn't intentionally try to defy her, but those lessons were just so boring and I couldn't force myself to just sit there and concentrate on my school work no matter how hard I would try. In those days, few people knew what A.D.D.(which I was later diagnosed with in college) was in those days and misbehavior such as this was considered to be due to a lack of character and lack of a proper upbringing by the parents. Because of these infractions, I was often kept in during playground breaks and after school. But the worst of all was the weekly trip to the principal's office, where I was either punished with a paddling or was placed into time out. During time out, the principal would place me in a room with no windows, turn off the lights, and leave me to sit in the darkness. I was left there anywhere from 1 to 4 days and was only allowed to get up after gaining permission from the principal, whose office adjoined the time-out room. Once, I had to go to the bathroom and the principal had either left his office or refused to acknowledge my pleas and I ended up wetting myself. I tend to think it was the latter. On the home front, things weren't any better. After being brought to tears at the beratement of the principal and being told she was a horrible parent, my mother thought she was committing a terrible injustice to me by not being strict enough and would tighten up the discipline. Thank god she came to her senses after a few years and later became my savior in the face of intolerable cruelty at the hands of diminuitive principal with a napoleonic complex.

As the subsequent years went by, little improved in school for me. I had few friends as the other children labeled me a retard unworthy of their friendship. In second grade, the same principal successfully placed me into a resource class even though I was more than capable of performing the school work and occasionally astonished my teacher that year with brief glimpses of brilliance. This further escalated the label of retard that had become so hurtful to a 7 year old boy that couldn't understand why he was constantly in trouble. When my mother questioned the move, my principal told her that I would never amount to much and that I would be lucky to sack groceries as an adult. I began to associate school as the source of my unhappiness and grew to hate my elementary teachers and especially the principal. My mother managed to fight off their attempts to completely submerse me into resource classes where I would be catagorized for the rest of my life and with her help I was later mainstreamed back into regular classes in the fourth grade for everything except writing and reading. I can understand writing as my handwriting was and remains to this day nearly illegible. However, reading remained a mystery as a test administered to me at the end of the third grade showed that I was reading at an 8th grade level. At the end of the fourth grade, we were supposed to take the California Achievement Test to see where we stood compared to other students. However, students in resource were exempt from taking the test and when test time came I was sent out into the hall to wait until the other students were finished, by orders of the principal. When my mother found out, she was livid and wanted to know why I was not allowed to take the test with the other students, but the principal wouldn't budge. Thankfully, the school counselor was sympathetic to my cause and secretly made arrangements to have me take the test at the other school where she worked. Imagine the wonder and joy my mother felt when the results came back the first week in June and the scores were all in the 99% range. During school registration the next year, my mother was at the school as soon as it opened and walked into the principal's office with my scores in hand. That coward knew all along, but he just didn't have the guts to own up to the fact that he had made a mistake concerning me, or perhaps he didn't care. After this, my parents tried to get me to go to a christian school, but I refused. I knew he wanted to run me off and I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction. Even as a small child, I was extremely stubborn and sometimes I think my trials in elementary made me tougher as a result.

The last 2 years of elementary school, I began to grow a little antagonistic towards the teachers. I just figured if I was going to get sent to the principal's office anyhow, I might as well get some satisfaction out of it. I started fighting in the school yard at recess and to everyone's surprise, I was quite good at it. I realize now that I had so much pent-up rage inside of me and at that moment had just found a good outlet for it, namely in the beatings I would administer upon the same classmates that had previously labeled me 'retard'. I soon began to have fantasies about growing up to be a huge, hulking individual that would some day show back up at the elementary as a young man to avenge myself for the pain and anger I felt inside by beating the same principal senseless in front of the younger students to show him up. I did end up about 6'3" and 220 lbs, but thankfully I never did make that trip back to the school.

When I went on to Junior high, I soon learned a tool that would be my greatest asset and most fatal flaw at the same time: I learned how to smart off to the teachers. All of a sudden, my fellow students were laughing at the jokes and wise cracks I would make at the teacher's expense and people started wanting to be my friend. I went from the retard overnight to the smart alec kid that wasn't afraid to say something cute to the teachers, no matter how much trouble it would get me into. I soon found myself regularly turning up in the new principal's office for disciplinary action. I didn't care, though. For the first time in my life, I was popular and I was willing to forfeit academic performance for it. At the time, it seemed like such a small price to pay.

As high school approached, I soon realized that it wasn't cool act up in class like that any more and soon shift from being the class cut up to being the guy that didn't care about anything in school, but always would do outlandish things at parties. I started drinking behind my parent's back and that drinking soon led to being the unofficial hell-raiser party animal fist-fighting maniac that seems to be in every senior class. What people didn't realize, however, was that I still didn't like myself very much and suffered from the same self-doubts that had plagued me since I was a little boy.

It ended up taking me six years to graduate from college because I soon started using drugs like ecstasy and cocaine in addition to extremely large doses of alcohol. My defiance towards authority figures didn't diminish, either. This time, however, I soon found myself at odds with law enforcement and several misdemeanor charges soon followed. In addition, I often contemplated suicide. Finally, in my fifth year of college, I got arrested for DUI and it soon snapped me back into reality. I decided to seek help. I went to see a psychologist for help with depression and substance abuse and was finally diagnosed after a battery of tests as having ADD. I soon realized I wasn't really a screw-up after all. My mind was just wired differently from most people and I received the help in coping with life that had escaped me for so long.

I still felt a lot of resentment towards educators. Even today, some of it lingers. Unfortunately, my experience with institutionalized education was marked by a few good teachers surrounded by many that I consider to be sub-par. Despite the talk about educating our youth and helping the future generations to become better citizens, I think there is a much more sinister goal in institutionalized education. Its very goal is to make a child submit, smash them down, and rob them of any individuality they may exhibit. Schools exist as a factory to manufacture the future cogs that are to be placed in the machine. Unfortunately, I think Pink Floyd was all too correct in his assessment of institutionalized Education in "The Wall".

It did my heart good to see the story about Albert Cullum and his teaching methods. I think that if I had had a teacher like him as a child, my life would not have been as hard as it has been in the past. I must admit, however, that something strange has come over me in the past year. For some unknown reason, I have been wanting to become a teacher. If the people that knew me back then could hear that now, I think they would have a stroke. I have been very successful as a financier the last 5 years and could never hope to earn that type of money teaching school. In addition, I haven't found some new respect for educators and I think I despise them as much as ever. For many years, I justified this dislike for them by telling myself that they were all a bunch of socialists and convinced myself that they were secretly plotting to brainwash our youth. Rather, I think I now would like to become a teacher to help kids like me that were maybe a little disillusioned with the dark sarcasm and cruelty that can come from some of the teaching profession's brethren. I want to inspire kids to believe in themselves and not let other people tear them down. I think Alfred Cullum believed that a teacher could have just as much negative influence on a student's life as positive and that is why it is important to have people with positive outlooks teaching our children. If you engage a young mind, their limits are boundless. On the other hand, if you disillusion them, the consequences can indeed be severe. I think this is the greatest lesson we can learn from Mr. Cullum.
1/13/05
Blanche Witherspoon Becoate
Pittsburgh, PA
Thank you thank you thank you. A Touch of Greatness is what we had also in Mr. Harry Clark here in Pittsburgh, PA.

Mr. Clark was more than a music teacher, he was our Mr. Cullum. We covered plays like; West Side Story, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof. We thought it was normal to get dressed at 6:30pm on a weeknight for a 7:30pm performance at the school. Our elementary school, Belmar, had an orchestra (I play the cello), a chorus, a string quartet, and a group of xylaphones we called the Bellaires.

I still have Mr. Clark in my blood and I'm proud of every drop.

Thank you thank you thank you for giving me Mr. Cullum also. Bravo!!!

P.S. I cried like a baby for ten minutes when I read that Albert Cullum had died.
1/13/05
Betty Stroup
North Pole, Ak
George Bernard Shaw (also mentioned by Albert Cullum in your video) is quoted as saying, "What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child." I have that hanging in my class as a constant reminder to me of how I should teach. Albert Cullum exemplified this philosphy in an exceptional and extraordinary way. He had a gift and I'm not sure one can teach that at a university but I'm trying. Viewing this video will be added to my syllabus as a requirement by my university students. I should add that I also teach 2nd and 3rd. grades (looping) in a public school system and this is also how I love to teach; as an inquiry based constructivist. My class is always noisy and there's a lot of learning going on within its walls. No doubt Mr. Cullum enjoyed going to work every day he taught just as much as his students loved coming to his class. I know I do!
1/13/05
Fred T. Blish
What a wonderful program and what a wonderful teacher. I had the great pleasure of working for 2 seasons with Al Cullum at the Somers Playhouse in Somers, Connecticut in 1955 and 1956. We were both in the resident company. He was an exceptional actor and clearly, he brought his love of theatre into his teaching. Congratulations to those who made this great documentary about his life.
1/13/05
Lynne Tiemeier
Stilwell, KS
I grew up with Dick and Jane and was so proud to read I cried. I love reading usually, non-fiction and I have tutored reading for years. One 4th grade student, inner city but enrolled in a Catholic school could not read but loved Pokemon cards so I let him keep each one he read. At first it took him 45min to read one but by the end of the year he was reading out of the newspaper. A 6th grade student in a group home did not know the alphabet, much less read. I took lessons in Hebrew to see what it felt like to not know the sounds of the symbols. By the end of the year he read Alice in Wonderland.
1/13/05
brandon nemeth
overland park, KS
from flipping the channels trying to fall asleep, i found something that grabbed my full attention. this film should be shown to all teachers and to those with asperations of teaching too. being just out of high school, i know what is like when someone isn't having fun when they teach, and if "you aren't having fun, no one is", right? this film has definatly inspired me to become a better person with a young soul.
1/13/05
Brandy Galasso Miller
Germantown TN
I just stumbled across A Touch of Greatness last night on PBS. It brought back so many fond memories of Mr. Cullum. I was in his 5th grade class in 1960. He had a HUGE influence on my life. I became a teacher because of him. He was one in a million.
1/13/05
Tim Clarke
Jersey City (formerly Rye, NY)
If anyone had asked me who directed an evening of Moliere at Rye High in the 60s in which I played a doctor, opposite Steve Lawson's "Invalid" In "The Imaginary Invalid" I would not have remembered his name, but when I saw the documentary I was stunned.

"Its HIM!", I shouted at my TV, "and there's Steve Lawson, "THE" man who came to dinner! and Cathy Cochal! she played Puck and was on TV! "

The documentary was like a trip down memory lane for me and I am so proud to have known this great man and extraordinary educator. I had no idea how wonderful he was at the time, although because of him I was able to blossom and become myself after 8 years of Catholic repression at the Resurection School in Rye. My whole childhood came back as I watched the documentary.

I remember having seen my 2nd cousin Cathy Cochal playing Puck (from Midsummer's Night Dream) on PBS apparently directed by Cullum. and Steve and I went on to do several other high school plays. I regret having lost touch with Steve and Cathy and Cullum and all the other kids who were inspired by him. I never had the good fortune of having been in one of his classes but I worked closely with him on the Moliere plays. I remember that in one scene in "The Imaginary Invalid" I was armed with an enema bag just as a prop, I suggested to "Mr. Cullum" just before curtain that I might squirt water from the hose onto the "honest" doctor in one scene and he said, "go for it", in the end I got so flustered with the action that I forgot my line! Yet no grownup had ever allowed me to be spontaneous and creative up until then. So in spite of an awkward moment of forgotton lines the bit was really funny and the audience's laughter covered my gaff.

I am devastated that I caught up with Al Cullum a year too late. Because of him I majored in Theater when I got to college and would have stuck with it if I had known how close to greatness I had actually come, but I guess I didn't really know Cullum as well then as I do now.

Steve! Cathy! please get in touch, I want to remember him in greater detail.
1/13/05
Queens, NY
I watched your program about Albert Cullum TWICE. I am a little younger than the students profiled in the program but I literally cried at the end because I know the world would be a much better place with more innovative teachers like Mr. Cullum. When I was in the 4th grade I had a creative teacher who thought outside of the box and she clashed on a regular basis with some parents but mainly the administration. They wouldn't let her use her gifts to teach us in wonderfully inventive ways. Eventually she left because she wouldn't comply with their wishes to conform and return to the same old boring method of memorizing facts & figures. I fear with the emphasis on testing, we squelch any opportunity for teachers like Mr. Cullum to inspire the next generation and for that we all lose out.
1/13/05
Evan Leigh Warren
New York, NY
Once again your program was enlightening and inspirational. I am a media studies student at the New School University in Greenwich Village. I would not have attended this excellent school without the encouragement of my mom who teaches Special Ed kids in The Bronx.

We played all kinds of learning games when I was a kid in the 1970's using methods devised by Nina Traub.

All of our best teachers know that if you treat kids with great respect and affirm their dignity and personal contributions you may one day have great adults!

I will look into education courses at my school thanks to your great efforts!
1/12/05
David Powell
Hendersonville, TN
Last night, my son and his girlfriend has just finished watching the reality series "The Biggest Loser" when they turned to our Nashville Public TV station and started watching "A Touch of Greatness" whereupon I joined them, and we all found ourselves captivated by this captivating program. I have been a teacher for 38 years and, in all modesty, have considered myself a pretty good high school English teacher, but suddenly I felt myself beginning to pale when compared to Albert's majestic teaching. His comments about American education are, whether we like it or not, right on the money. This film should be required viewing for every teacher training program in America if not for every current teacher. So many school districts have slogans about focusing on the child when, in fact, they focus on state-mandated compentency testing that now seem to validate their existence in the public eye. Albert Cullum took a risk and focused on the children, and, in doing so, was one of "America's Biggest Winners."
1/12/05
Candis Saulsberry
Memphis, TN
I was touched in my spirit by Mr. Cullum's greatest. I cried during and after the show had went off. I immediately called my sister in Nashville who is getting her Masters in guidence counseling and gave her the web address for pbs to get more information about Albert Cullum. I think we all, whether in education or not, can benefit from this extraordinary individual.
1/12/05
jane
shirley ny
I had the misfortune of attending a private, catholic grade school. We had to look alike (uniforms) and any kind of talent or uniqeness you had was extinguished. I now wonder how different my life would have been if I had been encouraged to be myself.

I feel cheated out of my childhood.
1/12/05
Regina McCarthy
New York, NY
As one looks around education today I think, where is the joy? I was inspired, renewed and reminded why I have chosen this noblest of professions when I saw this show on Albert Cullum. He was so on target in what he said about teacher preparation. I taught in the 'great reform' movement of Open Ed.back in the early 70's. It was our passion and joy for years...and they, the system, fought us all the way. Ironically, many of the things we did then are standard practice, and teachers are now being strong armed into using some of those methods??? What's wrong with this picture?

Yes, Yes, yes, we need to re-inspire those college kids we teach, they are dead in their souls!!! Life is joyful and an adventure in learning....and those that feel that way should teach. Unfortunately, standardardization and testing in schools today is deadening. I do however support standards, because they are guidelines for what is important...but they are just that, guidelines, not edicts as they are used in schools today.
1/12/05
Alicia Torres
Lakeland, Florida
I am an Elementary Education student and am totally floored with inspiration by Mr. Cullum's genius ways! Thank you PBS for presenting this truly enlightening person from whom all teachers should learn. I am ordering the video, read his books and will teach children to find their inner greatness.
1/12/05
Susan
Cheshire,CT
It was interesting to me to read how many people had tears in their eyes as they watched A Touch of Greatness. I think it was because Albert Cullum allowed us to see what a simply beautiful thing learning can be. The love and joy that his students were experiencing shone through the television screen. Perhaps we were mourning a missed opportunity to experience our own greatness. Or one for our children to experience theirs. I wonder how many children of all backgrounds and possessing all kinds and levels of ability could be "saved" with a teacher like Mr. Cullum.

Thank you for a truly wonderful film.
1/12/05
Lynette
Marietta, Georgia
I had a great teacher who inspired me, and I too had tears in my eyes when the show was over. I teach now, and I learned to include my passion in my teaching. As teachers, we must recognize what we are great at and - regardless of what we are told we HAVE to do; share our passion and enthusiasm for what we love with our students. It may not be Shakespeare, it may be history or geography (as my "Mr. Cullum" (Mr. Grillet) did) - it may be quilting or cooking, poetry or chess. When we approach the school day with what we love and share it with the students we love, teaching is a joy - despite the bumps in the road.
1/12/05
Carlos Perales
If somehow the definitions of education and learning could be changed so that the words Albert Cullum could be added, then we'd really have true definitions.

This segnment of Independent Lens should be required view for all aspiring teachers. Mr. Cullum was absolute correct when said that each of must "reawaken" the child in us that made learning fun and uncomplicated.
1/12/05
Ann Stanton
Montpelier, VT
I was inspired by both the film and others' comments. I teach in a "university without walls" situation, highly influenced by Dewey and I get to use an individualized creative approach with each adult student. It is a truly wonderful way to work. I can't imagine what it must be like to "teach to the test" and the other nonsense nowadays. My institution, Vermont College of Union Institute and University, has a teacher licensure program that follows Dewey's model and philosophy, for anyone who wants to follow up on these ideas.
1/12/05
Dallas, TX
I am inspired. America's greatest resource is our children. His philosophy to educating our youth is a guarantee that no child will be left behind.

I know there exists great teachers, such as Mr. Cullum,in our school systems today trying to make a difference. I applaud your dedication.

To the beauracracy that oversees our public school system I say this, "If we don't shift our approach to education we will fall behind globally. Our children are greatest asset and too valuable of a resource to squander!"
1/12/05
Grahame
Toronto, Canada
My girlfriend is going to be a teacher this year and I feel she needs to watch this. It was an amazing peice of work that should inspire teachers and encourage them to think and teach outside the box.
1/12/05
Hazinat Gebel
Brooklyn, NY
Last night on PBS I watched A Touch of Greatness spellbound. I had never heard of Albert Cullum or his method of teaching. I am an artist who has worked with children creating art with them. They are the true artists I believe. I think that if students could play and create without alot of criticism from adults that their true sparks of greatness would manifest..Thanks so much for airing this wonderful film.
1/12/05
Kathryn Glaser
As I happened upon the PBS "Albert Cullum" testimonial film I was transfixed. I just(June)retired from a 31 year career in public education. The first 20 in grades 1,2 and 3 and the last 10 in teacher training. One of the books I had packed away as I cleaned out my office was "The Geranium died and my teacher....." along with a pile of Dewey's books.

I had no idea who Cullum was until last night and didn't know he had passed until the end credits rolled. I wanted to find him and commiserate.Too late. To see what he drew forth from his fortunate students made my heart sing. I became a creative teacher and I don't know how or why. That would be an interesting study. I guess I had the courage and mostly the realization that I could really do my thing as long as the parents were happy and the scores stayed acceptable. And both things happened and it was joy. I then went into teacher training and as Cullum himself experienced it was nearly impossible to show someone how to teach "well". These last years with the tightening of the wrench of "every child left behind", (my own fuax pas that sort of says it well), teachers and more importantly administrators are being strangled.

As a result we have what I have labled "sophisticated child abuse".During the last 10 years I've been in classrooms from k-12 and have seen little that would support the emotional and intellectual development of our children.The gloom of testing and accountability has sucked out most of the joy. The only place I felt any life was in the hallways when the kids passed to the next class.I'm taking a deep breath , tidying up my personal space and after seeing the program last night and reading the responses on this website reacting to it, some small fires need to be lit. Whether it's with the home schooled population or through private schools or after school activities, something needs to be there to help save our children.I really think it's inertia and the asian kids and their high test scores that keep the system afloat. Practically speaking we need a place to "keep" our kids all day long since both parents must work to keep the boat afloat.

So thank you to whomever was responsible for the creation and Robert Downey Sr. for the exquisite filming. So tender , so magical, so what children are when the are honored and respected. Amen

More...
top




Home | The Film | The Teacher | The Students | Behind-the-Scenes | Learn More | Talkback | Site Credits


Get The Video Learn More Behind-the-Scenes The Students The Teacher The Film