The Little Prince and Our Modern Educational Practice
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
“…Philosophy, like art.... has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” CS Lewis
The movie gives us a little more than the famous story of the classic book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Like the book, it is a story for children and for grown-ups. This film and its additional material has some interesting things to say about the American Educational System. This review does not focus on the movie as a whole but mostly on the educational issues found within.
Through all her mother’s worry and her own preparation to get accepted into Werth Academie, the Little Girl failed to answer the One Big Question, “What will you be when you grow up?” Sadly, the answer was “Essential”. This major devastation becomes only a minor setback though because the mom had another plan to get her daughter into Werth Academie. How else will her daughter be essential if she cannot obtain some “worth” through academic rigor? Thus the mom moves into the school’s district and sets up a meticulous study schedule, every minute of every day, for her Little Girl so that, by attending Werth, she may become a good grown up.
There is one scene that stands out in the film, particularly because it is not in the book. It speaks to the current state of educational affairs in America. In our nation there are many educational experts out there that seem very set on the idea of a common core set of standards that are to drive the direction of public school classrooms. Through teaching these standards and continuously testing students, they can gather all sorts of data. It is called data mining and the Common Core springs forth with it, determined that the answers to the best teaching practices will be found among the numbers. With this data, school officials believe they can also study both the knowledge of kids and a teacher’s effectiveness. These standards comprise what the experts consider the essential ideas of what a growing young person absolutely needs to know to be a productive member of the adult section of our society. In the words of the experts, it is supposed to prepare our youth for college and/or a career. These are the two choices we give our young: More schooling or more work. This is the focus of the Common Core which, experts believe, can be achieved with a concentration on English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.
The crucial scene in the film The Little Prince, the Little Girl character lands on a dark planet of the businessman where everyone is going, going, going and there are no kids or anything else non-essential. The audience is introduced to the character of the Academic who stands before a large pair of doors and says, “You see, it’s really a magnificent thing the businessman has created here. You might even call it a work of art… but you’d be wrong.” Of course it is wrong, art is creative. Inside the room the audience is shown a lone school desk in ominous shadow (Fig .001).
The Little Girl sits in the desk. She is immediately cuffed to it (Fig. 002).
What a symbol of the American education system, kids "cuffed" to desks; quite literally for twelve years. No wonder so many kids reject our approach. It is as if they are all chanting, “We don’t need no education, teacher leave them kids alone,” (Waters and Gilmour). The Academic then proceeds to lecture the Little Girl from his table and says, while holding up the story of The Little Prince, “No. There is nothing essential in here at all.” (Fig. 003).
He is standing in front of a chalk board completely filled with scientific and mathematic-like writing and symbols. (Fig. 004)
This placement of the Academic in front of this board infers that teaching is more of a science than an art.
It is interesting but the idea that teaching can be studied as a science is quite prevalent. Experts believe teaching can be analyzed, observed, and repeatable with human students. By the way, this is what that data gathered from test scores is for. The true usefulness of data, the end game of it in schooling, is revealed best in the fact that not only is the “art” of teaching becoming the “science” of teaching, but that education experts are also using a business model for a majority of the way decisions are made. Good thing she is in the world of Mr. Businessman.
The funny thing is that most people understand the fact that teaching is a creative endeavor and science is not. To be a scientist (not a science teacher) requires one to make concrete conclusions about the repeatable observations made; meticulously keeping track of methods, amounts, temperature, control, etc. Things happen for a reason and in the same environment with same factors, they will happen again. There is nothing creative or spontaneous about science. Do not be fooled, however, “…today…scientists themselves have taken to styling themselves as ‘creative,’ but nothing could be more contrary to the spirit of science than the opinion that the scientist fabricates rather than discovers his results.” (Bloom 182). Even one of the most respected experts in the field of education, Robert J. Marzano, fancies the idea that he and his team can “surely help move teaching from an art to a science.” (Marzano, Pickering and Pollock 9). How is this possible? To be honest, this should scare the hell out of any real teacher. Creativity and scientific study are directly opposed to each other.
Everyone knows that science is observable and repeatable. This will never be true of teaching, for the simple fact that teachers deal with sentient lives. Those are kids and they are creative and spontaneous. They make up stories and go on adventures. Students have feelings and experiences. Kids are not blank slates and they are not simple. Adults tend to not be so impulsive and more set in their ways. Teachers are not dealing with elements on a periodic chart, samples from pond water or carburetors from a vehicle. And even though they are just kids, teachers are working with real, living, intelligent human beings.
At this point in the film, with her arms shackled to the desk, the Little Girl is given a book: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ALL THAT IS ESSENTIAL (Fig. 005).
This is a bold reference to the Common Core Curriculum that has scientifically been determined by experts in the field of education to be the essential stuff all kids must know. Here are the exact words from the Common Core website: “According to the best available evidence, the mastery of each standard is essential for success in college, career, and life in today’s global economy.” (NGA Center and CSSO). Another telling fact is that so many states in this nation have termed their version of the Common Core as “The Common Core Essential Elements,” including Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the list goes on.
In the film, the Academic then proclaims that they have an accelerated approach to learning, a.k.a. growing up. All of a sudden, the wall in front of the desk opens, appearing as if it were a mouth with dangerous metal teeth (Fig. 006).
Suddenly robotic, spidery tentacles reach out of the mouth to attack the Little Girl still cuffed to the desk (Fig. 007).
These tentacles make the girl do things against her will (Fig. 008).
The academic tells her, “You’re going to feel a slight pinch. Just Relax.” It is as if one were listening to
“Comfortably Numb” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall,
Just a little pinch…
But you may feel a little sick…
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown;
The dream is gone.
(Waters and Gilmour)
Which, by the way, is exactly what has happened to the character of the Little Prince.
Experts cannot force students to do things and this angers them (Fig. 009).
Even teachers cannot force a kid to learn, to do work, or perform well on a test. The idea behind a scientific approach to education means that experts think kids and teachers are predictable, observable, and repeatable. This means that they believe kids and adults need to be basically compliant. “Our political leaders today have been taught to see [our kids] as material to be shaped and perfected by experts who have the proper technical training.” (Arnn). If students and teachers are not compliant then they are to be made, forced, and coerced. Today the stakes are higher than in the past because the student will not just know the standards but teachers will be held responsible. It appears that teachers need to learn that they are the real target of the Common Core. Make no mistake, teachers will be graded on whether or not the kids in their classrooms met those essential elements by administering federal, state, and district assessments that measure student knowledge of standards. This knowledge will be divorced from content because it is only knowledge of the standards that is the important outcome.
Afterwards, teachers will need to come up with Student Learning Objectives (SLO) for the next year based on the data that they collected on the students from the previous year. The business world has used this method, a scientific method, to great success for inert products. How many products sold last year, what methods were used, how much did they sell them for? And here is one more area where the business model breaks down. Even though the schools have their numbers too; graduation rates, dropout numbers amount of dollars in scholarship offered. Yet, a school full of young people and teachers is not a business!
In the film the girl has traveled to the planet of Mr. Businessman by plane. This is where the girl is being subjected to this schooling. It is a world where people live mechanical lives doing only what is essential and where there are no children. It is a world driven only by the essential. As the Academic says, “That which is not essential will be made essential.” Which means that these people really are not functioning as human beings, rather they are robots. Mr. Businessman has even captured all the stars in the sky so that people will not stare up and be distracted by dreaming. It seems ironic that the education world has adopted a business model. In the real world of business, like that of Mr. Businessman, the future is based on the past performance of lifeless products; determined through things like marketing, money and mass appeal. This management model does not work on human beings. How many professional sports teams were predicted to win their next championship based on their past performance and didn’t make it? Even stock trading is a volatile market where we are told that, past performance is no predictor of future results. Continuing to do this to our youth and our teachers is a travesty; especially considering the simple fact that they are working and walking among living thinking people, not products. This is much of the meaning and message in the film The Little Prince.
The Common Core burst on to the educational scene like it was a panacea for all of public education’s woes. It was not to be studied, practiced or examined. It was to be accepted and followed without question or pause. Compliance and conformity were expected and still are, but what really needs to happen is a sly little fox needs to come along and set students and teachers free from the shackles of The Common Core, to release the star teachers held captive by Mr. Businessman, so that they may shine down on all of us enriching our children and us with their light and dreams.
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Arnn, Larry P. "Education, Economic, and Self-Government." Imprimis 38.12 (2009): 5.
Bloom, Allan. "The Closing of the American Mind." Bloom, Allan. The Closign of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. 392.
Marzano, Robert J., Debra J Pickering and Jane E Pollock. "Classroom Instruction That Works." Marzano, Robert J., Debra J Pickering and Jane E Pollock. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001. 179. Wokrbook.
Center and CSSO. http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/. Ed. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & the Council of Chief State School Officers. n.d. 10 October 2016.
The Little Prince. By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti. Dir. Mark Osborne. Perf. Mackenzie Foy, et al. 2015. Electronic.
Waters , Roger and David Gilmour. "The Wall." Columbia, 1980.