Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary focuses on two related issues. First, it concentrates on Norman Cornett’s work. We learn about his “unorthodox” but very effective teaching methods that, despite the negative label, inspire and motivate students. The interviews with students, colleagues, and collaborators reveal all the qualities of a knowledgeable and dedicated teacher, a fearless spirit, and a compassionate human being.
Second, it focuses on McGill University’s firing of Norman Cornett – after 15 long years, Dr. Cornett was dismissed without a word of explanation. The beloved professor was let go because he couldn’t “divorce the right answer from an honest answer.” The subtitle tells us something not only about the reasons of his dismissal but also makes us realize that truth and open discussion are not valued in academic circles. Yet institutions of higher learning should be at the forefront of all new experiments, investigations, discoveries, and ideas, whether nurtured in the classrooms of orthodox or of unorthodox teachers.
While presenting the facts of Cornett’s life, the documentary succeeded in capturing the essence of his “dialogic” philosophy of education. There is no denying that traditional teaching methods provide a strong foundation for learning. Yet the “dialogic” method allows one to soar into the imaginative world of creativity. The one-on-one meetings with Priscilla Uppal, Branford Marsalis, Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Andrew Paul MacDonald, Frédéric Back, Sue Adams, Susie Arioli, Rawi Hage, and Erin Mouré confirm the value of Cornett’s “dialogic” philosophy of education.