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The Kindergarten Teacher

In The Kindergarten Teacher, a 2018 drama directed by Sara Colengelo, the main character Lisa Spinelli (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), who teaches preschool kids, discovers Jimmy Roy, a child who crafts poems far beyond his age.


Here’s an example:


Come. Let’s move in a little. Anna, get up.

Remember loneliness is still time spent with the world.

Here’s the room with everyone in it.

Your dead friends passing through you

Like wind through a wind chime.

Don’t be afraid, Anna.

The end of the road is so far ahead

It is already

Behind us.


It’s a good movie, but what really grabbed me was that just before I saw it, I was talking to my friend Cobus Rossouw, and he was on about how education since the eighties has changed, dropping arts subjects in favour of maths and science, because these subjects enable one to gain “practical skills”, get a job and make money. The result, said Rossouw, is that we are lopsided, impoverished; or, as the German band Einstürzende Neubaten called it, we have become “halber mensch”: half people.


I’m not going to delve into the topic of why art is essential for children in this piece; I’ve written about it before here and here in relation to South Africa, but I would like to add this quote from Kurt Vonnegut, who once gave a class of schoolchildren the following career advice: “Practise any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage; not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”


Spinelli’s courageous attempts to nurture Jimmy’s exceptional talent make up the theme of the film; nobody else – particularly his father Nikhil Roy, a self-made entrepreneur – seems to think it a worthwhile exercise. When Spinelli confronts Nikhil, he says something that I’m trying not to take personally, but easily could. “Look at my brother – he wanted to be an intellectual, and now he’s correcting spelling mistakes for a newspaper.”