Using 'Titanic' to Improve Thinking Skills

I had an older non-reader who ran circles around the other guys when it came to history. I would show a video about a war. He knew what was coming before it came on the screen, and he was very proud of himself. The other men respected him for that, and it gave him a chance to shine.

One of the movies I have shown occasionally is Titanic. I would have thought by now everybody has seen Titanic. But as I tell my students, a lot of them have “lived under rocks.” They don’t go to movies unless it is a “guy” movie, a big adventure film with high action. I spend a lot of time explaining to them they need to expand their horizons. Most eventually learn whenever I show a movie, they all love it and know I am not going to give them something that will put them to sleep.

I have been doing this for years and have shown Titanic many times. First, I always have to convince them it isn’t a girl movie.  I work in a little bit of geography, having the men trace the path of the Titanic. We look on the map, locating where everything occurred. Then we have some discussions of the social rules at that time, the history of the ship, how it was built, and how the celebrities of the time were the wealthy people.

We read books on it, and sometimes I read to them. Pictures and a replica newspaper of the time are placed on a table for their perusal.  I bring in pictures of the actors and of the real people who were involved. We analyze the cause of the sinking, and they write essays on various aspects of the history.

During one Titanic lesson, I observed an example of a student’s lower level thinking, and of his lack of processing skills.  At the time, I thought if I ever wrote a book, I would have to include his story in my book. I had asked the questions, “Why is the Titanic story so popular? Why does it interest so many people? Why are we still talking about this after all these years? What was historically important about the Titanic?”

A gentleman raised his hand. He was probably in his forties and very low-functioning. He said, “The Titanic brought over the Statue of Liberty.”

Now, he was serious, and I had to be careful not to tease him. He said he saw it in the movie, and there was no changing his mind. We discussed it a bit more, and finally I asked, “Well, where did you see this in the movie?”

It dawned on me there was a scene where the survivors were rescued by a second ship. As the United States was finally in sight, somebody exclaimed, “The Statue of Liberty! The Statue of Liberty!”

The way the scene was shot, you could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. But this man thought the statue was sitting on the front of the ship.

One of the other students said, “Do you think they brought it over like a big hood ornament?”

Everybody laughed without making fun of the man. It was one of those humorous times, and a good illustration of how you never know what people are thinking. Just when you think things are explained clearly, somebody processes it in a totally different way.

Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at