Little Man Tate
October 13, 2000
Synopsis:I chose to review the movie Little Man Tate, starring and directed by Jodie Foster (1992). In the movie, Fred Tate, a child prodigy, is mentored by Jane, the director of a gifted childrenís institute. Fredís mother Dee Dee, is at first apprehensive about letting Fred pursue any special treatment of his genius, but then learns that it is best for him. In the beginning of the movie, Fred is in a regular public elementary school where his teacher says he is retarded and will never be a productive citizen of society, then changes her mind a few weeks later and says that Fred should skip grade school all together. At this school, Fred is an outcast with no friends. He is very shy and also frustrated with the lack of challenge in classes. Fred then visits Janeís institute and is invited to a conference for gifted children. There he discovers that there are more children like him, and that it is no shame to be gifted. He starts to open up to playing and acting more like a child generally acts. Fred is so excited about his new life that he decides he wants to live with Jane for the summer and take a college course in quantum physics. Fred is unable to adapt to Janeís lifestyle and becomes depressed without his mother. He finally runs away from Jane to go home, and decides that a happy medium between his motherís mediocrity and Janeís immaculate perfection is whatís right for him. The evidence of ďStudent CharacteristicsĒ found in Little Man Tate can be seen in the categories of Stage Theories of Development, more specifically Physical, Social, Cognitive, and Moral; Age-Level Characteristics; Cultural and Socioeconomic Differences; and Student Variability. Knowledge of theses characteristics, either while viewing the movie, or more importantly, when or if ever presented with having such a gifted child in a classroom, is important to better understand behaviors of your students. The Stage Theories of Development can be found in chapter 2 of Psychology Applied to Teaching (Snowman/Beihler 2000) beginning with Piagetís theory of cognitive development (38). Stemming from this theory is the notion that people have two basic tendencies: organization and adaptation. Fred Tate had a hard time adapting to both his motherís lifestyle and Janeís lifestyle. He thought that he didnít like his motherís way of living, simple and mediocre, but he turned out to dislike Janeís perfect and sterile way of living just as much. His inability to absolutely adapt left him uncomfortable in both situations and never truly happy. Cognitive Development is broken down into four stages. Fred would have immediately been lumped in the Concrete Operational Stage because of his age, but is actually beyond the Formal stage because of his ability to ďsolve problems, deal with abstractions and engage in mental manipulationsĒ (41). Fredís social development was severely impaired because of his fear that his genius made him a freak, or weird. He was an outcast among the ďregularĒ kids at the public school, but gained popularity among his actual peers, kids with special abilities such as his. The age-level characteristics that should have applied to Fred are outlined in chapter 3, pages 78-82. If Fred had been like almost every other 7 year old, he would have been fidget and overactive, however he was very calm and laid back. I think this is because he is not as curious about things as other 7 year olds would be. Another characteristic is that 7 year olds would need rest periods form over-exertion physically and mentally. Fred did not appear to need any rest periods from mental over-exertion, because he was not being challenged. He was not physically tired, because he had no friends to play with, so he busied himself with less active activities, like playing the piano, painting, reading, and writing. According to the characteristics listed, Fred should have had problems with fine motor skills, even handling a pencil would prove to be a task. However, Fred was a pianist, performing at a professional concert-level repertoire. Finally, a hard time focusing on small print because underdevelopment of the eyes is common in 7 year olds. Fred read many books, mostly intended for mature readers, and most likely not with large print. Fredís social characteristics were impaired because he was viewed as an outcast among his school mates. He did not have a best friend, nor did he have a competitive attitude that is commonly found in 7 year olds. One thing that he was on track with the general characteristics listed is that of quarrelling with words. He frequently called his mother names, using scientific words he knew she wouldnít understand. As he continued attendance in the school of his actual peers, his social skills were more developed, and he was able to make friends and relate to other people. Chapter 4 introduces the reader to Understand Student Differences. Fredís differences from other students are blatantly obvious. His public school teacher notices these differences, but at first misread them. She took his lack of attention as a mental disorder, instead assuming that he didnít pay attention because he didnít need to. There was mention of the fact that Fred had taken an intelligence test and had done very well. However, Jane wanted to know the results of other tests. She wanted to see if he consistently scored well on different types of intelligence testing, and I believe that this is the best was to rely on them. Learning styles are discussed in this chapter as well. A learning style is a preference for dealing with intellectual tasks in a particular way (118). Fred was reflective rather than impulsive, meaning that he preferred to process information he knew, as well as obtain information from other sources before answering a problem. Fredís style of mental self-government can be described as internal and anarchic. He worked best by himself and without many limitations. The issue of cultural and socioeconomic differences was not dealt with much in the movie. It was mentioned that Fred did not have a father while growing up, but obviously that did not hinder his ability to learn. The institute was not ethnically diverse, and did not raise any discussion of differences or cultural clashes. One could assume that Fredís socioeconomic situation was that of a low-income family because he lived in a single parent home, and his mother worked as a waitress. However, Fred does not agree with the fact that most low-income students have little interest in schooling. Student Variability is discussed in Chapter 6. The use of ďability-groupedĒ classrooms is very evident in the movie. The Institute was strictly for gifted children who scored above a certain number on tests given by the Institute. The public school that Fred previously attended did not appear to be ability-grouped. Because of the lack of intuition on his teacherís part, Fred did not enjoy school, and felt that his special talent was disgraceful. The question of to group by ability or not is tough. Certainly Fredís classmates would have benefited from his genius, but only if they were interested, and it was apparent they were not. At this level in Fredís education, it was a good idea to separate him from the other students so that he could progress at his own pace and in essence, not be punished for being smarter than other children. At first glance, Little Man Tate does not appear to be a good movie choice for this project. But I honestly learned more about what children are generally like by examining one who is an absolute opposite. It is good to know what the norms are for a seven-year-old child, but also to realize that not all will be exact. Actually, almost all will have exceptions, and this movie was an excellent example of what children can be capable of.