Education in Forrest Gump

In the movie Forrest Gump, the titular character gets labeled as stupid because he was born with a mental disability. When he goes to register for grade school, his mom has to use her “feminine influence” just so he could get a proper education. Society misunderstands his disability and he gets taken advantage of multiple times throughout the movie. He goes along with his catchphrase “stupid is as stupid does” whenever someone verbally attacks him with a remark reminding him that he has a disability. Even though his book smarts are not very sharp, his street smarts and his friendly personality provide him with what he needs to succeed in life.

Despite the discrimination Forrest faces in the movie, many philosophers would be even more critical towards his mental abilities. In a different historical context, Aristotle would not allow Forrest to live independently in his ideal city. According to Aristotle, Forrest would be considered a “natural slave” who is destined to serve the needs of the intellectuals. He also states that “the citizen should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives … The character of democracy creates democracy, and the character of oligarchy creates oligarchy” (Politics 1337a). In this case, Forrest Gump would only learn how to be a servant and nothing else. Even though Aristotle generally supported education for all the citizens, women and the mentally disabled were not considered worthy to be taught.

Another interesting thought about Forrest Gump is how he was able to learn street smarts and politeness. In Plato’s Meno, Plato exclaims that education was just a recollection of experiences from past lives (Meno 81d). I wonder what Forrest Gump’s past life would have been if Plato’s theory holds true. Would he have also been mentally disabled in his past life? Did his personality carry over from the experiences of his immortal soul? While Plato’s theory has some holes in it, it does ask important question of how knowledge is obtained. If Forrest Gump could learn despite his disability, it gives me hope that people can change their personalities for the better through experience.Gump

Stupid is as stupid does

3 responses to “Education in Forrest Gump

  1. You bring up a very interesting connection, Forest to Aristotle. In this case, I think that Aristotles theory is very limiting. I think people like Forest Gump are of the most intelligence. It is because of their disability that they have developed this uniqueness and way of thinking. It may at first just be a coping mechanism, a way to get by in the society. But, I think its much more than that and Forest proves that. It is a different intelligence that I am talking of… not books but of relating and understand people. Forest is able to do that, the same can’t be said about someone that may have aced the SAT’s. In my eyes of society Forest would not be a “natural slave” but someone we should take the time to understand and can learn from.

  2. Upon reading your article, I would disagree about MANY PHILOSOPHERS criticizing Forrest, it seems to be too much of a generalizing term, and listing only Aristotle for support.Your mention of Plato, and the question of Gump’s ‘immortal soul’ is a good point to bring up. It is unclear to say what knowledge is stored in Gump’s soul, however, as Plato also noted, it depends on the type of learning and education that allows one to ‘remember’ from the soul.
    Taylor, I am unsure what you mean by calling Gump a “natural slave”, but I’m curious if that could also have ties to Hegel’s Lordship-Bondage Theory?

  3. Taylor, that’s a great analysis of Forrest you provided. I also agree that his intelligence is in an area that can’t be quantified by “academic experts”. The ability to relate to people is something that has to be learned throughout life but can’t just be drilled from a textbook. Luke, you are right in that I should have used a different word than “many” if I only ended up providing two examples. I like bringing up Plato’s theory on the soul because I find it very unique even though it contains holes.The term “natural slave” came specifically from Aristotle’s book Politics which I read in my Poly Sci 101 class. Aristotle used it to refer to people who were of or below average intelligence and therefore should only serve intelligent people as their sole duty in life. I strongly believe that Aristotle would have diagnosed Forrest Gump to be a natural slave had Forrest been born in Aritstole’s environment.

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