You won’t find 10-year-old children reciting Shakespeare soliloquies, acting out the Cuban Missile Crisis, or performing Sophocles’s plays in most American classrooms today. But Albert Cullum’s elementary school students did all this and more. Combining interviews with Cullum and his former students with stunning archival footage filmed by director Robert Downey, Sr., A Touch of Greatness documents the extraordinary work of this maverick public school teacher who embraced creativity, motivation, and self-esteem in the classroom through the use of poetry, drama, and imaginative play.
Regarded by academics as one of the most influential educators of the 1960s and ’70s, Cullum championed what is, by today’s standards, an unorthodox educational approach. Cullum regularly taught his elementary school children literary masterpieces, exposed them to great works of art, and engaged them in the events of world history. Without leaving the classroom, his students visited King Tut’s tomb, attended joint sessions of the U.S. Congress, operated on “bleeding” nouns in his “grammar hospital,” and clamored to play the timeless roles of Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth, and Hamlet.
Inspiring and joyous, A Touch of Greatness weaves footage from rare television broadcasts with lively, provocative comments from former students as they speak about how these experiences resonate in their lives today. A Touch of Greatness is a portrait of the lives transformed by a teacher who, with passion and aplomb, enabled a generation of children to embrace their own “heroic deeds” and inner greatness.
- Leslie SullivanDirector
- Catherine GundProducer