THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991 & Biography;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Father/Son; Parenting; Surviving; Work/Career; with the student handout Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie) add: Alcohol & Drug Abuse; Breaking Out; Spousal Abuse; Child Abuse; Education; Ambition; Male Role Model.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
AGE: 12+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 for some language;
Drama; 2006; 117 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
A more complete description of the True Story can be found in TWM’s student handout: Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie).
In this movie, an African-American man, abandoned by his father as an infant, vows that he will always be present in the life of his child. Caught in a perfect storm of bad luck, he becomes homeless. However, he manages to take care of his son while pursuing a highly competitive, unpaid internship as a stockbroker. The film was “inspired by” events in the life of Christopher Gardner, who was once homeless. He is now a wealthy stockbroker, as well as a proud father.
This movie is highly engaging. The story is well-written, the production values are high, and Will Smith’s acting is simply magnificent.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
2007 Academy Awards Nominations – Best Actor (Will Smith).
Will Smith as Chris Gardner, Thandie Newton as Linda and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith as Christopher.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“The Pursuit of Happyness” shows a homeless African-American father taking responsibility for his child, while succeeding as a stockbroker. It also has excellent messages about the importance of keeping your cool in the face of incredible disappointment and provocation. Time after time, we watch as the protagonist masters his emotions and comes up gracious and smiling after being dealt a serious blow. As a result, he is often able to go back to the people involved and create an opportunity for himself.
However, almost everything else about this movie is, in some way, problematic, including its messages about living out your dream and the benefits of hard work. Pointing out the problems and discussing them will lead to valuable lessons about:
(1) the liberties with the facts that can be taken by filmmakers in a movie “inspired by a true story;”
(2) how the movie makers, in search of a dramatic storyline, ignored Mr. Gardner’s most important achievement, which was surviving physical and emotional abuse by his stepfather to become a caring and nurturing human being;
(3) the victimization of the homeless by criminals; the homeless are at great risk of being assaulted and robbed, but this never made it into the movie;
(4) how movies can gloss over troubling ethical questions raised by the true story
During the period that Mr. Gardner pursued the internship program his girlfriend had disappeared and taken his son; Mr. Gardner looked for them but couldn’t find them; after he had passed the broker’s exam and was working as a stockbroker, the girlfriend suddenly appeared and dropped off the boy; Mr. Gardner could have worked for another broker and earned enough money to put a roof over his son’s head but Mr. Gardner wanted to spend his time building his own clientele because this would allow him the chance to become rich faster than if he worked for someone else; working to build his own client base meant that Mr. Gardner wouldn’t be able to afford a place to live for a year or two; faced with a choice of providing a home for his son and putting off his dream of getting rich or being homeless for almost a year while he tried to build his own client base, Mr. Gardner chose to subject his son to the dangers of homelessness; in other words, he put his own interests ahead of his child’s safety;
(5) how “feel good” movies often feature Cinderella stories of extraordinary good fortune which, given the economic structure of our society, are unrealistic for all but one in a million [in other words, what does the rags to riches story shown in this movie say to a culturally deprived black or Hispanic young person growing up in a central city ghetto who has been socially promoted from one grade to the next and who is not a proficient reader?].
TeachWithMovies.com has prepared an 19-page handout, Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie),which provides fascinating information on the life of Chris Gardner and the many life lessons that can be derived from his story. It is designed as a reading exercise that will interest students. With the handout and the Discussion Questions in this Learning Guide, “The Pursuit of Happyness” can become an excellent learning experience.
SUBSTANTIAL. See the Benefits section above. However, with the supplementary materials provided by this Learning Guide, each of these problems can be turned into a benefit.
There is a moderate amount of profanity in the film.
After watching the movie, suggest that you and your child “find out what really happened” by reading TWM’s student handout: Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie). Then talk about some interesting incidents in Mr. Gardner’s life and go over a few of the Discussion Questions. Begin with Discussion Question #2
The True Story That Inspired the Movie
Right before he started the internship at Dean Witter, Chris Gardner’s girlfriend disappeared and took their son with her. Mr. Gardner’s efforts to find his son were fruitless. Dean Witter paid its interns $1000 a month. With that money, Mr. Gardner was able to rent a room in a boarding house. Therefore, when he had to prepare for the broker’s exam, Chris Gardner had a secure place to sleep and a quiet place to study. In addition, he didn’t have to take care of a young child.
Mr. Gardner did very well on the broker’s exam and was hired by Dean Witter. At that point, he had a choice. He could work for an established broker in the office at a salary large enough to support himself at a reasonable level. Any prospective clients developed with his telephone calls would be referred to his employer. Perhaps Mr. Gardner would be allowed to take over a few small deals. Working for an established broker would give him more money right away, but he would have to put off building his own set of clients. The alternative was for Mr. Gardner to work on his own from the beginning, using the telephone to build his business. This would give him less money for the first year or two (only about $1200 a month). However, if things went well, in a year or two, or three, he would make more money from his own set of clients than he would have made had he started out working for an established broker. In addition, if Mr. Gardner tried to build his own set of clients from nothing, his success would depend entirely on his own efforts. Mr. Gardner chose to work on his own and make very little money right away with the hope of making a lot more money in a few years.
One Friday night, several weeks after Mr. Gardner had started working as a broker trying to build up his own business, his former girlfriend appeared at the boarding house. She was tired of being a single mother. (She had trained to be a dentist and was trying to get established in that field.) She gave Mr. Gardner their 19-month-old son (Little Chris), the child’s stroller, a very large duffle bag filled with the child’s possessions, and lots of disposable diapers. The former girlfriend told Mr. Gardner what Little Chris ate, that he was to have no sweets, and then she left. The boarding house didn’t allow children. Mr. Gardner and his son were now homeless. Chris Gardner had no one he could call and ask for money. Nor did he feel that he could ask his friends for a place to stay with a 19-month-old child.
Over the weekend, Mr. Gardner found day care for his son ($400 a month) and they lived in a $25-a-night motel. $400 a month for daycare and $750 a month for a motel would eat up almost all of his $1200 a month income. There’d be no money for food, diapers, or anything else. The only way for Mr. Gardner to afford a place to live was to start working for another broker. He’d have to postpone his plan to focus on developing his own group of clients.
Over the next several days Mr. Gardner made a fateful decision: he and his son would be homeless for the next year or so until his own business at Dean Witter gave him enough money to rent an apartment. He would not work for someone else to put a roof over his son’s head. (Since landlords usually require hefty security deposits and first and last months rent, this meant that Mr. Gardner would have hundreds of dollars in savings while he and his son were still homeless.) Mr. Gardner made a conscious decision that he would not postpone his chance to become rich in order to care for his son, nor would he abandon his child. As a result, Mr. Gardner and Little Chris were homeless for approximately one year.
What does a two-year-old child need? He needs at least one parent, food, dry diapers, safety, and stability. Rich or poor doesn’t mean anything to a toddler, if he has these basics. Being homeless is a risky proposition. Homeless people are more likely to be assaulted and killed than people sleeping at home in their beds. Homeless people are exposed to the elements and can become ill. Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to Little Chris was for his father to have been seriously injured in an assault or killed. Being a parent means putting your child’s interests before your own, especially when issues of safety are concerned. In deciding to be homeless rather than pursuing the slower track to success that would have provided him with enough money to put a roof over his son’s head, Chris Gardner violated one of the basic obligations that a parent owes to his or her child. Fortunately, he was able to make it work and, apparently, Little Chris suffered no harm as a result.
HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA: THE FACTS, THE CAUSES, A CALL TO ACTION
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH):
- 754,000 people were homeless on an average day in the U.S. in 2005. (This was less than .3 % of the U.S. population.) Only about 55% could find a place in a shelter. The rest, about 335,000 people, were on the streets. One-third of the unsheltered homeless (approximately 112,000 people) were persons in families. Most of these were children.
- 47% of all homeless people are men and 59% are minorities.
- 39% are children younger than 18; 42% of these children are under the age of 5.
- 40% are veterans.
There is a core of chronic homelessness, but there is also a large turnover of people who are homeless for several months and who are then able to find homes. Central cities have more homeless people than rural/suburban areas, possibly because there are more shelters in cities and housing is more affordable in rural/suburban areas. (HUD February 2007 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (HUD AHAR) pages iii, iv, vi, 21 – 24 & 32 and NCH: Who is Homeless? Fact Sheet #3 page 2 & 3.)
The homeless are convenient targets for criminals and are victimized more frequently than the general population. In one study in California, 66% of homeless people interviewed reported that they had been the victim of a crime within the last year. 75% of those crimes were assaults or robberies. (Attorney General, State of California, Special Report to the California Legislature on Crimes Committed Against Homeless Persons p. 5. Data is from 2001.) The homeless who are not sheltered are at risk for becoming ill due to exposure to the elements.
WHO BECOMES HOMELESS AND WHY?
Poverty is the most important risk factor for homelessness. Without the means to pay for the most basic of necessities, poor people begin to live paycheck-to-paycheck with no way to accumulate any savings. “Being poor means being an illness, an accident or a paycheck away from living on the streets,” writes the NCH. But poverty isn’t just about not having money – it’s about the underlying causes that push people into poverty: unemployment, lack of education and training, low-paying jobs, inadequate public assistance, and lack of health insurance. NCH: Why Are People Homeless? Fact Sheet #1 pp. 1, 3, & 6.
A person’s rent should typically cost about 30% of his or her earnings (leaving money for food, clothing, education, and other necessities); however, “in every state, more than [30% of earnings at] the minimum wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment.” Then where do minimum-wage earners with families live? All too often they are forced into homeless shelters or they live on the streets. In some cities, anywhere from 13% to 26% of people in “homeless situations” are employed. Ibid p. 2.
Welfare has been steadily declining. Female-headed families and working families that leave the welfare system are at the highest risk for homelessness of any group. The NCH states, “Although more families are moving from welfare to work, many of them are faring poorly due to low wages and inadequate work support.” NCH: Why Are People Homeless? Fact Sheet #1 page 3.
Battered women and victims of domestic abuse often face bleak options: stay in an abusive relationship or become homeless. In fact, 50% of all women and children who are homeless have fled domestic violence. Ibid page 6.
16% of the adult homeless suffer from mental illness. Id. page 6.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse:
Alcohol abuse is a problem for many of the homeless.
Status as a Veteran:
Veterans are very highly represented among the homeless.
Because there are several different causes of homelessness, there isn’t one over-arching program that will help all of them. The NCH believes that relief will come from “a concerted effort to ensure jobs that pay a living wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, and access to health care.” NCH: Why Are People Homeless? Fact Sheet #1 page 7.
WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP HOMELESS PEOPLE
Regardless of our age, income, or talents, we can help the homeless. We could volunteer at a shelter like Glide Memorial or at a food bank or some other agency that helps homeless people. Most likely there’s one not too far away. Those who want to be more active can organize a food drive at school or work with a local shelter or soup kitchen to arrange for days when students can come and volunteer. Our imaginations and our willingness to help are the only limits on what we can do. For more ideas and suggestions see NCH Fact Sheet #19: How YOU Can Help End Homelessness.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” tells us that homelessness isn’t a problem for “other” people; it’s a problem for “real” people. It’s important to remember The Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. What if you or members of your family were without a place to sleep and there was no one to help you?
Having a large homeless population is not inevitable. By working together, learning about the causes of homelessness, and thinking creatively, we can provide housing for all of our people.
1. See Questions Suitable for Any Film.
2. There is something not quite realistic about what’s shown in the movie. What is it?
Only a superman could:
- study for a difficult brokers’ exam and
- work in the Dean Witter office making hundreds of cold calls a day and
- do better than all the other interns and
- care for his son and
- get food for them both and
- search for a different place to sleep every night and
- look fresh and well rested every morning like any other businessman and
- sell a few bone density scanners on the weekends,
- when he wasn’t getting paid and knew that only one intern would be offered a job.
In fact, what the real Chris Gardner did was very difficult. However, it becomes a superhuman task when you add the pressure of preparing for a very difficult examination with no quiet place to study, having to sell bone density scanners on the weekends, and working for no money, all the while knowing that there was little chance that he’d get the job.
3. Mr. Gardner deserves praise for his decision to keep his son with him. However, the story told by the movie avoids dealing with the ethics of the decision made by Mr. Gardner to try to become wealthy as fast as he could even though it meant subjecting himself and his son to the very real risks involved in being homeless. Little Chris was definitely a stakeholder in his father’s decision. What does his father’s decision to become homeless look like from Little Chris’ point of view?
What does a two-year-old child need? He needs at least one parent, food, dry diapers, safety, and stability. Rich or poor doesn’t mean anything to a toddler if he has these basics. Being homeless is a risky proposition. Homeless people are more likely to be assaulted and killed than people sleeping at home in their beds. Homeless people are exposed to the elements and can become ill. Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to Little Chris was for his father to have been seriously injured in an assault or killed. Being a parent means putting your child’s interests before your own, especially when issues of safety are concerned. In deciding to be homeless rather than pursuing the slower track to success that would have provided him with enough money to put a roof over his son’s head, Chris Gardner violated a basic principle of good parenting.
The fact that Mr. Gardner’s gamble paid off and that neither he nor his child were assaulted while they were homeless doesn’t mean that Mr. Gardner made the right decision. It only means that he and his son were lucky.
4. Why did the screenwriters change the story?
There is no one correct answer to this question. A strong answer will mention that the story told by the movie is more dramatic than the true story. It’s much harder to dramatize Mr. Gardner’s decision to GO THE OTHER WAY, as he put it:
Not only was I going to make sure my children had a daddy, I was never going to be Freddie Triplett. I was never going to terrorize, threaten, harm, or abuse a woman or a child, and I was never going to drink so hard that I couldn’t account for my actions.
Also, the story of Mr. Gardner’s rape when he was 14 years old, was probably too upsetting for a PG-13 film.
5. One critic of this movie said that “The Pursuit of Happyness” and films like it, “. . . assuage the guilt of the privileged . . . and send the message that we who have ‘made it’ into the middle and upper classes are there simply because of our superior virtue and intelligence. It is far more flattering to attribute our wealth to superior character and abilities, . . . than to factor in inequitable tax codes, unequal access to health care, discriminatory education, slave-wages, international trade agreements and inheritance laws that protect privileged races and classes.” The Stories We Tell: films like ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ assuage the guilt of the privileged by Jeremy V. Cruz, America, April 30, 2007. Do you agree or disagree?
This is clearly a valid criticism. The vast majority of the poor work hard and show up for menial jobs day after day. Mr. Cruz, who is a former youth minister, said, “In fact, the poor are among the hardest-working, strongest, most selfless people I know, often holding two or three jobs to keep their families together for one more day.” It isn’t easy to get advanced education and training when there is no money to pay for it and while you are responsible for raising children or making a living. On the other hand, virtue and effort are important. Without them no one would advance. A good exercise when discussing this question is to take an example of a person who is successful and analyze their career in terms of the advantages that they received because of their birth.
For other questions relating to media literacy, see Homelessness, Question #s 1 & 2.
1. Is it true that most people who live in poverty don’t work hard and don’t apply themselves?
We don’t think so. See quote from Mr. Jeremy V. Cruz in the suggested answer to Discussion Question #5. Look around at people who are working menial jobs. Most work pretty hard and many work two jobs. They have to in order to make ends meet. Why do they work in these low paying jobs and why can’t they get a better job? There are many possible reasons: lack of education, inadequate training, the fact that they are immigrants and can’t speak English well, lack of ability to do other jobs. Laziness and lack of effort aren’t among them. These are respectable jobs and need to be done. The one thing we know is that the fact that people are working these jobs means that they are willing to do what it takes to keep their families together.
2. How is the version of homelessness in the movie different than what the homeless really experience?
The homeless are at greater risk for being assaulted or robbed than the general population. They are at risk of becoming ill from exposure. Nor does the movie show what happens when a homeless person has to go to the bathroom, but there are no available facilities. Nor does it show what happens when they are sick.
3. There are some developed countries in which there are fewer homeless people than in the U.S. Why are there so many homeless people in the U.S.?
It’s a matter of priorities. In the U.S., voters would rather have lower taxes than take care of the homeless. Other developed countries have made different choices and have fewer extremely wealthy people and fewer people in extreme poverty or who are homeless.
4. Has this movie changed your view of the homeless? If so, what are the changes? If not, why not?
There is no one correct response.
Short Quiz on Homelessness:
1. In 2005, approximately how many people were homeless in the U.S., both sheltered and unsheltered?
2. On an average night in 2005, what percent of the homeless were not able to find a place to sleep in a shelter?
45% or 339,000.
3. What percent and approximate number of homeless people in the U.S. were children under the age of 18 in 2005? Of that number, how many are under the age of five?
Approximately 39%, or 290,000 were children younger than 18; 42% or 122,000 were under the age of five.
4. What are the main risks of being homeless?
Becoming the victim of a robbery or assault and getting ill from exposure to the elements.
5. What is the role played by the high cost of health care and lack of adequate health insurance in forcing people into homelessness?
People whose finances are wiped out by the costs of illness are at great risk of losing their homes.
6. How much should a family spend on housing if they are to have enough money left over for food, clothing, education, and other necessities?
The answer to the following question counts for four points.
7. List the five different types of people who are at risk for becoming homeless.
(1) the poor;
(2) the mentally ill;
(3) the alcoholic and drug-addicted;
(4) victims of domestic violence; and
1. One critic wrote,
Often, as I watched the movie and the Chris Gardner character was frustrated time and time again, like when he got the parking ticket for his supervisor’s car, or when he couldn’t sell a bone density scanner, or when the man at the football game said that Chris was too inexperienced to get his pension fund business, I thought the character would explode. (I would have had trouble keeping my cool in those situations.) The actor allowed you to see the character mastering his frustration and anger to respond to the disappointment in a smiling and gracious manner. He kept his cool and didn’t burn his bridges.
But there were times when the character of Mr. Gardner, as shown in the movie, did lose his cool and got aggressive with people. What do you think about the ability of this character to keep his cool and be gracious in the face of extreme disappointment and frustration? When did he express his frustration and become angry with people? Does this tell you anything about people in general? But there were times when the character of Mr. Gardner, as shown in the movie, did lose his cool and got aggressive with people. What do you think about the ability of this character to keep his cool and be gracious in the face of extreme disappointment and frustration? When did he express his frustration and become angry with people? Does this tell you anything about people in general?
There are a couple of good responses. Taking frustration graciously and not burning your bridges is a necessary ability in being a salesperson and in life in general. It tells us that people who are often disappointed, poor people in particular, have to exercise a lot of self-control throughout their lives. It also shows that the character of Mr. Gardner expressed anger and became aggressive at those who were equal to him or lower in the power structure. He generally allowed himself to lose his cool and become aggressive with poor and non-white people. This probably has nothing to do with the real Mr. Gardner, and how he acts, but it does ring true as something that people do.
2. Now that you have read about Mr. Gardner’s life, what do you think is the most remarkable thing that he accomplished? Do you think it was caring for his son and succeeding at being a stockbroker while he was homeless? Or was it something else?
There is no one right answer. Possible responses include: (1) caring for his son and succeeding at being a stockbroker while he was homeless; (2) consciously deciding to go “the other way,” i.e., not to be a child abuser like his stepfather; not to be a drunk like his stepfather; not to be a wife beater like his stepfather; and not to abandon his child, like his biological father; (3) surviving the rape with apparently very few scars; (4) keeping J.R., the racist, as a client; or (5) trying to excel in any job that he held.
3. What did you learn from reading about Mr. Gardner?
There is no one answer. See the response to the preceding question.
4. Why is Chris Gardner glad that he didn’t kill Freddie Triplett, his abusive step-father?
There are two reasons. First, he probably would have been caught and sent to jail. (Remember, as a teenager when Chris did something illegal, he would usually get caught.) Second, killing another person, even with justification, does terrible things to the killer.
FATHER/SON — PARENTING
See Media Literacy Question #3.
5. What did Chris Gardner’s mother contribute to his character?
The most important thing was that he felt loved by her. In addition, there was the encouragement that he could do anything he set his mind to and be anything he wanted to be. She gave him practical advice, like looking confident even when he was terrified and she told him about the value of libraries. She encouraged his reading and schoolwork which, as it turned out, was very important to his success. He could never have passed the brokers’ exam if he hadn’t been a good reader.
See Media Literacy Question #3.
6. What are some of the risks of homelessness?
Homeless people often sleep in areas that are not secure and that are not protected from the weather. They are at increased risk of being assaulted or robbed and of becoming ill due to exposure to the elements.
See Media Literacy Question #2 and Media Literacy Question #5.
7. What was Chris Gardner’s attitude toward work?
Whenever he had a job he would do his best and ask question after question. He would find the person who was the best at that job and learn what made that person a success.
8. Does Mr. Gardner’s story mean that anybody can become wealthy and that if you don’t, you’re a failure? Should everyone become rich?
The truth is that only a very small percentage of people in society can become wealthy. The fact is that what most people want is not to become rich but to have a happy life. Mr. Gardner’s view of this is contained in the last quote in the handout Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie).
ALCOHOL & DRUG ABUSE
9. What was the role of alcohol abuse in Freddie Triplett’s life?
According to his stepson, Mr. Triplett was an alcoholic, and when he was drunk he would terrorize and beat his wife and children.
10. Doctors and psychologists tell us that alcoholism is a family disease. Apply that to Mr. Triplett’s family.
Everyone in Mr. Triplett’s family suffered from his lack of control when he got drunk. Often, we can see members of a family developing neurotic behaviors to deal with the alcoholic and his or her illness. We don’t know enough about Mr. Triplett’s family to talk about that. We do know that they lived lives in fear and they were beaten. There had to be some residual effects from this. Mr. Gardner, due to his own strong character and his mother’s love and influence, was able to escape most of it.
11. An admirable thing about Mr. Gardner was that he consciously decided that he would not continue the cycle of neglect, alcohol abuse, and violence to which he was subjected as a child. He calls this “going the other way” from the paths taken by his father and his stepfather. Do you know anyone who has done something similar? Can you tell us his or her story?
There is no one correct response.
12. Another admirable thing about Mr. Gardner’s life story is that he did something positive in his life that no one expected him to do. Do you know anyone who has done this? Can you tell us their story?
There is no one correct response.
SPOUSAL ABUSE/CHILD ABUSE
13. Describe the usual cycle of a wife beater and how Triplett’s treatment of young Chris was different.
The normal cycle for a wife beater has three parts. There is a period in which tension mounts, then the attack, and then remorse. The wife beater will promise that it won’t happen again, and he will be on good behavior for a while. But during the period of good behavior the tension mounts again and then the pattern repeats itself. With Chris, Freddie Triplett was verbally abusive all the time, taunting Chris with, “I’m not your daddy. You ain’t got no daddy!”
14. Why do you think Chris’ mother stayed with Triplett?
Most battered women stay in abusive relationships due to a mixture of fear, lack of self-esteem, and a feeling of complete helplessness. In addition, Chris thought that Triplett was responsible for his mother going to jail both times. The first time was when she tried to leave Triplett and the second was when she tried to kill him. If this is true, Chris’ mother knew that when she tried to get away from Freddie Triplett or strike back at him, he would find a way to send her to jail. Also, she could not support her children on a maid’s salary. She needed Triplett’s paycheck to feed the kids. (Compare her self-sacrifice to Mr. Gardner’s refusal to sacrifice his own desire to get rich quick to keep his son from homelessness. There are differences. He had a real possibility of finding a way out, while his mother didn’t.)
15. What is the role of education in this story?
If Mr. Gardner had not gotten a good education and had not been encouraged by his mother and teachers to read, he would not have been able to pass the broker’s exam.
AMBITION/MALE ROLE MODEL
16. Do you consider Mr. Gardner to be a male role model? Tell us your reasons, pro and con.
There is no one correct answer, but a good answer will mention: 1) his decision to “go the other way” and not to neglect his children (as his father had done) and not beat women and children in an alcoholic rage (as his stepfather had done); 2) the ethical problems with his decision to subject his son to homelessness so that he could become rich faster (see Media Literacy Question #3); and 3) his decision to excel in any job that he held.
17. Mr. Gardner was ambitious, but was he too ambitious?
This is another way to raise the ethical issue involved in Mr. Gardner’s decision that his son would be homeless for many months so that Mr. Gardner could become rich faster. See Media Literacy Question #3.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
See Media Literacy Question #3.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
1. What was Mr. Gardner’s greatest gift to his son?
His constant and consistent love and caring.
See also SEL Question #5.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Have students read The Stories We Tell: films like ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ assuage the guilt of the privileged by Jeremy V. Cruz, America, April 30, 2007, and write an essay commenting on the points made by Mr. Cruz; this is reprinted by permission of Mr. Cruz and America magazine;
- Have students research and write an essay on one of the following discussion questions: Media Literacy #s 3 & 5, and SEL #s 1, 2, 8, 16 & 17;
- Have students research and write an essay on the accuracy of the presentation of homelessness in the movie;
- Have students research and write an essay on the effects of homelessness on children;
- Have students research and write an essay on the solutions to the problem of homelessness in the U.S.;
- Have students research and write an essay on the why women remain in abusive relationships; and
BRIDGES TO READING
Mr. Gardner’s autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness written with Quincy Troupe, is a great read. It is uplifting and full of life lessons. However, the book contains a few descriptions of Mr. Gardner’s sex life and two or three references to drug use. It also has some profanity. Some parents will find these references offensive. (The sex and drugs have been omitted from the handout, Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie). Parents considering recommending the book to their children should read it themselves before giving it to their children to make sure that it’s suitable. You’ll probably enjoy it thoroughly.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- The Chris Gardner Website;
- Real Chris Gardner vs. Will Smith Movie article on Reel Faces;
- Wikipedia Article on Chris Gardner;
- Biography of Mr. Gardner from his website;
- Wikipedia article on the film “The Pursuit of Happyness”;
- Climbing Out of the Gutter with a 5-year-old in Tow, New York Times Movie Review by Manohla Dargis;
- From S.F. Homeless to Wall Street CEO Book Review by David Miosl, San Francisco Chronicle;
- Happyness for Sale By Jia Lynn Yang, Fortune Magazine, September 15 2006; and
- Interview with Chris Gardner about Difficulties in Getting Picked Up by a Cab as a Black Man in Chicago.
Mr. Gardner’s autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness written with Quincy Troupe as well as
- Articles on the Internet described in the links to the Internet section of this Learning Guide and interviews, articles in newspapers and in magazines described in the endnotes to Episodes in the Life of Chris Gardner (What’s Not in the Movie); and
- “Come on Down: Searching for the American Dream” (2004) a documentary produced by Manifestation Television, Inc.
This Learning Guide was last updated on October 18, 2015.