Study Guide

Forrest Gump Education

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FORREST: She wanted me to have the finest education, so she took me to the Greenbow County Central School.

Okay, (1) we're not sure what kind of education Forrest was getting at the Greenbow County Central School in the late 1940s, but we're going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn't the "finest." And (2), no matter how bad the Alabama public schools were at that point, they were still worthwhile enough for Mrs. Gump to essentially prostitute herself to get Forrest into them. That's how important she thinks Forrest's education is.

PRINCIPAL: I want to show you something, Mrs. Gump. Now, this is normal. Forrest is right here. The state requires a minimum IQ of 80 to attend public school.

It's not the principal's fault, you see. His hands are tied. There's just nothing he can … oh, your husband is "traveling," you say? Well, in that case, let's see what we can do.

When the principal of the Greenbow public school bends the IQ rule to let Forrest into his school on the condition that Mrs. Gump sleep with him, we see just how arbitrary all of these numbers are. Do five IQ points really make such a difference? Does Forrest deserve an education less than someone born with an IQ of 85? And when we say that education is "public," what do we really mean by that?

PRINCIPAL: Mrs. Gump, he's going to have to go to a special school.

Sure, Mrs. Gump has always insisted that Forrest is special. In this case, we're imagining that the special school isn't much more than extended babysitting, plus a little vocational training for kids that the public school system has abandoned. Mrs. Gump is bound and determined not to give up on Forrest.

MRS. GUMP: He might be a bit on the slow side, but my boy Forrest will get the same opportunities as everyone else.

Slow is one thing. Denying Forrest the same opportunities that all of the other kids get to have is quite another—and Mrs. Gump is having none of it. To her, public school is a ticket out. To where? Who knows. But she's not going to send him off into the world without it.

MRS. GUMP: He's not going to some special school to learn how to retread tires.

Well, if it's a choice between a practical skill like knowing how to retread tires and a degree in comparative religion with a huge student-loan debt, we're really not sure where we'd land. But to be fair, those aren't really the stakes here. Is Forrest going to be doomed to menial labor for the rest of his life, or is he going to get the opportunity to prove what he can—or can't—do?

PRINCIPAL: Is there a Mr. Gump, Mrs. Gump?

MRS. GUMP: He's on vacation.

The principal is a smart man, and he quickly realizes that he can turn this whole situation to his advantage. (Now, that's something you can't learn in school.) What we learn from this is that those hard-and-fast rules he's been moaning on about are really nothing more than arbitrary lines than can be bent, massaged, and outright rewritten.

PRINCIPAL: Your momma sure does care about your schooling, son.

We'll say. After Mrs. Gump has sex with the principal, Forrest's future is assured, and it's off to public school for him.

FORREST: And can you believe it? I got to go to college, too.

After getting a football scholarship, Forrest Gump even gets to attend the University of Alabama. He's definitely come a long way since his mother first got him into public school and kept him out of a special school. Was her sacrifice worth it? For Mrs. Gump, we think it was.

FORREST: Jenny went to a college I couldn't go to. It was a college just for girls.

A sex act gets Forrest into public school, and a sort-of-sex act gets Jenny booted from college when she poses in a pornographic magazine wearing her school sweater. When we look at these two incidents together, we get the sense that Forrest Gump is coming down a little hard on the hypocrisy of education in mid-century America. What does nudity have to do with your school performance? And why should your momma's willingness to have sex determine your educational options?

FORREST: After only five years of playing football, I got a college degree.

Ouch. Notice how Forrest doesn't say "five years of studying" or "five years of taking classes" or "five years of staying up until 3 a.m. debating philosophy with my friends"? Public school is one thing, but we're not sure that he got a whole lot out of the college experience. At least they got a lot out of him, right?

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