April 27, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
In Scott Smith’s 1993 novel, A Simple Plan—and the 1998 movie based on it—two brothers and a friend stumble upon the wreckage of a downed airplane in the woods. The pilot lies dead in the cockpit; the plane is carrying $4.4 million. The trio’s “simple plan” to keep the money has catastrophic results, especially for the brothers, Jacob and Hank.
For the past few semesters, A Simple Plan has been assigned reading in Critical Thinking 100, taught by Kate Walter in BMCC’s Department of Developmental Skills. The story, which turns on a series of increasingly bad decisions by the main characters, “is about critical thinking gone astray,” says Walter.
But more than that, “it is a morality tale about greed and betrayal, and has so many rich elements that I thought it would make a great book to use in a critical thinking course.”
In search of the perfect topic
Walter’s student, Magalie Lavache, thought so too. Now in her final semester, the Haitian-born Lavache regularly preaches sermons in her Seventh Day Adventist church and is often looking for topics that will be helpful and relevant to her congregants.
“After reading this book, I thought, ‘How can good people behave so badly?’” says Lavache. “So I was inspired to write a sermon on it.”
The story, as she sees it, centers around two kinds of Christians, personified by the two brothers. “Everyone views Jacob as the bad guy—a drinker, a gambler and a loser,” she says. “Hank is seen as the good guy—a family man with a steady job.”
But as things unfold, Hank proves to be the real villain, whose greed drives him to acts of unspeakable evil. The story, says Lavache, provides an object lesson on the folly of judging people by their outer appearances.
“This is a mistake we often make,” she told her parishioners, preaching in Haitian Creole and quoting from Mathew 7:2: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” All too often, she said, “we jump to conclusions about people based on how well they’re dressed or other external attributes. “
Hank played his part well, she said. “As long as he was able to make himself look good on the outside, he didn’t care what he was like on the inside. So he lived a life of lies—and worse.”
The right choice
Lavache will graduate this June with a 3.67 GPA and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “She’s a wonderful student—dedicated and hard-working and constantly pushing herself,” says Walter. “If she gets a B+ on a paper, she’ll gladly redo it to get an A.”
As Lavache recalls, she didn’t have a particular reason to take Critical Thinking, “but after the first class, I knew I’d made the right choice.” Walter, she says, “went out of her way to make everyone feel comfortable about speaking in her class—and was always in her office and available to talk to outside of class.” That, she adds, isn’t her view alone. “It’s everyone’s.”