RSIC Education Column: The Philosophy of Billy Madison |

RSIC Education Column: The Philosophy of Billy Madison

Justin Zuniga

Special to First Nation's Focus

Justin Zuniga

It’s that time of year again, whether or not we are ready and willing. The 2019-20 school year is upon us.

I must confess, this time of year always reminds me of the 1995 Adam Sandler masterpiece, “Billy Madison.” I am so fond of this movie; my colleagues can actually catch me softly singing the “Back to School” jingle popularized by the movie throughout my workday.

This simple song has served as a personal mantra, which I believe everyone can identify with. So let’s unpack The Philosophy of Billy Madison together and maybe he will teach you something about yourself.  

Let me take the liberty of setting the scene… Billy is standing there, waiting for the school bus. He isn’t particularly excited about going back to school, but he knows he has an important mission — he begins to sing:

*  *  *

“Back to school, back-to-school to prove to my dad that I’m not a fool.

I’ve got my lunch packed up and boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get in a fight.

Oh, back to school, back to school…”

*  *  *

The nervous anticipation mounts as the school bus approaches and our collective hearts break as the bus drives right past him. Doesn’t even slow down. You can hear children laughing at you … I mean Billy. 

Billy’s song is true and his struggle is real. We start to gain a deeper understanding of how his simple song can serve as a personal guiding principle by breaking it down into three axioms:

1. Back to school, to prove that I’m not a fool: Potentiality of self-worth.

2. I’ve got my lunch packed up and boots tied tight: Preparedness. 

3. I hope I don’t get in a fight: Communication. 

The first axiom is basically the overarching theme for the entire movie. He has a mission to prove his worth to his father in order to be worthy to receive his inheritance of the family business. His original song lyric uses “Dad” as the accountable motivating agent (and I’m sure many of our kids would agree).

However, if we really want to grow in our academics, then a better line to substitute would be “To prove to myself that I’m not a fool.”  The beauty of starting a new school year is that it gives us another opportunity to measure ourselves. At this stage of the school year, the potential for learning is very high with lessons of progressively more difficult levels of English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science.

But where is your self-worth? Do you see yourself rising to meet the challenge or feeling like you should get placed in different classes?  Those who see themselves as having a high potentiality of self-worth understand their limitations, but firmly believe that they could academically perform with the best in their school. You are not the same student/parent/educator that you were last year. You have the potential to be so much more!

The second axiom deals with preparedness and making sure we are ready for whatever the day throws at us. The back-to-school season is wrought with anxiety for students, parents and educators alike.

Myself, as an educator undergoing academic induced existential dread, I know it is crucial to equip myself mentally and materially to navigate the endless possibilities of a new school year. I don’t want to underestimate the importance of preparedness, especially among the sheer chaos of any secondary education institution.

Nevertheless, hearkening back to the first axiom, equally important to your level of preparedness is your confidence in being capable of completing the task. In this way, whether or not you feel prepared for the task ahead, the key is that you know that you’ll give it your best effort and won’t settle for anything less. 

This leaves communication as the last axiom of Billy Madison’s pedagogy. When he says, “I hope I don’t get in a fight,” I interpret it to mean, “I hope I don’t have to use excessive energy to communicate.”

Disclaimer: I don’t condone fighting and settling our differences with violence. However, there is a point, as we advocate wholeheartedly for our students, when it becomes necessary to use strong diplomacy tactics to make sure our students are being taken care of.

This either goes for parents advocating for their children’s needs or a teacher advocating for their curriculum against the recommended state standards. To any student facing injustice on their campus: I hope you won’t have to pick that fight. 

Nobody is going to grant Billy Madison a Nobel Prize, but what he offers is a recipe for success. If one shows up dripping with confidence, prepared with alternative supporting evidence or the exact tools for the job, plus the willingness to fight for what you believe in, then one is most definitely worthy of the inheritance.

Justin Zuniga works as an RSIC Education Advisor at the Hungry Valley Center in Sparks. Email him at with questions.