In the late 1960s, Pat Conroy accepts a teaching job on a small island of the South Carolina coast. When he gets there, Conroy finds that his school is essentially a shack, filled with illiterate students who cannot count, and do not even know that they live in the United States. Conroy disagrees with the methods of the principal who has convinced the students that they are lazy and unintelligent, and decides to try new ways to reach them. The students thrive as Conroy exposes them to films, classical music, and teaches them to swim. When his unconventional methods are criticized by the local leaders, Conroy responds by confronting them about the institutional racism that has held his students back.