“. . . its not really instruction. That’s what most people forget. They imagine I hurl lectures and books at kids brains and somehow the words get stuck inside. For some — the bright ones maybe — the facts’ll attach themselves somehow, but mostly the kids will end up bruised and angry.”
I paused to take a sip of coffee, allowing the caffeine to infect my words, driving my passion forward like Ben Hur in a chariot.
“Good teachers are more akin to magicians or used car salesmen, only I’m sellin’ history and science, Napoleon and Einstein. The trick is in the sleight of hand. The kids know its work; how could they forget it? But they have to want to be fooled: read Poe’s ‘Raven’ like Christopher Walken on LSD and they’ll remember the effects even if they forget who wrote it.”
“Isn’t that important?” Katherine smiled.
“Sure. But that’s the thing. They won’t. You make a good enough show, stamp your voice on their gray matter, and they’ll remember everything. Even if they forget, they’ll want to know! That’s the great thing. Little Molly will walk through the bookstore or library one day, high on Starbucks and late for their Ceramics class, and they’ll see the poetry section. Instead of wrinkling their noses like every other bruised, besieged and well-educated child in America, she’ll skim through the pages. Curious, not disgusted. And that’s it. That’s the goal.”
“Really? But if she doesn’t know or remember meter, imagery, figurative language . . .”
“Worthless,” I stammer, nearly spitting now. “Drivel. Death and details. We forget most of it anyway post-test and exam. Even more dies in college and in the hunt for money, car and family. No, the appreciation is the key. The crux of all education. That you can’t get relearn or review. It’s like watchin’ Scooby-Doo when you’re thirty. It’s only good if you remember the love you felt when you were five, sitting in your PJs Saturday morning, dripping and laughing corn flakes on the family sofa. You lose appreciation, the respect for science, literature or math when they’re kids and . . . well, that’s it. Gone. Done.”
“What happens then?” Katherine asks, leaning against the conference table. “Surely not all of them grow up as jaded and disillusioned as you suggest.”
“I was talking to my sister the other day about her homework. Her midterms were approaching and the pressure showed on her face; the bouncing blood vessels on her forehead gave her the appearance of a dormant volcano. I imagined her brain popping from her scalp and drowning itself in the bathtub. Finally, she exploded and threw her book, notebook, pen, and a candlestick — just so it wasn’t left out, I suppose — onto the ground. She shouted a few pout-laden platitudes on school and how stupid it all was.
“My mom did her best calm her. In the end, she told my sister that life’s full of stupid pointless stuff, that it doesn’t make sense and you have to simply suck it up and plow through the work.”
“Okay, true enough . . .”
“Except, she was speaking about literature. She added that most of the writers were on drugs anyway and so didn’t mean anything. Bree laughed and moved on. I thought about arguing but reasoned that I had no case against the author in question.”
“Hemingway. I did some arguing later in private, but Mom was adamant. Literature held no value to her. Nothing I said, none of my arguments — competently argued no less — could sway her opinion. Outside of learning literacy, literature itself was drivel to her, as useful as the warning labels on pillows. That’s the danger, you see. Indifference is a knife through the heart of what we do here.”