It’s a little bit of everything.

“. . . 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.”

“Kerouac?”

“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.”

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3 thoughts on “It’s a little bit of everything.

  1. I left school at fifteen, so most of the things that I have learned I have done on my own. I am a voracious reader and have books everywhere, most of them in piles on the floor. The beauty of being an autodidact is that you can make your own choices about the subjects that you want to study, one often leading to another. The only reason that it is considered to be so important for children to go to school for so long is mostly to make sure that they are properly indoctrinated. History in particular is always written from someone’s point of view (frequently the winners of a war) and is presented in the way that The Administration wants it to be presented. This is why it is so important for us to all speak as many languages as we can, so as to be able to read things (History in particular) from different points of view. This is very important. I remember being interviewed for possible acceptance into a course to prepare me for University in France. I had successfully passed some tests before being called for the interview, but was told that I would not be able to study History in France because my formal education had taken place in Australia. The University Professors didn’t want a student who had been educated from a different viewpoint. I might have thrown a spanner in the works. So, I still have no diplomas, but have read a lot of French History. I learnt French mostly on my own. The three years spent studying it in Australia helped a little but not much. When I sat for tests in France, I came out among the best, which greatly surprised me. I think that a teacher’s main job is to interest their students in a particular subject and teach them how to find out more about it on their own. There is nothing worse than being obliged to teach pupils who don’t want to learn. I have taught both dancing and English (as a foreign language) and have been inflicted with some stidents who were there because someone else was making them attend. There is nothing worse for both the teacher and the student. However, I always worked from the position that, if someone had not understood something, it was my fault not theirs.

  2. Working in a school for dyslexia, you tend to blame yourself for all your student’s problems, even those you cannot control. When lil’ Johnny is swinging from the shades, swatting at paper airplanes like King Kong, my first thought is ‘Well, how could I present the material in manner that would interest and excite Johnny?’ Notably, my second thought was “Jesus, I better stop giving Johnny coffee. Where does maintenance keep the ladders?”

    Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite writers, had no formal schooling but locked himself away in the public libraries to learn and educate himself. Then he went on to become one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th-century. Point is – besides how awesome self-learners are – is that the curious and brilliant will find a way to educate themselves. Those are the kids (or adults) who seek out teachers, the ones you love to teach but often do not require it.

    It’s the rest of the class, the ones who barely log off Facebook and look at books (much less Kindle) as a verbal plague, attacking their free time and social life, that worries me. I don’t know. Some teachers see these rapscallions as a lost cause, others as an academic challenge. Is it our job to shine a light on ignorance, or only teach those willing to step up to the challenge? Who can say, I suppose?

    My approach is to make the material, the poets and the atoms, as digestible as possible and see who steps up to the plate. Education after all is a partnership, requiring work on both sides of the chalkboard.

  3. I should mention that the last two comments are almost as verbose as the post itself. Epic. That’s the kind of intellectual tirades I inspire around here. Ideas literally ooze from the ears and drip onto the keyboard: disgusting but captivating.

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