Friday, October 30, 2009

In A New World

I suppose every high school student has to read Ethan Fromm. When my turn came I recall feeling disappointed -- I don't know what I expected, but whatever it was, Ethan Fromm wasn't it. Later on, in college, I took a course entitled Nineteenth Century American Intellectual History in which we read The Education of Henry Adams. Unlike Moby Dick, there was no Cliff Notes version and the best I can say about the experience was, it cured my insomnia.

I never have quite understood why dull is equated with meaningful at a time in our lives when the gossip at the back of the school bus is more interesting t

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (...Image via Wikipedia

han anything between the covers of the assigned reading. Is it because teachers presume our hormones are so out of control that we need the stabilizing influence of boredom to calm us down? Surely The Legend of Sleepy Hollow could be substituted for Evangeline or Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher for The House of Seven Gables, especially in October.

I freely admit, I was an adult before I learned to appreciate Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. Louisa May Alcott I loved;
she stole my heart during fourth grade -- ah, yes, an older woman -- when I found Little Women sitting on the library shelf. Then came Little Men, but when Harriet Beecher Stowe stood nearby with Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was only two pages past the entrance when I began wondering if there wasn't a back door.

What made Louisa any different from the rest her generation? It's hard to say; I had no idea she was the one I was looking for until I'd found her. We have different needs at different times and predicting what those will be is difficult. With all due respect to John Locke, children aren't blank slates awaiting the scribble of just any piece of chalk. Finding the right one is a process of discovery and education should be about blending experience with inexperience as student and teacher wade onshore together, each planting their own flag in a new world.

(Image of the Headless Horseman (1858) via Wikipedia)
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