March 20 marked the vernal equinox: the last day of winter and first day of spring. Late in the week, while talking with my mother on the phone, she told me that the sandhill cranes are migrating over my hometown in northeast Illinois, flying back from a winter spent in warmer climes. Growing up, these flocks foretold the imminent arrival of the spring thaw, the end of the bone-numbing, lake-effect cold. March 21 marks the beginning of a new season as well.
In the spring of eleventh grade, I first read The Great Gatsby, fell in love with it, and then re-read it religiously every third summer for the next twelve years. I also read Fitzgerald’s other novels in my early twenties, though only once each.
A specter haunts the West. It denies knowable, communicable truth and thereby threatens the dissolution of all community and the atomization of every individual. While variations of this specter have appeared in prior ages and indeed have never been wholly absent, today’s intelligentsia and masses alike have imbibed and manifest this specter to degrees hitherto unknown. Unless it is exercised, the specter of postmodernism will continue to poison us against each other and undermine the basis of our society while distracting us from questions of ultimate importance.
“The Holy Ghost will not come until you see yourself as you are—a lazy ignorant conceited youth!” – Father Finn, “The Enduring Chill”
“Wherever possible I have broken with teaching tradition and sent kids down their separate paths to their own private truths . . . to be their own teachers and to make themselves the major text of their own education.” I can hardly imagine a more “progressive” plan than this, of the late John Taylor Gatto in his first book, Dumbing Us Down.
The size of a poem is not something that can be measured by line number. Some long poems are “big” in their moral vision—like the heroic code of the Iliad, the transcendent grandeur of the Divine Comedy. But other long poems are philosophically cramped—like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Say whatever you want about the speaker of this poem (yes, the poet is large; yes, he contains multitudes), but by the end of all that soul-expansion, all that spiritual osmosis, all that singing of oneself, we are still only left with some guy from West Hills, NY.
Teaching students to think for themselves, to inquire independently, or to exercise intellectual self-reliance is all the rage. This is true of both educational theory and educational practice. For example, Harvey Siegel, one of the world’s leading philosophers of education, says, “Our educational obligation is not to deliver our students to flourishing lives (or happy ones), but rather to prepare them to consider for themselves (among many other things) the virtuousness of the virtues and their place in their own lives” (emphasis added).
In high school, I can remember reading only one work of fiction, which was, ironically, Great Expectations. In my blue-collar town, manual labor and resourcefulness were predominant virtues, so each year our headmaster directed the high school students to set up a large outdoor Fall Festival. One year we repurposed an old rubber swing seat and headed into the woods to rig up a zipline.
It has become my custom to begin every class period with the reading of a Psalm, and usually the same Psalm for each day of the week throughout a given quarter. Mondays, however, are different. We begin instead by reading from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, which is a potent reminder for all of us that the time for rest (Sunday) is over and that the time for study and labor has come again.
Dead Poets Society is a truly great film—if for John Keating alone. It’s Robin Williams at his best: a mentor authoritative yet tender, aristocratic yet plebian—a wise teacher balancing on the knife’s edge between the pater and peer. Who doesn’t rejoice at the demolition of the textbook? Who can hold back his soul when Williams performs his John Wayne Macbeth and Marlon Brando Marc Antony—rigor mortis jawline and all? And is there any teacher in film more iconic than Mr.