Faith & Truth / On Reading / Poetry / The English Teacher / The Social Network

Something Worth Knowing

I happened upon this excerpted bit from an author I know precious little about. (And who trusts Wikipedia anyway?) :

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

― Neil GaimanThe Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

I’ve been a teacher for a while now. I’ve loved my students, loved my job, loved my colleagues, loved the responsibilities, challenges, successes, learning. Mostly, I remain unknown to the world at large, though a few in my little corner of it are likely willing to say “I knew her when…” and some might even remember me with more than a “WHEW!! Glad I survived HER!” mentality. I never grew financially rich, teaching, but I can’t say I’ve been poor. (and with my spending habits, I owe a deep “thank you” to my ‘dear and loving husband’ and provider!) I’ve walked away from teaching — and students and colleagues alike have witnessed the event. I’ve peered inside the minds of students through their conversations — in the air, and on the printed page. I’ve suffered the loss of both of my parents and my mother-in-law, and grieved in plain sight. “They don’t teach you anything worth knowing,” Mr Gaiman, is a bold-faced lie.

And if teachers, living out days, weeks, months, years of real living in the classroom don’t teach ‘anything worth knowing,’ which again I say is patently false, I still have an ace to play:

Literature teaches things ‘worth knowing.’ Do you want to know how to love someone? Read A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton will show you. Do you need to know how to be famous? Read the copious and wondrous works of CS Lewis. He points fame in the direction of the glorious One. Do you wonder about poverty and riches? Read Nectar in a Sieve. Thinking about walking away? Take a long look at Nora slamming the door on her doll house, or Edna Pontellier’s final Gulf swim. Wondering what goes on in someone else’s mind? Meet Holden Caulfield. “If you want to know the truth,” he’ll give you his version of it. Death is hard. Surviving it is harder. Poor Horatio. “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” What to say when someone is dying has a whole lot to do with the living, doesn’t it? Ben Jonson’s heart cracks — you know it does — pondering the weighty truth that his dead son is his ‘best piece of poetry.’ Reading that, our hearts crack too. 

With all the uproar over Common Core standards, teacher evaluations linked to student performance on standardized tests, social ills that plague public and private education alike, and the plain bad rap that those inside and outside the school walls proclaim, I can see why Mr Gaiman says what he says. But I know teachers. I know my content area. And I know this: for years and decades and centuries, many of us have been busy teaching students PLENTY of things ‘worth knowing.’

And for those of us far past the age of sitting in a school desk — we still have plenty to learn. So, go. Be with people — especially the young ones — learn from them, with them, through them. Teach them something worth knowing while you’re at it. And make time to read. Develop your own literacy. Be aware. Read the world. It’s happening before your eyes. Don’t forget that novelists, poets and dramatists artistically render our reality. Read them too. Life. Literature. Worth knowing. Teachers are teaching just that.



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