Delight Springs

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

All teachers should be required to stop teaching

Thus spake Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe. I'm still raiding the vault. From March 2007:
My old friend at ESU in Alabama (we go way back, to before the Sellars-Quine Kitchen Debate mentioned a couple of posts ago) and I recently were discussing a mutual favorite, novelist Richard Ford. Ford, A. noted, is a masterful chronicler of the often-riveting varieties of ways in which his Everyman heroes (and we) try and fail to lose ourselves in the everydayness of quotidian life. (Like me, I think, A. prefers the Existentialism of fiction to that of philosophy.)
Ford's Frank Bascombe has now taken the stage in three outstanding novels, with the publication last fall of Lay of the Land. He is an older, wiser, more secular Binx Bolling (Walker Percy's "seeker" in The Moviegoer), who comes at last to understand that "a practical acceptance of what's what, in real time and down-to-earth, is as good as spiritual if you can finagle it." And: "Here is necessity... to live it out."
Bascombe, now more-than-slightly past mid-life and momentarily weary of becoming, hungers for necessity ("something solid, the thing ‘character’ stands in for") and Permanence. The trouble is, "Permanence can be scary. Even though it solves the problem of tiresome becoming, it can also erode optimism, render possibility small and remote... down deep inside [to] become just an organism... This you need to save yourself from, or else the slide off the transom of life’s pleasure boat becomes irresistible and probably a good idea."
I met Ford about ten years ago, and expressed to him my admiration for a particular passage in the first Bascombe tale The Sportswriter (1986)--
"Real mystery—the very reason to read (and certainly write) any book—was to them [his teaching colleagues] a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words. In my view all teachers should be required to stop teaching at age thirty-two and not allowed to resume until they're sixty-five, so that they can live their lives, not teach them away—live lives full of ambiguity and transience and regret and wonder, be asked to explain nothing in public until very near the end when they can't do anything else. Explaining is where we all get into trouble. . . "Some things can't be explained. They just are. . . . It is better not even to look so hard, to leave off explaining. Nothing makes me more queasy than to spend time with people who don't know that . . . for whom such knowledge isn't a cornerstone of life." 
Such a stance is easier to sustain, of course, if you are a former teacher who has achieved subsequent success in other endeavors (fiction writing, for instance). But its wisdom occurs to me in the classroom just about every day, usually smack in the middle of an explanation.
In a future post I'll discuss the middle Bascombe book Independence Day (1995) and its striking parental wisdom -- striking in part because Ford is not a parent himself. DS 3.27.07
 I reposted this just because I like it so much, and because it's July and I'm as far removed from the classroom as I'll ever be, 'til they shove me out the door for good.

And, because that deluded but seductive quest for "permanence," that Platonic perfectionism Frank finds alluring but morbid, is an attitude we walkers implicitly reject. Nothing in this world is forever, nothing is fixed and final and at rest; and again, this is the only home we've ever known.

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