Sep 19, 2007

why we teach literature

Two former students visited today.

One is finishing up her college degree in neurology. Her enthusiasm for her work diagnosing brain disorders, combined with her trademark eloquence and enthusiasm for the writings of Dr. Oliver Sacks, strengthened my faith that scientist-writers are not an extinct species.

The other is finishing up a turbulent career at Capital. I remember his patience-taxing sophomore days when he would say whatever bubbled up to the front of his brain, no matter how stupid, obnoxious, or profound. I was one of very few teachers who never kicked him out of class, and in retrospect, I'm not sure how I did it.

But it was a well-timed shove into the wellspring of American Lit by one of our elder teachers that pushed him into maturity. Today, talking with him about the universe, the future, small-mindedness, and the fundamental uncertainty of existence, I marveled at the power of Transcendentalist thought, nearly two centuries after Ralph Waldo Emerson re-entered the Ether, to reach across time and shake up a young man's life.

Books are powerful. Literacy isn't dead. We still have a purpose.

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