My Rundy

September 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm (Education, The Whim) (, , , , )

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(This is supposed to be a review of My Antonia, HPB Humble book club selection for September’s discussion.  But it’s not.)

With every book I read, I miss my high school English teacher more and more.  I’m nostalgic by nature, so this should not be misconstrued as any overly dramatic longing.  I only regret the times I was too exhausted to stay awake in class.  I want to hear him talk about something I’m currently reading that wasn’t part of the curriculum ten to fifteen years ago.  I feel desperate to hear his literary thoughts.

I miss Mr. Rundell – casually referred to in the classroom as Rundy – I miss conversations we never had.  Which is ridiculous.  Who misses their high school English teacher so much?

Sadly, it’s because somewhere in my seventeen year old brain, I was convinced that when I was a grown up, Mr. Rundell might be my friend – join my book clubs – hang out.  I always thought that if he hadn’t been the teacher and I hadn’t been the student we would have been friends.  I think everyone thought that about him.  He was so cool, but super nerdy.  He made being a little bit geek look fun.

At seventeen I was also convinced that I would never marry or have children.  I thought this because the love of my life had me pretty convinced we were never going to be anything other than platonic.  Now, we’ve been married for seven years and have a daughter.  The point? What I thought at seventeen turned out to be pretty irrelevant.  And the love of my life finally did fall in line with all of my heart’s desires.  So why can’t my old English teacher?

I want to hit him up on facebook like I do my old college professors.  Discuss random things that pop in my head as they come up organically.  Why shouldn’t I? I’m still paying for the degree that’s sitting in my closet with a dog chew tear in the corner of what was probably meant to look like very expensive paper.

Selfishly, and a bit stalker-like, every few years I start googling him to see if I can hunt him down.  Last time I was dying to discuss East of Eden (we read Grapes of Wrath for school) with him over a whiskey.  Now, it’s Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

I watched the new Gatsby movie with a friend the other night and all I could think was, “I would have loved to see this movie for the first time with Rundy.”  Even if it meant I had to sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair bolted to a crappy desk to do so.

People shape our lives in ways we do not expect.  I was always a reader, I always loved literature.  He did not ignite something in me that wouldn’t have already been there.  But the man knew how to balance that fine line between teacher and friend.  Teenagers really need to feel like someone is on their side sometimes, and Rundy had being on our side down pat.  There was a rapport that made us desire his classroom and approval alongside a pure, true teacher student ambiance.

I knew he was one of my favorite teachers then and there, but I never expected to actually wonder what he was up to or hear half his lectures in my head when I re-read old classics.  I especially didn’t think that I would feel the absence of his lectures when reading a title I didn’t even know about at age seventeen.

So this is not so much a review as an ode to my favorite English teacher of all time.  The tall, lanky, hunched-over-geek that sat on the bottom of his spine as he leaned awkwardly into the stool beside the podium.  The guy who had us write essays on Pink Floyd and Army of Darkness.  The man who arched his eyebrows at my best friend and me when I told him we were just friends and said, “Sure.”  I think he was the first person to get me wondering if I had a shot with the boy who swept me off my feet and became my husband.

This is an ode to the guy that made us think.

 

As for Cather’s work, I nearly died at a quote on page 187 by Lena: “[…] I don’t want a husband.  Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them, they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild ones.  They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time.  I prefer to be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody.”

I laughed and laughed at this.  Oh, Lena, how I thought that too!  But that post is for another day.

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The Price of Excellence

February 20, 2013 at 4:20 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have a love/hate relationship with education.  Or should I say formal education.

I love to read, I thoroughly enjoy research.  But most my teachers over the years would tell you I was a horrible student, if they even remember me.  My work was typically mediocre, often done at the last minute.  The ones that do remember me probably remember a fairly obstinate and argumentative irritant, not really someone you want filling out your back row.

EducationI went to a very expensive private university.  Between the severe debt it put me in and the obsession with appearances, it left a really bad taste in my mouth.  I think in many cases, college is pretty useless these days.  It doesn’t really prepare you for anything, merely gives you four years to either party a lot or exhaust yourself with work – depending on your financial situation.  I feel betrayed by universities and the entire education system.

Yet, I find myself longing for the chance to go back and get a frivolous Master’s degree.  I watch movies only to be wooed by the montages of students in glorious libraries.  I fall in league with nerds like Rory Gilmore and Felicity Porter and lean toward books like May Sarton’s The Small Room.

The Small RoomThe Small Room is a 1960’s novel about a professor teaching in a woman’s college called Appleton.  Don’t judge too quickly, it is most definitely NOT Mona Lisa Smile.  Instead it is a social commentary of the very tender and sometimes volatile relationship between teachers and students, and how an entire campus reacts to the scandal of the theft of intellectual property.

Rather than an emotional feminist vs. anti-feminist story one would expect from the setting, The Small Room is about exploring the many nuances of excellence in education… and the price of obtaining it for both teachers and students.

“What is the price? […] The price is eccentricity, maladjustment if you will, isolation of one sort or another, strangeness, narrowness.  Excellence costs a great deal.” – Carryl Cope of Sarton’s The Small Room.

Frankly, education is such a moving and sensitive topic.  Who isn’t brought to tears by Dead Poet’s Society? Who doesn’t stand and applaud Mr. Holland’s Opus or The Emperor’s Club? Who doesn’t watch Finding Forrester on repeat?

Then on the counter balance… Who doesn’t laugh their butt off reading Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase and acknowledge how utterly familiar it sounds?

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While reading, I imagined Appleton to be a smaller version of Wellesley.

May Sarton’s The Small Room is delightful and truthful.  Without full on hating on education altogether, it takes into careful consideration the heavy weight being a teacher or a student can be on a human being and their relationships.

“[…] before she went to sleep, she wondered whether just this were not what you did take on if you chose to be a teacher… this, the care of souls.” – The Small Room

I have a 1976 Norton Library edition (featured above) and I fell in love with the book immediately.  Long before I picked it up to read it, Sarton’s novel was part of my personal collection.  I remember being so struck by the green leafy cover, the musty smell, and the promise of imaginary academia while holding the book in the used bookstore.  The novel has lived up to the promise of its cover (and its smell!) and I think any alumni or teacher would appreciate the ethical discussions within its pages as Sarton and her characters attempt to define the price of excellence.

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