Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I walked in some wide-open spaces this morning, feeling full of the freedom I so often miss in day-to-day matters, and it made me wonder if I could provide more of this kind of sweeping, unfastened freedom for my students. I have often heard people say something like “Give him some space” and “I need my space”, and perhaps space is, in fact, one of the pressing needs of the students in my English classes. It strikes me, when I give it some thought, that my students may feel hemmed in, constricted, and confined much more than they feel free; they may feel more like prisoners than travelers in wide open spaces. This saddens me, because nothing should be more liberating than reading and writing, and to think that these hopefully refreshing pursuits might be construed as imprisoning by the students is, to put it mildly, distressing. Of course, the learning process is often, by necessity, rigorous and constricting, and studying a Shakespeare sonnet is not, at every step of the way, a liberating experience. However, there has to be some way to ensure that the sudden sense of intellectual and emotional freedom will be a regular occurrence in my classes; otherwise, I am little more than a warden instead of a teacher. Somehow I have to make it possible for my students to occasionally (like every day) feel as free as I felt in the unfenced meadows and pastures this morning. Writing and literature should do that, after all. Even if composing an essay is plain hard labor, I must somehow enable the young writers to feel, albeit when they read just one of their sentences, the joy of having made something that has a kind of boundless beauty. While rigorously working through a Joyce short story, there should be at least one moment of sudden deliverance from ignorance for each student. Even if they don’t “get” the entire story, surely – if I’m doing my job – I can show them some heights where small but indispensable truths can be touched, and where their little lives, and mine, can feel suddenly as spacious as summer fields.

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