“But the little man suffered from imprisoned ideas, and was as restless
as a racer held in.”
-- George Eliot, in Felix Holt, the Radical
This year I have many of George Eliot’s “racers” in my English classes – kids who can’t begin to count all their spanking new, raring-to-go, but locked-up ideas. As I watched them in class last week, I pictured limitless numbers of ideas dashing here and there inside them – new-born thoughts as well as thoughts a thousand years old passed down to the kids through the generations. The ideas are surely full of frantic energy, eager to find some way to express themselves, but unfortunately the mental jails of teenagers tend to be taught and unyielding. As the kids sit restlessly in class, I can almost see them straining to keep control of their restive, ready-to-break-out thoughts. Of course, at times the thoughts do break free – in a burst of blurting, in a totally rowdy paragraph, even in a whole essay that’s blessed with both looseness and precision – but usually the ideas the students set free in English class are the tame ones, the trusted ones that can be counted on to say the right thing. This year perhaps I can convince the kids to cut some of the locks and let a few ideas fly around in freedom. They’ll have to go easy, of course, and keep some sort of control over their thoughts, but thinking freely can be a fun experience when you’re a freshman English student. It’s like racing around in the fresh fall air, just joining in with nature’s free ways – just reading and writing with wise and stirring spontaneity.