Friday, February 24, 2012


“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I heard this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown. . . .”
-- John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

"Clowning Around", oil on linen,
by Robin Cheers
     It’s always been interesting to me that Keats places an emperor and a clown side by side, and I’ve often thought of this unexpected pairing as I’ve paced around my classroom in my commanding yet strangely ridiculous manner. Keats suggests in his poem that there isn’t really much difference between an emperor and a clown, and I’ve gradually come to see that the same is true for a teacher and a fool. The emperor pretends to be brave and sensible while in his heart he hears himself laughing at his own foolishness, and something similar happens to me when I’m teaching. I see myself standing before my students like some sort of sage or magistrate, but at the same time I see the clown in me, the jester who jokes with “Mr. Salsich” to help him see that he actually doesn’t know much about anything. For me, teaching has become a pleasant and sometimes joyous play-acting experience, in which the teacher-actor prances around the classroom to create the illusion of expertise and wisdom, while the prankster inside him, the one who wonders why all things are absolute mysteries, wanders around in merry amazement. I enthusiastically play the prince and pilot for my students, hoping to help them in significant ways, but the comic in my heart has the truth of things, and smiles and sits back.

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