I just watched a DVD from Netflix called “The Hobart Shakespeareans,” a documentary about a fifth grade teacher in a bad neighborhood who brings amazing things out of his class, including a Shakespearean production every year.
Being a Shakespeare fan, I was excited about that part of what he does – and inspired, again, to want to teach a Shakespeare extracurricular at SCA one of these years. In fact, everything about this man's classroom was inspiring. But there was a particular moment in the DVD that won't let go of me.
The class is reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Specifically, they are reading about the moment when Huck is deciding whether he should turn in the runaway slave Jim (what he'd been taught all his life was the good, righteous thing to do) or not. He has written a letter to send to Jim's owner, and he's stewing over what to do with it.
I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I'll go to hell”--and tore it up.
The teacher reads this passage aloud to the class, and the camera closes in on one student. A ten-year-old boy following along in his book . . . with tears rolling down his face.
The teacher then asks a girl in the class to continue reading aloud from there. She starts to read and stops, too choked up to continue, tears rolling down her face as well.
Ten-year-old kids, so moved by the decision Huckleberry Finn just made as to cry in front of their peers over it. And I was so moved watching them, I cried in front of my TV.
This . . . this is why I teach. And specifically why I teach English. Because there is a Great Conversation happening out there that has continued for centuries, that is part of what makes us human beings created in the image of God and not simply highly evolved members of the animal kingdom. A Conversation that requires knowledge and understanding and critical thinking and time and effort . . . and that is worth all of the work that goes into it. A Conversation that leads us to what is means to be human, which leads us to the God who made us humans, which leads us to a successful, purposeful life.
I so want to open up my students' hearts and minds to join that Great Conversation. God grant me the grace to do that.