By Ron Bergez
I began teaching when I was in grade eight at Our Lady of Victory School in San Francisco, and the third grade teacher– my sister in-law- used to let me sub for her math class when she had to be absent. I felt pretty clever. Later, after a dozen years teaching in various schools in California (and still feeling pretty clever) I took on a job as a Humanities teacher in a small charter school in Arizona. There I was given an article to read, based on a talk by novelist Flannery O’Connor, entitled “The Nature and Aim of Fiction.”[i] It led me to re-examine fundamentally what I do in the classroom. I haven’t been the same teacher since.
O’Connor says, “The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” A good story doesn’t just have a central idea or theme that the reader extracts, thereby “solving” what the story is about. Life and reality, in fiction and outside of it, are mysterious. Both operate at multiple levels. For me as an English teacher, this means that a book is not a puzzle to be figured out, but is a description of (mysterious) human experience to be contemplated. I must enter into the exploration – not the explanation – of each work, even each character, with my students. My authority is open to challenge: my experience may not be determinative. (There are students who know far more about various subjects than I do: any type of science; the higher realms of math; music; the list goes on…) The paradigm shift has taken getting used to, but it has been liberating. Continue reading Teaching Boys To Be Explorers of Mystery