Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Tale of Two



Last week we lost two originals. I hope they don't come in 3s because right now we can't afford another. Authenticity was the name of their game. No prisoners. No compromises. Just one dose of the hard truth after another. But what contrasts. Howard Zinn was increasingly visible in his last years. A People's History is just beginning to get some widespread attention. It's use in classrooms increased with the wonderful work of Bill Bigelow from Rethinking Schools. Fortunately this work began before his untimely death because we need Zinn's perspective and his innate sense of democracy all the more now. He knew that real history is not top down, that it is comprised of all the people from all the levels of this culture; all their experience too. His books ring with heartbeat of what this country is all about. Howard Zinn once said:
“Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, U.S. actions have been uncivilized and inhumane.”
Works for me. I'd love to teach a course based on this contention. Of course Zinn's works would be required reading, but I wonder if students in such a class could support their ideas with other documents. Howard Zinn showed us where to look.

We knew where J.D. Salinger was hiding, but he would prefer we didn't come calling. He was essentially gone for 50 years. But the widely read author of Catcher in the Rye probably said what he needed to say in the few works we do have. In all the pop culture eulogies of Salinger I've read in the last few days, very few seem to understand some of the basic themes in Catcher. They all focus on the disaffected teenager's expression of angst, the rebelliousness from a conforming culture. They miss the death of his brother Allie. This point was effectively addressed in a brief essay I read in the S.F. Chronicle last week. No surprise it was written by a high school teacher who has had the privilege of discussing catcher with his classes for 20+ years.
One of the most haunting images from that novel is Allie's baseball glove with poems written all over it. That's the Zen Koan that Salinger has given us.
My favorite quote from the novel comes near the beginning when Holden says, "It was the kind of day that you thought you were disappearing."
They are gone now but forever appearing.

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