When the thing that ultimately ruins you has begun, you don’t necessarily recognize it at the outset. In fact, you might not notice it at all.
Ben Jameson has begun teaching at a small private school in Northern Virginia, and he notices many things about his students, unlike seasoned teachers that have learned to look past these very alarming realities, he knows he must step in. Most people are familiar with the aphorisms about good intentions, so I’ll spare you. Three students have drawn the intense focus of his ‘calling’, for what sort of teacher would he be if lessons remained only in the schools classroom and corridors? How can a teacher guide their students if they’re distracted by abuses at home, too precocious and vain in their beauty or choosing to remain mute? It won’t be easy, but missions of salvation rarely are.
Over time he reaches each student with a quiet wisdom, drawing them out in lessons and writing , one involving about Hitler and the holocaust, hoping to inspire a particular student to see abuse for what it is. The trouble with young minds, as much as old, is you can guide them where you will but you cannot predict the turns thoughts will take, you can’t control what lessons they will absorb. Not even the most straight forward approach can predict the weather of the mind.
Just when he starts to make progress with one student, another demands his attention, a precious ‘dangerous’, beautiful young woman. What is on the surface doesn’t always belie what lies beneath, as with Leslie. A young idealistic teacher of 25 should tread lightly with a young girl, as much as he is learning that his teaching methods draw too much attention. Why not stick to the formulaic old ideas, the safe lessons. While it isn’t so much about subjects being taught, it’s disheartening how chained teachers are in instructing students in 1980’s (when this story takes place) and more so now. It’s as if the world prefers to prevent any ‘awakening’ minds.
Immediately with George I thought, this can’t be such an easy fix. Violence and anger have a mighty reach, abuse cannot be stopped by a few words- if only… It’s not necessarily about salvation, more a lessening? A hand reached out to a drowning boy, someone to say “you’re not a failure”. I must point out though, abuse is not a liberal nor conservative act- like most rotten things under the sun, it’s unbiased. The world is full of young men like George, but teachers put themselves at such a risk to appear human and they learn early in their careers not get too close. What a loss for the world.
Leslie got to me, girls aren’t wild and ‘dangerous’ without reason. There is a smug pride as Ben scratches the surface of this troubled young woman, but as with all things he learns never to gloat or call victory too soon. Too, he gets Suzanne to release her voice through writing poetry. He tries so hard to breathe life and strength into the lost students, to see past their retreating or abrasive manner and reach the core of their being to lift them. There are wins and losses, and one can’t know if having remained unmoved and distant might have been better. We can never know what never was, only the outcome of the actions we do chose.
School is an ever evolving experiment, private or public. Just How much are teachers allowed to get involved? Equally punished for showing humanity and for ignoring the obvious- it’s a never-ending tug of war. A teacher is never one thing. It’s curious comparing a veteran teacher to the fresh hope of a newbie. Ben learns the hard way how getting involved is a double edged sword. It’s a quiet novel, until the end.
Publication Date: December 12, 2017