Positioning Popularity Properly


“Frequently the cock combines the lifting of his tail with the raising of his voice. He appears to receive through his feet some shock from the center of the earth, which travels upward through him and is released: Eee-ooo-ii! Eee-­ooo-ii! To the melancholy this sound is melancholy and to the hysterical it is hysterical. To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.” — Flannery O’Connor

“There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” — Flannery O’ Connor

I knew Flannery, and I have an obligation to her… even though she’s long gone. In fact, she’s never been gone for me. Every day since she died on August 3, 1964, when I was preparing to teach my first university class, I’ve thought about her. About her work… or her faith… or the facts of her life, like her having to endure the excruciating pain of lupus, having watched her father succumb to the same disease a few years before her own difficult death. Knowing full well what was in store for her in every terrifying step ahead, shoring up the courage to write while she suffered immeasurably.

When I cover something like “Parker’s Back” or “Wise Blood” or any one of her wondrous works, I can light up the very souls of the students. For they’re often able to smell my connection to Flannery’s creativity, and that has blended within it the visceral appeal of acknowledging God within us all. God is not dead. We’ve just put him in a coma, my Southern mentor might have said.

Educators — as a rule — have to, or want to shy away from The Mystery which Flannery had absorbed in her blood and bones. Not me. I see the value of respecting what we don’t know, the importance of coming out in the classroom and clearly stating that Science and Technology, so in vogue at the moment in educational circles, don’t enable us to know very much. In fact, the popularity of STEM — as a rule — rules out the possibility of one being humble (as is absolutely necessary to be educated) in the face of The Mystery. The stance that educators generally take toward STEM programs precludes students embracing what is most valuable in this troubled world. Clouds over the Universal Umbilical Cord, if you will.

Lewis Carroll’s 1871 Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There underscores the importance of putting Science and Technology in their proper places. That perspective is not to be found — for a number of reasons — in the 2016 American fantasy adventure film version, even though half of the people who saw it liked it. The sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) deserves to be read leisurely, as it easily — clearly — puts to bed the ignorant worship of an educational attitude which — at bottom — is all about tearing the wings off of butterflies to learn what makes them beautiful.

I can feel Flannery smiling ear to ear as she hears me ranting and raving about how such cinematic trash compounds ignorance with ignorance. Playing with her peacocks in Heaven.

Around the time I first met the great author — the incomparable artist and singular soul — there was a saying that one would hear on occasion. It went, “Fifty million Frenchman can’t be wrong.” It was a comment on how popularity could be a guide. [Pause.] No.

If Flannery were alive and at the podium today, she might easily say that they’re almost always wrong. And, then, add, “Ditto for over three hundred and twenty-one million Americans.”

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected].



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