“…so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.” — from the Down the Rabbit-Hole section of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
When Humpty Dumpty shakes hands with Alice he extends only one finger. In Victorian Days, when someone shook hands with a person of inferior social status it was customary to extend only two fingers.
One finger. What’s the one finger I keep wanting to spotlight for run-of-the-mill educators?
From June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901 — the Victorian Age — was a time when one didn’t talk in public in such a way, certainly not in classrooms. Not to professional academics. But today I am tempted to be quite vulgar in expressing my disgust with what’s being ignored in academia on all levels. Crucial matters, not just personal preferences of mine which I object to being omitted in virtually all school settings which hold captive student audiences during what’s traditionally considered their formative years.
You won’t find Lewis Carroll’s Alice books reprinted in Mortimer Adler’s set of The Great Books of the Western World, but I venture to state the following: It is permissible today to consider a person educated if he or she has not read, say, Das Capital, or books by Hegel and Freud, or indeed more than half the volumes in Adler’s series. On the other hand, I would not consider a person educated who has never read Carroll’s Alice books (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). Ditto for a number of other works generally ignored.
I have a personal library which I put together over many decades in academia and during worldwide travels; they include what I deem appropriate (but marginalized) works on all educational levels, for demographics all along the spectrum, covering disciplines ‘cross the board.
Whenever I apply for a teaching position — whether it’s at the university level or the K-12 level — I almost always offer to donate the singular collection and curate it. And in thousands of instances I’ve only had a handful of individuals ask me about the content of my collection and/or show any interest whatsoever in securing the exceptional works for their purposes. That should be instructive to any educator. It seems not to be, though. Few express puzzlement about the dynamic when made privy to it.
Recently, a charter school in Phoenix, Arizona, which had offered me a Social Studies teaching position for the 7th and 8th Grade age group, had a very strange response to my pressing the issue of where I might be able to set up the unique library on their grounds, since they had made it clear that the didn’t have much of a library to speak of. I was in the process of renting a truck to travel to their school with my collection. Initially, they seemed delighted that I had something so special to contribute.
“Oh, you can store your boxes in your classroom,” replied the principal. Neither he nor any of his colleagues had questioned me about what volumes I intended to bring with me. Nor did he act as if there was anything amiss in dumping many boxes of books piled on one another in the four corners of the classroom or, possibly, elsewhere… inaccessible for all practical purposes.
Needless to say, I sadly declined the position, the principal moving on, I imagine, to a candidate who presented…. no burden. Someone who required… no special consideration.
To me, this energy, these broad sets of forces, which I’ve experienced and shared repeatedly in one form or another with educators nationwide — some totally ignoring my gesture, some demonstrating a complete lack of curiosity respecting the works, some relating to my singular collection as so many boxes of nuts and bolts — is quite mystifying, disorienting.
I don’t really want to give “the finger” to the dolts. It’s not in my nature to do so. In fact, I truly hesitate to even use the word dolt in this piece. [Pause.] I certainly don’t take the lack of interest personally.
But I do see the interaction and lack of interaction as something out of the Alice books, confounding and a cause for deep concern. I’m not sure why yet, but it all conjured up the concept of Looking-Glass Self for me to some degree, a social-psychological concept which Charles Horton Cooley came up with — oddly enough — at the very beginning of the Edwardian Age (which followed Victoria’s demise)
Regardless, I think it’s clear that educators must indeed take a good look into the Looking-Glass.
There’s an asinine attitude toward books — quite dominant — that’s being covered up with concentration on pedagogical reading concerns and an unjustified emphasis on STEM subjects. The former, as a rule, place little value on what is read, and the latter are ruled by a utilitarian outlook. What would Alice say?
Truth be told, I think it’s time for educators to take a trip through the Looking-Glass.
To hear and honor its call for one and all.
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@example.com.