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Story Archives

Filtering by Tag: 2015-09-18


Nicole Spector

By Nicole Spector

Every week it’s the same dream: I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve missed nearly an entire semester of Miss MacDonald’s AP literature class. Now it’s finals time. My alarm clock is shrieking. I’ve got twenty minutes to get to school and also, to read with great scrutiny, several books. The list includes obvious classics like Crime & Punishment and Madam Bovary. I haven’t so much as cracked the cover of any of them. I’m devastated. How could I have been so irresponsible?

Inside the dream, I panic. Knowing Miss MacDonald, one of the school’s oldest teachers (she's been there at least four decades), she won't go easy on us. She'll test our familiarity with the works down to utter minutiae. She’ll want to know what Raskolnikov’s room is like — how many feet long? What novel helped shape Emma’s romantic ideals? There will be long essays to write on the spot and no multiple-choice questions.

I must find a way to postpone taking this exam.

But it's not just Miss MacDonald’s disappointment that gets me. It's a deeper sense of failure. I remember something that happened when I first met her. This happened in real life, in the life outside the dream, but I remember it within the dream. I remember arriving early to her first period class despite my aversion to the morning. I remember dropping in after school to ask questions to which I knew the answers. It wasn’t because I enjoyed the class, really. It was because it felt good to watch her pale gray eyes light up with my phony enthusiasm. I guess I thought I was doing some kind of good deed. I perceived her as a lonely person. What I was learning wasn't about Raskolnikov's room. It was about varying kinds of generosity and sacrifice. Is that a better lesson?

Today I looked her up. She died a few years ago. I also found an old report card. She’d given me an A-.    


What have you learned from books?

What have you learned from other people?


Nicole Spector is a writer and editor in New York. She is the author of Fifty Shades of Dorian Grey.


Ben Greenman

By Ben Greenman

Kids study history. They go to school and learn about numbers for math and words for literature, but then those two roads converge in history. The Battle of Hastings was 1066. The Civil War ran from 1861 to 1865. Man went to the moon in 1969. Those numbers yoked to words seem like layered facts. In fact they are the opposite.

I have a kid. That kid studied history. He took exams where he was required to recall dates and places, dates and names, dates and events. No matter whether he conquered them or they conquered him, those exams left him cold. “I did well, Dad,” he said, depositing the paper on the table for me to sign. “I didn’t do so well, Dad,” he said, depositing the paper on the table for me to sign.

I have another kid. That kid studied history. He did not take exams where he was required to recall dates and places, dates and names, dates and events. His teacher refashioned history as a glowing line that wound through different places, names, and events like a live wire. The date sat atop the line like a suggestion. That kid did not take many exams at all. He wrote papers where he was required to trace that glowing line. It made him glow as well, no matter whether he mastered them or they mastered him. “I wrote about Ivan Krasnov,” he said. “He was a general for the Cossacks who defended Tagnarog but he also wrote articles. I wrote like I was him for this paper.”

The two kids are the same kid. The first transformed beautifully into the second. The first is now history.


What is the best way to teach?

Is every student different?


Ben Greenman is a NYT-bestselling writer and a contributing writer to the New Yorker. He divides his time between Brooklyn and Bergen County.