My 12th grade students read Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer over the summer and so we’re discussing it now in class. I love teaching novels that almost everyone in the class hates on their first read. And I get it; I can see why today’s 17 year old teenagers would hate The Moviegoer. It’s light on action and heavy on abstractions and is the product of an era distinctly not their own.
It’s the kind of book that’s better with the aftertaste of (at least some) life lived (and a solid pour of Basil Haydon’s).
But I love it because it’s a challenge, a challenge that keeps me grounded and focused on the reality of teaching.
My job as their teacher isn’t to convince my students that The Moviegoer is great or necessary or even worthwhile. My job is to be passionate and whole hearted and to help them ask the right questions. My job is to be a reflector upon which light shines and through which truth is revealed. I’m a signpost, to appropriate a Percy-ism from elsewhere.
After all, anyone who has kids or who has ever spent time with kids or, shoot, who has ever been a kid, knows that as soon as an authority figure begins to wax eloquent about how such and such or something is meaningful and worth attention ears close and minds shut down. The minute I begin to ask my students to “trust me, this book is worth reading” is the minute I’ve stopped teaching and started preaching. And there is a difference.
I’m not interested in convincing my students that a book like The Moviegoer is good. I’m interested in them discovering it for themselves. Actually, no. I take that back. If they come to love it then that’s great. I hope that happens. But what I’m most interested in is that they discover some truth in it. I want them to find goodness and beauty and to drink deeply of it, to be nourished and to grow and to be alive.
I want to teach my students to read well – and deeply – not because I want them to read good books by the bushels or stock their shelves with well aged classics. I want to teach them to read well because there is a God-breathed universe of truth available to those who, as Binx Bolling recognized in his own broken way, seek it.
I can’t, and shouldn’t, seek it for them. I can, and should, however, join them in their own searches.
That’s my job. That and to pray. The rest is up to them.