Hello dear reader(s)!
I have a couple of favorite books. One, is The Velveteen Rabbit, because it may be the first book I ever read on my own, and was certainly my favorite in childhood. The second, are actually a series of books called Wingman (with various additional titles) that was written for pre-teen boys likely (except the sex scenes could be pretty graphic) but were the best thing a pre-teen boy could read. The third is To Kill A Mockingbird, because, duh. And the final favorite is Fahrenheit 451 because I absolutely despised it.
Allow me to ‘splain.
The book was required reading for me twice during school. The first time, it was in my 7th grade English class with a teacher I hated. She was more concerned with my bad habit of drumming with my fingers on the desk than with my reading comprehension. She told us what the book meant, and why we were supposed to interpret it her way. She formed our opinions for us. I couldn’t trust her opinions on books because we had just read one of her favorites, Of Mice and Men, which I still think is one of the most terrible books I’ve ever read. Why they choose that Steinbeck book instead of The Grapes of Wrath for reading in school is beyond me, but I hated it then, and hate it now.
So, after acing that class, with an F in Citizenship for the tapping…I quickly forgot about those books and abandoned any interest in reading them again. Read them, understood them, did my reports, forgot about them. Besides, there were girls to think about.
In 8th Grade English, (well, I don’t really remember 8th grade English.) There were girls.
In Freshmen English, I remember the girls. I remember reading a few books and doing reports on them, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. I remember being able to write short stories. I remember acting out the death scene from The Scarlet Ibis, and shocking the class by spitting out fake blood (corn syrup and red food coloring) all over the floor. I remember writing stories that would have gotten me expelled and possibly locked up if they were written post Columbine. Nothing about shooting up the school or anything, but pretty violent and really sexual. I remember my teacher hated me, but loved my stories, knew I did well in her class, and was forced to give me good grades. I even passed the second semester when I first began to ditch.
The most I remember about Sophomore English is because of the teacher. One of the greats. Mr. Green. I remember that Mr. Green knew I could read the books he gave the class two weeks to read during the period in which they were assigned. (Sometimes 2) I remember that Mr. Green promised not to fail me if I showed up on the book assignment days, the class participation days, and the test days; and that I still did well on the tests. He’d watch me read the book assigned, show up two weeks later for the discussion, and the next day for the test. When I aced the test, we’d get a new book the next week. Then he’d give me a heads-up when we were to write stories or poetry or essays, so I didn’t miss those as well. Mr. Green even stopped me after class on the way out and handed me a piece of paper with all the different ways in English the word “Fuck” could be used. He probably could have been fired, but I wouldn’t have said anything. I thought it was hilarious and I got treated like an adult. It was like college. He basically gave me the syllabus, and let me make my grade. It was that year that, thanks to the efforts of great teachers like Mr. Green, an announcement was made that starting the next year, the 4 full years of English requirement was amended to 2 years of the standard English, and 2 years of either the standard English (if someone chose) or new elective English courses. So toward the end of my Sophomore year, I signed up for Futuristic Literature, with Mr. Green.
And it was in Futuristic Literature with Mr. Green that we were again assigned Fahrenheit 451. Only this time, we were to read it critically. We read that, Childhood’s End, 1984, Brave New World… pretty much any book that offered a commentary on society in a futuristic, often dystopian world. He let us draw the conclusions and the warnings for ourselves. This class, was the first class since Kindergarten where critical thinking was actually encouraged.
Fahrenheit 451 was suddenly a new book to me. No longer did I have to swallow my 7th grade English teacher’s view that the book was just a work of fiction based on book burning and the Nazis. I got to read into it further and understand that the book was written during the McCarty era, that it could be interpreted more broadly as anti-totalitarianism, anti-censorship, pro-free speech, nonconformity, and stressing the importance of knowledge. Also, (and this is likely why I loved it so much more the second time), we were not given the mutilated (censored) copies that were handed out in 7th grade.
Mr. Green made me want to use my brain again. He taught. There was only one other teacher in my high school experience who actually taught, who actually allowed and encouraged us to think, but I’ll talk about him in another post. Mr. Green made me love to read again, after I really stopped caring about books. He got me more interested in politics and societal issues. He helped me to see patterns in order to make my own predictions. He, (combined with that other teacher) helped me to learn to look toward the past and be aware of the present in order to try for a better future.
He doesn’t teach there anymore, I checked. I don’t know how to get a hold of him. But if you are out there Mr. Green, who taught at my high school in the 90’s… thank you for saving my desire to learn, and giving me a favorite book.