Thursday, November 3, 2011

The School-Donald Barthelme

           I have to say I really love this story. Even though it is dark and pretty disturbing I think it says a lot about education in America and the human condition in general. “The School” begins with the speaker, who we later learn is named Edgar, discussing all of the things that have died in his class with an unidentified listener. Everything from trees and animals to parents and even members of the class has died leaving this group of students with many questions. Their questions are generally only answered when the cause of death is evident to Edgar, their teacher. These simple answers do not satisfy the class, and they continue to prod Edgar for answers about the meaning and value of life.
            So, let’s talk about Edgar. This may just be how I read it, but his tone seems to come of as very indifferent. All of these things that die around him have no effect on his demeanor. He looks for the simplest solution as to why something dies and that is that. His attitude toward the death of all things, people, plants, and animals is the same. He doesn’t offer the children any solutions or concrete information on death and dying. From an educational standpoint he doesn’t take any of the opportunities the children give him for “teaching moments”. It is almost as if he is afraid to get into any deep discussion with the students who clearly crave that information and knowledge.
            Truthfully, I’m still not quite sure what I think about the children in this story. From an educational standpoint I see how their teacher fails them, but I don’t think that is the only meaning Barthelme had in mind when he wrote this story. Obviously they are deprived of answers to their questions, and seek to find meaning about life. This makes me wonder if maybe the children represent all people. We are always looking for the answers to questions that may not necessarily have concrete answers. Because children tend to be the most inquisitive of all human beings I can see why they would be used to represent that notion. In the mean time the adults in the story seem to have given up hope in searching for answers, and refuse to discuss the nagging question that plagues all people. What is the meaning of life?
            I can’t wait for class tomorrow, because I think this work could definitely lead to one of our best discussions so far. That may just be me though… :)

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed our discussion today!
    Here are my notes:
    Edgar continues to replace these pets that die. But how much is Edgar doing because he has to do it, or because it is what the curriculum calls for? When we do things simply because of tradition or because we are told to, we never stop to question what we are doing. Those actions slowly begin to loose meaning, especially if they are really serving no purpose.
    The children are being very existential. They are looking for the meaning to life. The sentence structure on the second page shows that the children’s questions are annoying Edgar. He becomes very short with them. When they say they are frightened Edgar tells them simply that they shouldn’t be frightened, but admits that he is also often frightened. In the end the gerbil walks in, and is a way for Edgar to further avoid the children’s’ questions.