In 1969, Mark Edmundson was a typical high school senior in working-class Medford, Massachusetts. He loved football, disdained schoolwork, and seemed headed for a factory job in his hometown—until a maverick philosophy teacher turned his life around.
When Frank Lears, a small, nervous man wearing a moth-eaten suit, arrived at Medford fresh from Harvard University, his students pegged him as an easy target. Lears was unfazed by their spitballs and classroom antics. He shook things up, trading tired textbooks for Kesey and Camus, and provoking his class with questions about authority, conformity, civil rights, and the Vietnam War. He rearranged seats and joined in a ferocious snowball fight with Edmundson and his football crew. Lears’s impassioned attempts to get these kids to think for themselves provided Mark Edmundson with exactly the push he needed to break away from the lockstep life of Medford High. Written with verve and candor, Teacher is Edmundson’s heartfelt tribute to the man who changed the course of his life.
Like Dead Poet's Society, this memoir tells of an extraordinary individual who touched his students' souls and steered at least one of them Edmundson toward the life of the mind. Its setting, however, is not a New England prep school but a tough working-class Boston high school in the 1960s. Frank Lears, the young iconoclast from Cambridge, dropped into Medford High as if from outer space (On the first day of class, we saw a short, slight man, with olive skin... wearing a skinny tie and a moth-eaten legacy suit with a large paper clip fastened to the left lapel). He proceeded to plumb the depths of the jocks and greasers with depth, endurance, humor and wisdom (when Lears listened... it felt as though... you were being fed something, something very good and sustaining). The full cast of the '60s is here: SDS, race relations, Freud, sex and God. Edmundson's perspective, however, is not from the center of the swirl of politics and psychedelics, but from a boy on the brink of uncertain manhood. Lears seemed to me the spirit of the sixties... as much as the spirit of Socrates, says Edmundson, who is now a literary and cultural critic and professor of English at the University of Virginia. Free in himself, he tried as hard as he could to make others free. If the prose is at times larger than its subject, it deftly captures the spirit of the times. The carefully crafted vignettes can't help taking readers back to their own ordinary origins and cause them to reflect upon those teachable moments that made a difference in their own lives. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (Aug. 13) Forecast: An author tour to Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., will generate interest, as will probable media play from the mags Edmundson writes for, including the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, the Nation and Harper's. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.