Over in A Writing Life today, there is a post that gives the background for this part of Symphony.
That uncorked the bottle. Neil leaned back with a bland look of false interest as Anne Marie Chang proceeded to pounce on his words and destroy his arguments to her own satisfaction. And, to judge from the sycophantic mutterings around the table, to the satisfaction of her friends. Her discomfort and anger paid him back a little for the morning he had had to endure, and he learned a great deal about Anne Marie and the shock troops for change that she represented.
She had, as she herself said, unfinished business with the school system. She had been leveled when she was in elementary school and she had never quite forgiven her teachers for doing that to her. She felt that they had been saying to her that she was unworthy, and she was determined that no child would ever have to go through that again.
“But you did learn to read under that system,” Neil pointed out, baiting her further.
Yes, she had, but it had been boring and repetitious, and while she had been rote learning vocabulary, the children in the advanced classes had been reading stories that were meaningful and enjoyable.
Neil pointed out, “But if you had not done the hard, rote work, you would never have made it to and through college, would never have become a teacher, and would not be in a position to push your theories now.”
That was not the point. She could have learned just as well — better — some other way.
They were late returning from lunch, and Anne Marie had to hurry her afternoon presentation. Carmen remained very quiet through it, and Neil knew that she was angry with him. That could not be helped. He had come here to learn, and the argument at noon had taught him a lot about the hard reality behind the slick presentation.
# # #
After the meeting was over, Neil and Carmen walked quietly out to the car together. Before she started the motor, Carmen turned to him and said, “Why did you take on Anne Marie at lunch?”
“That’s a hard question, Carmen,” he said. “There were several reasons I was aware of and maybe some subconscious reasons as well. The simplest answer is that I couldn’t take it any more.”
“Couldn’t take what? Her?”
“Sort of. Her pretentiousness was irritating, but what I really couldn’t stand was the way her followers ate up every word without thinking about any of it. I can’t stand stupidity — particularly among the well educated.”
Carmen digested this for a moment, then said, “What did you think of Anne Marie herself?”
“Before lunch, I thought she was a monstrous, walking ego without a sense of perspective. Afterwards — I still didn’t have much respect for her, but at least it was clear that she really believed in what she said. And that she really cares for kids and wants what’s best for them. Knowing that, I couldn’t quite dislike her. But if she is going to set out to be a reformer, she have an obligation to be intelligent about it.”
“You didn’t find her intelligent?”
“No. A good politician, yes; within the limited scope of selling a product, she was very skillful. But her arguments were full of holes. Why did everyone buy them?”
Neil fell to musing and missed the laughter on Carmen’s face. She said, “Maybe the smart teachers don’t go to conferences?”
“We were here, weren’t we?” he said. Then he saw the grin on her face and suddenly the world was a better place to live in. more tomorrow