Fiction as a perceptional lens

Library seen from outside in the dark
Books are windows, too.

Reading vintage fiction is a hobby and a compulsion for me. I not only enjoy old books, but also find looking at contemporary life through the lens of another era makes patterns easier to spot.

This week I reread A. M. E. Hutchinson’s If Winter Comes. First published in August 1921, it became a bestseller, going through 34 reprints by April 1923. If you aren’t fortunate enough to pick a copy for a quarter at a library book sale, as I did, you can read a digital version from Project Gutenberg.

The story is about Mark Sabre, a young man who was called “Puzzlehead” at school because of his extraordinary habit of being able to see anything from the other guy’s side. Mark has principles that he believes are absolutely true, but he doesn’t always find it easy to know how to apply those principles. Mark’s world is complicated, full of subtleties.

Mark’s ability to see how things might appear to someone else is in singular contrast to folks around him. From his wife to his boss, they are what Marks calls people of Conviction, with a capital C.

People of Conviction have rods and cones, but their brains perceive only black and white.  They absolutely believe that their beliefs are true, and they cannot imagine that any other belief could be held by anyone who isn’t at best a moron, at worst an immoral moron.

People of Conviction are righteous bullies.

Looking at contemporary life with Hutchinson’s novel fresh in my mind, appears that people of Conviction still hold the whip hand.  Puzzleheads are scarce, even in arenas where puzzleheaded people are most needed: politics and education.

Getting rid of the people of Conviction is impossible. Shooting them’s not legal, and, as Mark says, they mean well and they are often right.

Converting them may be impossible, too. They do not listen to anything with which they know they don’t agree.

Perhaps the only solution is to give them novels that let them a look at life through a different lens.

Photo credit: Windows and Books uploaded by sphaera

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2 Comments

Filed under Education policy

2 responses to “Fiction as a perceptional lens

  1. Your blog and your website are excellent! It's refreshing to find a teacher/professor willing to share such great teaching ideas. I'm a 36 year veteran of teaching both secondary English and freshmen college English; I have not yet found all the answers, methods, strategies for teaching writing and am always eager to for new ideas. Thanks for blogging and being so generous with your own experience

    Like

  2. Linda Aragoni

    Thank you for your encouraging words. None of us had all the answers, but by exchanging a few of those we've found with others, we all become better teachers. And we have fun doing it!

    Like

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