Kirkus Reviews QR Code
TEACHER by Mark Edmundson Kirkus Star


The One Who Made the Difference

by Mark Edmundson

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50407-9
Publisher: Random House

The wry and affecting story of the teacher who got under the author’s skin and pointed his life in a new direction, much for the better.

Frank Lears materialized at Medford (Massachusetts) High School in the autumn of 1969 and poured a little Socratic juice into the lives of his students, Edmundson (Nightmare on Main Street, 1997, etc.) being one of those lucky enough to soak some of it up. Drawing an exquisite picture of the stark social dynamics in working-class Medford (his grandmother, a chambermaid who cleaned rooms at Radcliffe, was sometimes given unwanted clothing by the students and referred to it as shopping at Cumlaude), Edmundson remembers that the students lived to torment their teachers and strove to “turn everyday life into a species of our favorite diversion, television.” Edmundson highlights what a freak Lears was: He disdained the students’ bear-baiting while managing to open doors for them; he never curried their favor, though he always listened to their rare utterances intently, utterances that increased slowly throughout the year. A product of the late-’60s Harvard, Lears dealt from a whole new deck, encouraging his students to think, to take up a distanced position from their tribal beliefs to give them an unconventional look, to shape a personality and a distinct vision. Edmundson appreciates that the age was ripe for such a transformation. Yet he is still filled with admiration that a teacher was willing to point his students toward Kesey and Ginsberg and Malcolm X and then convey to them somehow that they must each find their own way, staying true to themselves, however full of danger such projects might be. As a teacher of English at the University of Virginia, the author measures himself against an impressive standard.

A small treasure, both Edmundson’s portrait of Lears and his high-relief, visceral snapshot of Medford.