20: Education

I. Learning without education Momma coaches baby’s first syllables, cooing and hugging, repeating nonsense sounds, taking shapes like clouds in the sky. A fight with big sister over a toy, then—Truck. No alphabet, no grammar, but a first word from the iconography of desire. II. Education without learning Lectures, essays, tests, going through motions, here’s one who doesn’t care about the periodical chart of the elements, but would rather have his chemistry in candy bars, biology in kisses and hugs. Sitting in class, salt from glands under his arms is killing microbes, whose lives and deaths result in ammonium sulfuric compounds. This odor mingles with a strong scent of patchouli from the big girl in pants squirming in the next chair, motions whose meanings are not lost on him; he imagines he is sitting beside her by a fire; he is a little drunk, and so is she. She kisses him and he kisses her, over and over, sweating profusely. III. Learning by teaching I never know what books I might want for this class, where discussions often range over the whole geography of modern poetry. But how to get the books from home to class—an old portmanteau strapped on the back of my bicycle carries the load but flattens the rear tire. Now I might as well move in. Might as well throw in a toothbrush and sleep in the library. No need to be embarrassed; this is a form of real life, where poetry books are heavier than bricks; each word is a world that orbits the poem, the page, the book, portmanteau, bicycle, class, teaching (they call it), students turning their heads, and the university, tied together with bungee cords. IV. Learning how to teach These kids are all nice enough— individually—but en mass, in class, they are a slow beast—heavy, reluctant, one body, one head with face unrecognizable. What are the questions behind these eyes? The blank stare is more terrifying than a dozen tigers. I grab a chair, grab my books, the reasons the beast was born—but something went wrong, something deep and sinful, hidden from the light.

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