Friday, December 11, 2009

Teachers

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) is a novel about a teacher whose influence would shape the lives of her students during the 1930's. Miss Jean Brodie is quite a character in Marcia Blaine School for Girls, a prestigious school in Edinburgh, because of her unconventional teaching methods.

Her students would be known throughout the youth as Brodie's lot.  Monica is smart but has anger issues. Rose is "famous for sex." Eunice is athletic. Sandy is insightful. Jenny is pretty. And Mary is dumb. Each character has her own peculiarities.

Instead of strictly adhering to hour-long lectures, Miss Brodie would tell her love stories, her trips to Italy, and her issues with the school administration. Education, according to her, is guiding the students to think for themselves.

The Headmistress who promulgates educational orthodoxy scorns her. If she wishes to teach "progressive" ideas, said Miss Mackay, she should work in a public school. But Miss Brodie would hear nothing of this.

Almost a spinster, Miss Brodie falls in love with a music teacher and an arts teacher. At this point, in the year 1931, her students are beginning to learn about sex. Everything suddenly has a sexual contest, and their naive conversations are both innocent and funny.

Muriel Spark does not write linearly. In one part, Sandy is already speaking as a nun. Or Mary has been killed in a fire. But the transitions are fluid. Time Magazine refers to the author's descriptions as stinging. In one episode, the Scottish teachers are described as saying good morning "with predestination in their smiles." Yes, there are many funny allusions to Calvinism here.

The books is short. I almost finished it in one night. All in all, the novel reminded me of my teachers who, like Miss Brodie, affected me in more ways that I could imagine.

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