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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 729 Response

Bewildering Stories discusses

Busy Old Fool

Busy Old Fool, Unruly Sun” appears in issue 729.

a. What does it mean that the other students don’t laugh at Dr. Sanders but choose their own posters?
b. Dr. Sanders appears to identify himself with King Lear. In what way? Does he recall King Lear’s tragic flaw?
c. Dr. Sanders says his students hate him. Do they? Is he telling the whole truth?

[Bill Kowaleski] I had little sympathy for the pedantic teacher who refused to try to reach his students on their level. Shakespeare features intrigue, sex, humor, all things a teacher could use to reach high-school students. I had a great English teacher in high school who did reach us by understanding what in great literature could catch our attention.

As a character portrait of a well-meaning pedant who gives up trying to communicate with his students, this story excels.

[Don Webb] One of our colleagues was right: the pedantic teacher is a very sad case of hostility. I agree, and I see him as drowning in self-pity and self-absorption.

I foresee a potential problem. Some readers’ expectations may lead to misplaced sympathy, namely the cliché of the kindly teacher facing malevolent students. That sort of thing does happen, but not in this case; quite the contrary.

The teacher humiliates his students. And he gives them an impossible exam on Julius Caesar. An exam is a test of knowledge; creativity is better exercised in other ways. For example, the class could have spent an entire session discussing the quotation. The teacher could have started by writing it on the chalkboard and asking simply what the words mean. But that would have required listening to the students without belittling them.

Dr,. Herbert Sanders begins to teach only when he leaves. After he exits the classroom, the students begin to find themselves in the posters he’s taken down. An interesting lesson comes too late.

I’ve seen too many “Dr. Herbert Sanders” in my time. I consider the story a cautionary tale.

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