An unlovable character, sure, but he does occasionally spout a bit of wisdom.

I’m about halfway through John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. The reason, in fact, that I haven’t blogged in a few days is that I’m halfway through John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. And while I do apologize for my absence, I don’t apologize for being halfway through this book.

If ever I get enough time in my days to actually attempt novel writing, I would hope that I’ve read enough Irving for it to have rubbed off enough on me so that I might actually have even the tiniest smidgen of his talent.

What I’d like to share with you here is a little passage that comes early on in the book, that says a lot about both modern public education, and modern private education. In this scene, Eddie and his father have gotten lost on their way to the ferry, and they have finally pulled into a gas station to ask directions. Eddie is sixteen and a student at Exeter Academy. His father, Joe (Minty) O’Hare, is a teacher there and an alumnus as well.

They stopped at a gas station, where Joe O’Hare made his best attempt to engage in small talk with a member of the working class. “So, how’s this for a predicament?” the senior O’Hare said to the gas-station attendant, who appeared to Eddie to be a trifle retarded. “Here’s a couple of lost Exonians in search of the New London ferry to Orient Point.”

Eddie died a little every time he heard his father speak to strangers. (Who but an Exonian knew what an Exonian was?) As if stricken by a passing coma, the gas-station attendant stared at an oily stain on the pavement a little to the right of Minty’s right shoe. “You’re in Rhode Island” was all that the unfortunate man was able to say.

“Can you tell us the way to New London?” Eddie asked him.

When they were back on the road again, Minty regaled Eddie on the subject of the intrinsic sullenness that was so often the result of a subpar secondary-school eduction. “The dulling of the mind is a terrible thing, Edward,” his father instructed him. (pp. 38-39)

The dulling of the mind. What an incredibly apt description of what today’s public education does to our children’s brains. We call our children “bright”; then we send ’em off to school where all that brightness is rubbed off. Sometimes permanently.

Or we send ’em off to private schools where their minds aren’t dulled quite as much as in the public schools, but then the kids run the risk of sounding a bit too much like Minty. So, our choices seem to be: dull and sullen, or bright but arrogant. Where is the middle ground?

Oh, that’s right. In homeschooling.

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5 Responses to “An unlovable character, sure, but he does occasionally spout a bit of wisdom.”


  1. 1 Katherine July 1, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I love John Irving. But I’ve never read this one. Its on my list now. Which reminds me, my husband made lunch today and I thought of you and Eat Pray Live. He made fresh bread, chopped up tons of veggies, and served it with an Italian recipe: Melt olive oil and butter. Add scads of fresh chopped garlic and minced anchovies. Serve warm. It was delicious!

    But that isn’t why I’m commenting. I’m commenting because as I read that passage I wonder if Irving was making an ironic comment that the “educated man,” the Exonian, was the real fool there?

    Have you read Owen Meaney or Ciderhouse rules? Two favs of mine.

  2. 2 RegularMom July 1, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Ooooh, yes. I’ve read them both. I love Owen Meany. And I think you’re right. I think he IS poking fun at the Exonian. Other passages in the book do the same.

    And that meal sounds FABULOUS! I’m sitting here just drooling. Seriously. Drooling. And I just had dinner too.

    Last night I picked up a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. That’s next on the stack after I finish this Irving novel.

    ….off to find a snack…

  3. 3 Karisma July 2, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Or they send them off to the corner, as one of my dear blog friends pointed out to me today. She was traumatized for life.

  4. 4 SabrinaT July 3, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    It does seem we are creating an even bigger divide and using education to do it. I will have to pick up the book, I am in need of more reading material.

  5. 5 Mom #1 July 4, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Well it seems that is exactly what’s going on.

    I haven’t read that book. I’m smack in the middle of another book that Katharine recommended to me, so I’ll have to add it to my “to read” list.


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