The technology of literature, pt. 2: thoughts on teaching

Another great enjoyment I can only now receive from reading Jane Eyre is the extent to which the book makes pedagogical points. Jane is a teacher and a governess, as well as a remarkably sensible, sensitive, and independent role-model. She points out important aspects of the job–even to the 21st century teacher.

In Chapter 34, Jane is closing up the school house for winter break, and Mr. Rivers accosts her as she bids her adoring students farewell. Brontë is un-apologetically nationalistic in Jane’s claim of her students’ superiority to any student from one of Britain’s rivals:

If they were tested today, Jane’s British girls would kick a– on the PISA.  The nationalism behind the panic in Obama/Duncan/Rhee/Gates’ eyes, one sees here, is nothing new.

But I especially like how her overly-reasonable cousin, Mr. Rivers, points out the nobility of a teacher’s work–how at its best, this job is its own reward:

Yes, there is something inherently satisfying about helping other humans, but teachers still deserve payment. However, what an eloquent description of the teacher’s job:  doing “real good in your day and generation,” and “regenerating your race“! Wow. Although American society is depreciating teachers, they should try to remember this truth about their jobs–they really are the shapers of the American “race.” What could be more valuable?

But Jane is no slave to her teaching. She recognizes how exhausting it is, and will not buy into Mr. River’s missionary perspective on her work. Answering his suggestion that Jane spend her life devoted to teaching, she replies realistically:

Let’s hear it for Brontë’s call to balance–enjoying one’s “faculties” even as one labors to “cultivate those of other people.” Hers is an important reminder–there must be moderation in a teacher’s career.

Coming off of a diverting Spring Break full of educational journeys not related to the school, I can attest to the necessity of such breaks. As W.B. Yeats writes, “Too long a sacrifice/can make a stone of the heart,” and sacrifice is the teacher’s daily duty. And so a teacher needs a break,  as blades need sharpening, days need night, or sports need seasons.

In  Jane Eyre, then, we find another example of good literature’s salubrious functioning over time and space. The book inspires readers thousands of miles and centuries away from its creation.  Literature: what a technology!

screenshots taken from the 1854 version of Jane Eyre on Google Books

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