Hey class, now that I’ve made a surprise entrance into the classroom by smacking the school bully around the back of the head with a ruler – thereby reminding that asshole that, despite his over-zealous bravado, he’s low on the pecking order in the grander scheme of things – I’d like to inform you of changes to the infrastructure of high school English Literature, which means that we will now be spending the entire year reading only one book, which will be by Salinger, Plath, or Camus, and the only theme we will be looking at is how the novel can be compared to your own teenage tribulations. As I write my name on the chalkboard (which may seem confusingly antiquated considering that this is a school with a healthy amount of funding in the year 2016, but I insisted on it because I hate modern technology), I will tell you about my impressive background, which involved travelling around Europe for a year, completing a Master’s degree at NYU, and having several of my plays performed on Broadway. For those of you who have always dreamed of escaping this backwards country town which I have no qualms against being relegated to, I’d encourage you to gasp in unison and look at me with awe. For the rest of you, feel free to laugh and clap once I’ve finished writing and you discover my name is “Mr. Horsecok”, and I will too laugh merrily and make a few jokes at my own expense, because, in addition to being vastly more qualified than all the other teachers, I am also the most relaxed and free-spirited.
Even though I am by all measures the most intelligent and educated one in the room, with infinitely more emotional maturity and life experience, I have a feeling I’m gonna learn just as much from you kids as you’re gonna learn from me. In my previous school, for example, I had a student who was very nervous about wearing braces, fearing that the other students would laugh at him. And they did, at first. But he came in every day with a huge smile on his face, and showed his bullies he wasn’t going to be intimidated by them. That taught me an incredibly vital lesson about perseverance, individuality, and acknowledging that true beauty lies on the inside. That is far more important than the many linguistic and analytical skills I taught him, which eventually landed him a place at one of the most respected universities in the country.
Take a good look around you. Odds are, by the end of the year, at least a quarter of these students will have dropped out in order to pursue a subject that will look a lot better on a C.V. If you want to avoid being one of them, please laugh at my literary jokes. I will also appreciate if you took on an attitude that was self-deprecating about your choice of subject’s lack of career prospects, while simultaneously feeling a sense of superiority over the students who aren’t studying the liberal arts. Feel confident in the knowledge that, even though they may be learning practical life skills, you’re learning about the true values of life – and also that, if your bitter memoir about your distant father and the girl who rejected you in middle school doesn’t find a publisher, you can always opt to take a law conversion course.
Without further ado, it’s time for my lesson on Salinger, Plath or Camus. I’ll discuss the theme of individuality, conformity, true love, or growing up, and the introverted kid in the back who has so far been feeling uncomfortable around my open and jokey demeanour will suddenly lift up his head and realize the many similarities between the book and his current life. After all, when you really think about it, Hamlet’s indecision over whether to murder his uncle in an act of vigilantism which contradicts his internalized Christian principles, is really a mirror of his inability to decide whether to go on a date with Nicki, the impossibly popular yet completely vacuous cheerleader who he’s pined after since he was 11 – and has always been aware of his crush and asked him out the day after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend in a ploy to make him jealous – or to stay with Nicky, the friend he has recently become romantically involved with, who is funny and artsy, as signalled by her short purple hair and nose ring, but also frumpy and self-effacing, and comes with some complicated baggage he’d prefer not to deal with.
As he’s deep in thought, reflecting on this, probably whilst staring out of the window at something that reminds him of one of them, I will ask him what he thinks about the statement I just made, jarring him back into attention. As he stutters and sweats, I will playfully scold him and tell him to see me after class. During this meeting, I will tell him that he needs to pull himself together and apply himself to his studies, but he is one of the brightest students I’ve ever encountered and has the potential to accomplish great things.
That concludes my 3-minute-long lesson. Because I am youthful and free-spirited, I won’t ask you to write a formal essay, but instead invite you to perform a creative piece based on your own experience with the book. Who knows, maybe somebody will decide to perform a light-hearted rap, and we will all laugh at the incongruity of combining popular black culture with highbrow white literature, because we are assholes and the only pieces of black culture we consider to be respectable are either incredibly whitewashed or about slavery.
Over the weekend, I’d like to remind the introverted boy to run into me as I have an argument with my girlfriend in the street, as she berates me for my immaturity and various failures in life and the fact that I prefer to hang out with kids half my age because they don’t yet have the maturity to tell how much of a failure I am. At first, he will be angry at me for projecting an image of success he looked up to which masked my insecurities, but, by the end of the year, he will hopefully learn a valuable lesson about the dangers of idealising anybody, and how most adults are just as confused as he is.