Friday, April 15, 2011

Dr. Fleming on the origins of the jerk


A classical education had its advantages. It meant that most people who had finished high school had read many of the same books, which they could use as points of reference in a general conversation. A girl who was loyal to her family was another Antigone, a loyal wife was an Alcestis, and a strong but boastful man could be described as a modern Hercules. Sometimes the examples were negative. Some of Homer’s heroes are paragons of pride and selfishness who threaten death to anyone who thwarts their will. Achilles, who wants both Greeks and Trojans to exterminate each other so that he and his friend can have all the glory and booty for themselves, is perhaps the greatest Jerk in the history of literature.

He remarks on children:

To understand the inner nature of the Jerk, you have to spend a lot of time around children. As father of four and the former principal of a small K-12 school, I consider myself an expert in all the little ways that children have of torturing each other and the grownups who are condemned to be with them. A five year old boy wants what he wants NOW, and there is no point in trying to tell him it is time for his nap, or that he had already promised not to ask for another cookie only five minutes ago when, against your better judgment, you gave him a third one.

One must be careful of romanticizing childhood or spoiling children, but time in a public school should be somewhat of a cure.

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