I was excited about class on Friday because we were going to discuss Wallace Stegner’s “Town Dump,” a beautiful essay about his Canadian childhood. Students generally like the essay because of Stegner’s vivid descriptions of the items he finds at the local dump. Since the essay is told through the eyes of a seven year old, it is easy for the reader to understand how fascinated the young boy is with a catfish who may be the devil, or the leeches that cling to his skin, or the mounted goat’s head that he takes home until his mother makes him return it since it is full of moths.
One of my favorite sections of the essay is when seven-year-old Stegner writes a letter to a company and receives a form letter as a reply. The “windowed envelope” from people who are “his truly” becomes a treasure that the boy carries around for days.
At the end of the essay, Stegner asserts, “The dump was our history and our poetry.” Usually, students enjoy discussing how a dump is our history because it holds everything we have ever used and how the dump is like poetry in that it holds items that are memorable but not useful. We then continue the discussion by telling about items that we own that other people would consider unimportant or useless but we keep them because they are important to us.
Yesterday, when I asked students what they thought of the essay they had read for homework, most of them had not enjoyed it.
“Why?” I asked in disbelief. Although most of them could supply explanations such as it did not tell a story, or they couldn’t relate, or they didn’t enjoy his philosophical views, some students answered unemotionally , “It was boring.”
“It was boring!”
Nothing kills a teacher’s enthusiasm faster on a Friday afternoon than to hear a student reduce a marvelous work of literature as “boring.”
Some days teaching would be easier if I turned off the lights and showed a movie, even a boring movie!