Tilting at windmills, this Greenfield middle school teacher happily relates to Don Quixote
I took a picture of the back side of the school where I teach one morning. There’s snow on the ground, and the morning light is striking the bricks. The trees are bare and stark. The town seems to huddle, seeking refuge behind the imposing structure. In the foreground, you can see the skinny shadow of a solitary person, cast in the direction of the school.
That brings me to Don Quixote. We teachers wondered about teaching "The Adventures of Don Quixote" in our new curriculum this year. The students, though, seem to really enjoy laughing at the feckless old man who armors up and rides Rocinante, his nag, into battle with windmills and wineskins. What a foolish old man!
I asked my students to think how they are quixotic — like the Spanish wannabe knight who sees enchanters everywhere, and repeatedly falls on his backside, trying to right the ills of the world around him.
That sounds a lot like the job of a public school teacher to me.
Last year was a calamity at Greenfield Middle School. It generally felt like day-to-day survival. People left — teachers, students, administrators. It was bad.
This year is better. Still, every day, we mount up to fight the good fight in our classrooms. Every day, we come up against obstacles and fall short of the teachers we'd like to be.
Sometimes, it seems like we are being set up to fail. And the people who should be helping us are pointing at us and laughing. Foolish teachers, don't you know how budgets work?
The thing is, Cervantes didn't write Don Quixote in a vacuum. He fought in a sea battle against the Ottoman Turks, lived in fear of the Spanish inquisition, and was a starving artist. For all the savage satire that Cervantes aimed at the idea of the knight-errant tales of his day, he found his hero in the foolish man who read too much and went out into the world with his head full of stories and a thirst for adventure.
We live in a cynical age, just like he did. That didn’t stop Cervantes from siding with Quixote in the end, rather than the pointers and the laughers.
Come, dream the impossible dream with us.
Andrew Varnon lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and teaches English at Greenfield Middle School.