While in high school in 1969, Mark Edmundson knew what he wanted from life. Although he seemed destined to the fate of many in his working-class Boston suburb days of labor broken by nights of drinking and pool playing he had one great love: football.
In practice, he was a warrior, initiated into the cult of manhood by coaches for whom pain was a myth, sweat the coin of the realm and victory the only acceptable proof of effort. In his new memoir, Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, Edmundson recalls how he compensated for his nearsightedness by working harder than most of his teammates and relying on guts and determination. He also remembers the high school figure who most shaped his destiny.
But it wasn't a coach it was a slender, mannered philosophy instructor. As Edmundson relates in this touching tribute to the teacher who changed his life, his class wasn't sure what to make of Frank Lears on the first day of school. Lears wore secondhand suits, drank tea instead of coffee and arranged desks in a circle instead of orderly rows. The students responded with subtle, and later, not-so-subtle, defiance of Lears' authority. But Lears posed a greater challenge to his students' minds than they did to his authority. Even the steps Lears employed to counter the students' defiance didn't fit into the stereotype of disciplinarian that the kids were accustomed to. And despite himself, Edmundson found his thoughts turning to the questions Lears posed, implicitly and otherwise, in class. Eventually, Lears' influence would surface in the ways Edmundson reacted to the Vietnam War, race relations and a host of other issues. But while it changed his opinions Lears' philosophy class also had a much greater influence on Edmundson. True to its nature, philosophy taught him to think. Today Edmundson is an English professor at the University of Virginia, as well as a contributing editor for Harper's. Crediting Lears with setting him on the path to his vocation, he has written a humorous, vivid recollection of the friends, teammates and antagonists who accompanied him through high school in the '60s a memoir that is sure to resonate deeply with readers. Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and IT consultant in Indianapolis.