I don’t know about morality – in children’s books or anywhere – but if we are going to continue foisting it on future generations, we should probably start from somewhere in the vicinity of the Golden Rule, then if we cannot figure out the specifics of how it is we would like others to treat us (like heroes? feed us cake?) at least we should hope they remember we have whole lives going on where they have not thought to look.
This seems like it would rate a couple of pages in just about anyone’s book of virtues, though we are rarely so forgetful as in the matter of how people spend their time outside the workplace, and with no one so demonstrably as teachers. Children express astonishment to be introduced to a husband or significant other or pet or (especially) offspring of their homeroom teacher who would (sensibly) keep these to themselves, though by middle school generally some little transparency has developed between kids and the grown-ups who teach them, and continues, I think, to develop through high school, through college (where maybe you’d have a smoke with your professors) right smack up to the minute we have children of our own - and proceed to forget it all over again.
Because what? This is a different generation of teachers? Better, stronger, less addled than the last? Granted, my children go to schools which are these days probably less tolerant of the sorts of kooky classroom characters whom I grew up extrapolating from their rambling non-sequiturs and curious punishments and regrettable grooming decisions, still I suspect - no, even hope - there’s some private subversiveness sustaining today’s educators. An eye-roll where we cannot see it maybe. Something they’re looking forward to that evening, possibly unsavory. Some little bit of fanaticism tucked away like invisible armor. God, anything to get them through an afternoon of parent-teacher conferences.
My Teacher’s Secret Life is initially memorable for JoAnn Adinolfi’s riotous, gravity-defying illustrations. Here’s a completely original, criminally under-recognized comic artist, and here is the place to start making that right. (Tina’s Diner would also be a pretty good place. The Egyptian Polar Bear. Outrageous Bodacious Boliver Boggs. Criminal, I tell you.) Stephen Krensky’s title also promises, and it delivers - by surprising. The teacher, Mrs. Quirk, is presumed to be remaining on the premises after school, and eating dinner from the cafeteria, and listening to the librarian reading from stories, and engaging with all of the other teachers in pillow fights, indeed the imaginary world of school after hours is sort of a bohemian fun house. This is simplistic of course, but it’s also kind of magical, and when Mrs. Quirk is finally revealed to belong to an ordinary family of her own (okay, on roller skates, okay, they appear to be flying) the distance between what we learn and what we are blessed to be able to imagine has never seemed so instructive.
Teachers are just the tip of this iceberg of course, but I think they’ve earned the view. To need to bear responsibility for the children at the center of twenty-seven separate universes – each of them always just a second from sticking scissors in their (or others’) eyes, or learning basic division or algebra, or getting left behind – then to be able to get on with a universe of their own, now that is a super power. Forget about morality. Let’s hope they take over the world.