EMPATHY

GARDNER SPEAKS

When I taught English in a small-town high school, one 10th-grade class included three tough girls. Theresa was bright and literate but she hung out with Laura, who was attractive, hard as nails, and totally uninterested in anything I had to say. The third member of the trio, Charlene, had neither Theresa’s intellect nor Laura’s looks. She was actively resentful of any attempt to interest her in books or similar objects of instruction.

None of the three was openly defiant, but their looks of “Why don’t you get lost?” when I tried to suggest the joys of literature or self-expression were discouraging. At the same time, I couldn’t mind their resistance too much, since this was the 1960s and I was engaged in my own rebellion against established notions and directives.

Also in the class was Margie, who always looked sad and defeated. She was overweight, afflicted with acne, and…

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