Raising the bar, dimming the lights

“I’m Mrs. Jacobs, Jacob’s mom,” she announced as she reached to shake my hand. “I’m here to check on his behavior in your English class.”

College prep? Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in “Pride & Prejudice” (© 2005 Focus Features)

She smiled, her bright, artificially whitened and perfectly spaced teeth reminding me of a movie star.

“Mrs. Jacobs,” I said, “so good to meet you, come in, and sit down.”

Her extreme pleasantness made me wonder what she had in mind. She followed me into the classroom, scanning the movie posters I’d stuck to the walls. As we sat, she pointed to the slightly racy photo of Gwyneth Paltrow from a 1998 release of Great Expectations.

“I see you’re watching Dickens. How do your students like it?”

“Oh, they find the plot a little complicated, but not half as challenging as the black-and-white 1946 Alec Guinness version.”

She sighed, her unspoken criticism of my methods now surfacing like a bubble in a witch’s cauldron.

“I’d heard from Jacob your classes are required to watch the same book twice. Do you think that’s wise?”

“It helps the students focus, to see another perspective.”

Mrs. Jacobs stood, her finger starting to wag in my face.

“What’s the point if they’ve already seen it? You know, at home, Jacob has an extensive collection, including the classics. He loves watching books. I’d hate for school to ruin that.”

Plain speaking

I let the silence after her rant fill the room, then stood to meet her glare.

Not as faithful: Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in “Pride and Prejudice” (© 1940 Warner Bros.)
Not as faithful: Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in “Pride and Prejudice” (© 1940 Warner Bros.)

“Mrs. Jacobs, this is a college prep course. If Jacob can’t handle the extra work, well, maybe he should transfer to a Twitter class. Next week we’ll be watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley, followed by the six-part BBC version with Colin Firth from 1995, and then the five-part BBC miniseries from 1980. If there’s time before mid-terms, we’ll take in the Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier production. It did, after all, receive the 1940 Academy Award for Best Art Direction, despite its unfaithfulness to the actual book.”

Mrs. Jacobs could tell I knew my stuff, and she backed down.

“I’m sorry,” she said more quietly. “I guess I got carried away, but I worry so much Jacob will get confused and end up hating movies.”

Not to worry

She reached to wipe a tear away. I handed her a tissue.

“I’m sorry, too,” I said, “but don’t worry so much. Jacob isn’t likely to get confused. He sleeps through most of class.”

“Really?” Mrs. Jacobs brightened. “You aren’t just saying that to make me feel better?”

“No, it’s true. He even snores a little.”

We both laughed a bit, the tension easing. By the time Mrs. Jacobs left, she knew I was right, that nobody truly appreciates a good book the first time he or she sees it. 

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.