Marion's Reviews > You Deserve Nothing

You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik
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Jul 09, 12

bookshelves: fiction

This book fell into my hands before I had read about the controversy of real life moral transgressions and violations surrounding its story and publication. Once I heard of those, I did feel a little conflicted about purchasing the book. Then again, do I submit the other authors I read to moral scrutiny before I buy their books? I really don't. Do I know about the spending habits, political orientations, and moral integrity of, say, owners of restaurants I frequent, and food products I purchase?

Very rarely.

So I bought it.

And I liked it very much. Though for perhaps different reasons than most reviewers. I didn't find the student-teacher-romance particularly thrilling, and was happy to see it didn't dominate the entire plot. For me, the book was about the relationships of students and teachers more generally: The tension of being in a place of power as we encourage students to think for themselves; the problematic desire to be liked and admired by students; the illusions of students that their teacher's approval means anything at all, that is, that a teacher might serve as a long-term judge giving meaningful validation to the student's thoughts and actions; the everyday problems of teaching things we love to students of a wide variety of backgrounds and encountering a kind of resistance against the great ideas that we as teachers and thinkers might find hurtful; and again, the attempt to break that resistance by working with charisma, manipulation, making oneself personable and apparently different from the other teachers to break through to the students on a deeper level.

This style of teaching is tempting - which teacher or professor of the humanities hasn't at some point experienced the exhilaration of a certain Dead Poets Society moment? - yet holds dangers that deserve discussion. Somehow the teachers in those stories, the teachers who really reach their students, who incite and inspire, always end up getting fired. Why? These elements of transgression, rooted in a passion for literature and a desire to make something 'real' happen in the classroom, are much more interesting to me, and raise much more difficult questions, than the fact that the book's author showed some terrible judgment by sleeping with a 17 year old who was a student at his school.
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