. . . she recalled how difficult it was to get fully certified by a byzantine school bureaucracy. The examiners had her explain a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and told her afterward she had given “a poor interpretation.” Having been blocked once before because of a trace of a greenhorn accent, she refused to be stopped a second time.
So she did what any true aspirant would have done: she wrote a letter to Ms. Millay and had her evaluate her interpretation.
“You gave a much better explanation of it than I myself should have,” the poet wrote back, and the chastened examiners saved face by urging Ms. Kaufman to try for the license again.
This power of story goes beyond one poem and what’s in work-school words like teacher, certification and accountability. It’s about human identity, who we are and how we came to be and what to do with it.
Her grandfather was the great Yiddish storyteller Sholem Aleichem, a writer who was able to squeeze heartbreaking humor out of the most threadbare deprivation and wove the bittersweet Tevye stories that became the source for “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Some snooking around about that:
Stubborn symbolic belief in “who we are” beyond all reason and science is all some folks have, the only story with any power to put them on top of a social group, and so they are willing to turn the sciences of larger society upside down, on the basis of that belief.
I was struck by the segment on how Black leaders and Jewish leaders fell out with each other in the civil rights movement, not because anyone was “wrong” or because they wanted to, but because what they really were fighting for was the right to define themselves . . .
Favorite Daughter who self-studied American feminism describes for example, the same complicated split into competing (often bitter) camps between the establishment Carrie Chapman Catt and the more radical, militant Alice Paul.