A Head’s Guilty Pleasures

As a Head of School people often want to know what I read. They want to get to know who I am personally, and delving into my reading record seems like the best way. Do I read newspapers or magazines, novels or collections of poetry? As a former English teacher, I take my reading seriously. It’s a reflection of my passions and my pursuits, but it’s also a way to reset my brain after a hectic day.

Not surprisingly, one of my most recent reading acquisitions was a gift from my partner Liz. For my birthday she gave me The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. The book contains pieces of stanzas and poems as they were originally written by Dickinson: on small scraps of paper. Each piece of paper is reproduced in actual size and displayed in color, and this book is about both the creation and form of her poetry. It’s a wonderful read.

From there the reading list is filled with some predictable texts (works by Elizabeth Bishop and John Keats) and some more contemporary texts (P.D. James’ and Elizabeth George’s mysteries). The former are tried and true favorites I return to, while the latter are authors I seek out when I need a break, a fun and enjoyable respite from the daily grind. I do read the newspaper, and I feel very luxurious when I can read The New Yorker (poetry first), but I must confess that I have something even guiltier that satisfies my need for deep character development and intellectual engagement. Television.

We read for many reasons. We want to learn, we want to be entertained, we want to reflect, and we want to probe. With the quality shows that are coming out today (think House of CardsBreaking Badand Downton Abbey) we are able to satisfy these needs via a new medium. This is not to say that reading no longer holds importance in our society or my life; rather, these new shows are intellectually engaging in ways that only reading was 20 years ago. Shows like House of Cards develop a crisp narrative that truly reveals ambitions and motivations behind corruption. Breaking Bad recalls Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the ethical consequences of unethical behavior. Downton Abbey reminds us of the commonality of those with privilege and without.

So what does all this television watching and analyzing mean? Where are we going with our relationship with TV? There are many places to find intellectual engagement in our daily lives, and there are many ways to reflect on culture. But, more recently, it is through these new television series that we’re able to find through lines on class and privilege, place and expectations. We live in a world that allows us to insulate ourselves from currents events, yet I’m learning to expand my world and understand others’ perspectives in new and exciting ways. And when it really comes down to it, being able to converse about House of Cards or Breaking Bad or Downton Abbey has allowed me to connect with those around me. It’s a new means of sharing an experience and a new means of engaging in my world.


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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2 Responses to A Head’s Guilty Pleasures

  1. I’m with you, Travis, about using great (and I really mean “great”, not merely “good”) television as a means for in-depth discussion with our kids about character development and values. For years, I have been using TV as a means to teach my kids, but only when used with a DVR: we watch, pause, discuss, answer questions, then continue. I think the invention of the DVR is one of the most powerful ways to teach because it turns TV from a passive recreation to something stimulating and wholesome, especially when used in the way I describe.

  2. Travis says:

    Dear Robert, Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I love this idea of expanding the “text” that we engage in as teachers, scholars, and artists. Keep the comments coming. Travis

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