Teaching an Axe Murderer

Teaching an Ax-Murderer:

An accused and convicted one who is now appealing the verdict, in any case. The problem of having an accused murderer in your classroom is an interesting one; but I was more intrigued by this claim:

Perhaps I should change [the syllabus] all overnight, or at least drop the group-project requirement for this term.

As I considered eliminating one story after another, however, I confirmed what I had sensed would be the case: Every story on the syllabus had some degree of relevance to this crime and to these students. Each story seemed crucial for students to read and for me to teach. Even if I revised the syllabus, the textbook's table of contents listed comparable stories. In fact, the course came to seem like an emergency measure, something akin to academic triage. The universal truth and central questions within the literature invariably circled around some aspect of this student and the crime.
The question that interests me is whether (as the author seems to fear) the subconscious had taken over and caused her to draw up a syllabus oriented around the ax-murder of a family by one of its sons; or if, rather, serious literature will always be found to be relevant to such questions. It can be more-or-less relevant, perhaps; but the great questions certainly include family tensions and violence. I wonder to what degree it is possible to get away from them. If you had been teaching Louis L'amour novels, where the family is usually a bulwark against violence from the rest of the world, you'd still be thinking in terms of families and violence. If you were teaching Jane Austen, you'd be asking whether the pressures of the family on its members were unduly aggressive in forcing compliance with accepted social standards. Mightn't that lead to violence? And so forth.

When I was eighteen or so, one of the members of my old Boy Scout troop took his .22 rifle and killed his whole family -- starting with his little brother, then his mother, then his step-father. We'd known him for years and years; he'd been out on camping trips with us many times.

What is to be made of all this? Or of any of it?

I think Corb Lund has a pretty good answer.

To return to the story, then, the lady asks:
Was there a risk? If so, could I ensure my students' safety? Could anyone? How much time would it take for security to respond to a call for help? Of course, I obsessed about my own safety....
The song answers, "Always keep an edge on your knife... because a good sharp edge is a man's best hedge against the vague uncertainties of life."

And that's right, as much as "right" has anything to say about these things.

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