When Frank Lears came to teach at Medford High School in the fall of 1969, he looked like easy prey to Mark Edmundson and his school-hating pals. At the front of the class, they saw a small, nervous man wearing a moth-eaten suit two sizes too big, with a large paperclip fastened to the left lapel. Lears, just out of Harvard, struck the class as absurd, the kind of teacher they could torment at will. And for some time, they did just that.
But Edmundson and his classmates radically under-estimated Frank Lears. Lears got rid of their tired textbooks and brought in Kesey, Camus, and Freud. He ran a group psychology experiment that no one in the room ever forgot. He opened the class to a panel of SDS members and a crowd of proto–Black Panthers. He risked life and limb in a snowball fight with Edmundson and his football-playing buddies. He shook things up.
Lears’s opposition to the lockstep life of Medford High got under the skin and into the minds of Mark Edmundson and his friends–friends like Dubby O’Day, a fatalistic goof-off majoring in spitball ballistics. The conflicting ways of life represented by Lears and Medford’s formidable football coach, Mace Johnson, confronted Edmundson with a choice. At real cost–the cost of conformity and belonging–Edmundson chose to go Lears’s way.
With a touching depiction of his father and of the deep grief caused by his sister’s death, Edmundson beautifully conveys the family he came from. He evokes the 1960s with all the era’s tumult and promise, and shows how Frank Lears started him thinking.
Teacher is a moving portrait of Edmundson’s transformation. It pays tribute to an exceptional man who, free in himself, struggled to make his students free as well. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to experience a miracle that turns our lives around. For Mark Edmundson, Frank Lears was that miracle.