The Lesson

By CG Brik

There is a student and a teacher. By the end of the year, so the teacher claims, the student will read the text.

Everyday the student shows up and refuses to learn for two reasons: he can not or he will not. The student can not because of twists of fate and capricious circumstances and inconvenient genes and irredeemable family ties and hostile environments. The student will not because there is no interest, no point, no profit; only wasted effort and time.

“Why are you here?” The teacher demanded justification from the student.

“I’m not allowed to be anywhere else. Why are you here?”

“To help you.” The student would suck his teeth at that and nothing would happen or the two reasons would be repeated.

When the student was feeling playful, he’d reply, “To get paid, the same reason as you,” while fingering a contraband baggie deep in his pocket.

One day, the teacher shows up and says: “I quit.” The teacher, for the first time in the student’s eyes, assumes a casual, relaxed posture, takes a seat, and begins toying with a puzzle. The puzzle is the only other entity in the room.

He tosses it aside. As the student curiously picks it up the teacher coyly taunts: “There’s a secret and I bet you can’t figure it out.”

“How much?” The student is standing now, holding the puzzle in two hands.

This is their most rapid exchange after being with each other five days a week, four hours a day, for five months. They come to an agreement upon a sum. This is nothing to the teacher, but now, the student has the possibility of getting paid, changing everything.

“How do I do it?” asks the student. The teacher manifests a manual and places it in front of the student. “How do I…?” He couldn’t bring himself to utter the word, read.

“There is a list of definitions, an overlay, and an alphabet in the desk.” The student reached in—and so there was.

“I’m going to prove you wrong and I’m going to win that bet.”

The teacher sat and watched as the student got to work.

In a very short amount of time relative to the institution’s allotted scope and sequence, not to mention experts’ expectations for the student, this young person learned to read, comprehend, and analyze the high lexile instruction manual, which meant that most texts of importance and value in society were now accessible to him.

The puzzle was solved. No special secret, no extravagant winnings. But the student didn’t care. He had experienced a textual awakening, and the world and his potential had grown exponentially.

“You made me aware that I have no limitations!” The student practically shouted with gratitude.

“But what did you learn?”

“I learned to read and persevere.”

“Yes. You did. But I did not teach you. I played a trick on you.”

“A worthwhile and effective trick, I’ll say!”

“If you say so. But what was the lesson?”

“The lesson? That I can do anything? That hard work and grit pay off?”

“Yes. You can do anything. You can do anything if…”


The teacher leaned forward and spoke very softly: “If you serve somebody.”

And the bell shrilly rang, signalling the termination of their time together.