The Water Is Wide
By: Pat Conroy
Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (October 2002)
The Water Is Wide is the autobiographical account of Pat Conroy’s year of teaching on Daufuskie Island. An “educated” white man going to teach in an isolated black community in the rural south (in 1964) goes about as well as you think it would. But conflict between Conroy and the community disappears in an instant. They grow to love each other dearly. And about that time, the true villain of the book is revealed – the school administration.
Two of my favorite quotes:
My pre-Yamacraw theory of teaching held several sacred tenets, among these being that the teacher must always maintain an air of insanity, or of eccentricity out of control, if he is to catch and hold the attention of his students. The teacher must always be on the attack, looking for new ideas, changing worn-out tactics, and never, ever falling into patterns that lead to student ennui. Bernie and I both believed in teacher dramatics, gross posturings and frenzied excesses to get a rise out of dead-head, thought-killed students, who daily sat before us like shoed mushrooms. The master of clowns, Bernie could twist his face into a thousand contortions to get kids to laugh with or at him. Bernie would tell me, “Boy, keep them laughing. Make them laugh so damn hard and so damn loud that they don’t realize they are learning.” My tactics were different. I concentrated on variety as the primary method. Sweet talk, Shakespearean monologues, Marine Corps brutality, prayers—anything that could possibly inflame the imagination, even momentarily, of someone imprisoned in my classroom all day.
How could I compare or relate my childhood to growing up on Yamacraw? My mother’s reading to me each night was a celebration of language and tradition, a world of Mother Goose and lyric poetry, where Bobby Shaftoe goes to sea and intrepid, prepubic heroes stand on burning decks. My youth was a glut of words, a circus of ideas nurtured by parents dedicated to diplomas and the production of professionals from the tribe of children they sired. My youth sang the glory of books, the psalms of travel, of new faces, of the universe of Disney animation, of Popsicle sticks and county fairs, of parables of war spoken by a flight-jacketed father, of parables of love and Jesus sung by a blue-eyed mother, a renegade Baptist, a converted Catholic, a soldier of the Lord.