“The first thing you need to know about Greek myths,” Mr. Venza replied, “is that they are absurd. Unrealistic. They couldn’t happen in real life. But,” he said, hopping off his desk and starting to meander through the rows of students, “that’s fiction. It doesn’t need to be one hundred percent realistic in order to teach us something. That’s the difference between English class and history class. In social studies, I’ll teach you the facts as I know them, how the world knows them. But in English—language arts—the rules are more flexible.”
I was sitting up so straight, I thought my spine might snap. I wanted to write down on paper what Mr. Venza was saying and then go home to try and make sense of it. What did he mean about English being flexible? I put my hand in the air slowly, like the air was going to bite me.
“What do you mean about the rules in English? Shouldn’t they be the same as rules in social studies?”
“When I say rules,” he said, “I really mean outcomes. Results. When we learn about the Minoan eruption later this week, we’re going to read reports of how the volcano devastated the city of Santorini. Everyone in this class will come to the same conclusions about the effects of the disaster. But when we read a short story in our anthologies about a boy growing up in ancient Greece, you all might come out with different feelings about it. Two people might disagree about the point of the story. One of you might feel sad at the end, while another of you feels inspired. Do you understand what I’m saying?” he asked me.
I wasn’t completely sure, but I nodded anyway.
He seemed to realize I was just humoring him, because he continued to speak. “There isn’t one right or wrong answer when you read a book, just our opinions. Now, I know this might sound different than what other teachers have told you, but it’s what I believe. So when we start talking about stories, never be afraid to say what you feel. You won’t be penalized for it.” He looked at me again, and this time my nod was genuine.