When I was a teacher, a pupil told me (as pupils will) a story about an incident in the classroom of one of my colleagues. I could never bear to ask the colleague about it, not only because it might look as if I was listening to tale-bearers but also for fear that the story might prove to be untrue. It was too good to check, as we journalists say.

This particular teacher was a great favorite with the late adolescents whom he taught. Though he was never merely slavishly trendy, he knew something about popular culture; though he never attempted to curry favor by pretending to be a teenager himself, he believed in that culture’s importance. Like many members of his generation, which was just too old to have experienced the liberation of the Sixties (I believe he got married in 1963, poor bugger), he indulged his regrets by cultivating a passionate belief in the intellectual seriousness of his...


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