Garret Keizer — a teacher, writer and thinker

The other day my friend Sam Young (who, by the way, is running for the Vermont House!), posted a comment on Facebook announcing that his high school teacher had been on ColbertNation. He attached the video for his FB friends to enjoy. (Sam is a computer wunderkind; I just tried to do the same and my computer had fits—so please,  just go to ColbertNation and you’ll find it!)

Almost immediately, the post attracted attention from other people his age who remembered Garret Keizer. He was one of those teachers people never forget.

The post was delightful, funny and provocative, all about Keizer’s latest book, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, a book about sound and how 21st century civilization can neither live with, nor without, the amount of noise it now creates. He’s especially intent on showing how noise correlates to economic and social class. Now that’s something I hadn’t thought about!

Years ago, after Keizer was a teacher in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, he wrote a masterful book about the experience: No Place But Here: A Teacher’s Vocation in a Rural Community. It was a book that actually made people want to teach.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve run into Garret Keizer’s work on many occasions, especially in the several essays he authors for Harper’s every year, most of which cause a shifting of the earth on its axis, a profound imbalance, the feeling that something important is coming unglued. The world is not what it seems and certainly not what it pretends.

However, personally, I remember Garret Keizer best for the preface to a book I had a hand in producing. At that time I worked at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, Vermont and had occasion to write a grant for a project that took John Miller, a very fine photographer, to Brownington Central School to work with fifth and sixth graders on photographs, drawings and writings celebrating the town’s bicentennial. The material produced became an exhibition, a book, and even a CD. Keizer agreed to write a preface to the book for us, and he turned out to be an almost perfect choice. What he wrote tells you what he thinks about community, kids and old people—which pretty much sums up what the book was about.

…. One might also find a suggestion, an appropriately quiet suggestion, that our best defense against the forces that are killing us is a deeper appreciation for those things that sustain life and make it pleasant and interesting. You will find plenty of those things represented in these pages. I wonder how many of Brownington’s young writers and artists recognize what a mighty document they have produced. The images we find in “Voices and Faces” are what an old man wants to call to mind at the end of his life; they’re the visions of an expectant woman when she rubs her stomach and smiles.

It’s not easy to make selections from this little book, but here are a few: some answers to the question: “Why should we learn about Brownington?” and an especially lively interview with one of the oldest people in town, and still going strong.

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2 thoughts on “Garret Keizer — a teacher, writer and thinker

  1. Beautiful post. (I would add, however, that Florence Thompson isn’t deceased; she’s alive and well, and turning 100 in a few weeks. Just don’t tell her I told you that.)

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