Search Inside: The Self and the Spirit

I’m sitting in Ahmanson theater listening to performing arts teacher Ted Walch. He’s telling his second period class about a very brief conversation he remembers having with his father in the 1950s.

“[My father said,] ‘Do you know about the birds and the bees?’ ‘Of course,’ I said. And he said, ‘Good.’”
I spent 45 minutes in the Self and the Spirit, a class which revolves around a William Wordsworth poem. As I walked out, I was struck by the distinct feeling that one period was not enough to get a handle on either the poem or the class. I could tell that it’s an intensely personal class: apart from the small number of students (eight this semester) and the not-so-subtle message sent by the course title, I was also clued in to the personal nature of the class by Walch, the creator and sole teacher of the course, who dropped autobiographical allusions into the discussion as if everyone in the room knew him like a friend. When Simon Steiner ’08 walked in late, the rapport was evident—Steiner tried to hand Walch a note and was dismissed with a wave. Later, Walch asked who had written the note.

“My mother,” Steiner said.

“And how is your mother?” Walch said.

“She’s great. She sends her regards.”

On the day I sat in, they were watching the end of “Splendor in the Grass,” a film based on the poem “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” from which the class takes off.
A discussion about the film, which deals with sex and sexual repression in the 1920s, prompted Walch’s recollection from childhood on the birds and the bees. Walch started the discussion of the film by asking two boys in the front row whether they liked it.

“It borders on chick flick-ness, just borders, but I don’t think it quite crosses over into chick flick land,” Walch said.

The conversation quickly took a turn for the soul-searching, as the class discussed the mood of the film and its success in capturing the pain of loss. Walch told the class about Beverly Sills, an opera singer who died in July.

“When asked near the end of her life if she was happy, she said, ‘No,’” Walch said. “‘But I’m cheerful.’ And I love that.”

Walch continued, defining happiness for most people as “benevolent monotony,” a sentiment expressed at the end of “Splendor in the Grass.” For me, the core of the student-centered class was summed up in one moment. As Ted Walch delivered his own opinions, he stopped himself: “I saw some hands here. I need to shut up.”

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