You are now at the place to be if you want to read my own comments about my novel, A Turn for DeWurst.
(If you’re looking for the place to leave DeWurst comments, go HERE.)
So, how about starting with a very brief indication of what the book’s about:
The story of A Turn for DeWurst is set in a fictional town called “DeWurst” where a brilliant ten-year-old novelist named Astrid discovers that there is something horribly wrong with her teacher’s soul. He does not seem to care about helping his students develop their minds, skills, and love of learning so much as he wants the children to obey him. And because Astrid is highly independent and way ahead of the class in knowledge and self-confidence, it’s Astrid whose spirit he most wants to break.
And he – Dr. Eberhard Helton – just keeps getting worse… or perhaps a better way to put it is that he keeps getting more power. And the evil that had been most acutely focussed on a ten-year-old writing prodigy now becomes everyone’s problem.
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A Turn For DeWurst. If you haven’t read the book yet, you may want to defer reading the rest of this page until later.
It was the fall of 1978 or ’79. A local school had been on strike for about 6 weeks. One evening I was washing the sink in my bathroom and listening to the news – children from the gradeschool or middle school were being interviewed about how they felt about the long strike.
“I’m so bored. I don’t know what to do with my time.”
“I’m afraid I’ll forget what I’ve learned this year and I’ll have to start over.”
I was contrasting what I would have felt at their age, considering that I had always believed compulsion in education was wrong, and that with books and the ability to read and write and ask questions that I could get a better education free of school than in school.
I asked myself: if teachers had gone on a long strike when I was a child, what would I have done? Most likely I would have seen it as an opportunity to show myself and my teacher that I was capable of far surpassing the schooling requirements and going way beyond the expected. In other words, I likely would have seen the strike as a chance to demonstrate that I didn’t need school or compulsion to motivate and educate me.
So if someone had interviewed me under during a long school strike when I was a child, I would have been able to say something like: ” Wow! This has been GREAT! I’ve gotten back my desire to learn and I’ve found out that it is so much more interesting when there’s no schedule I have to obey, and I can dig into a subject and explore all the questions and be creative with my learning, without having to worry about meeting the school’s schedule for the sake of grades. All of a sudden it’s really MY education instead of THEIRS. And I really hope the teachers stay on strike all year, because now that I’ve been able to do my education the way I dreamed of doing it as a little kid, I can’t stand to go back to school!”
I stood there in the bathroom with a sponge in my hand, thinking this would make a great story! Suppose teachers went on strike for a long time, and when the kids came back to school they had discovered during the strike that they enjoyed learning more, and learned more, using methods and motivations different than their schools provided?
Surrounded by tile and the sound of running water, I stood there thinking up a theme and a broad plot structure. I was very excited, because as a child I had promised myself that one day I would explain to the world what was wrong with compulsion in education and why I had cried so long and hard on the first day of kindergarten. I had promised that as an adult I would stand up for what I then called “right and wrong and freedom” and how the principles of liberty should be applied to education, as they should be applied to every human activity.
My original idea for fulfilling this promise, as it had occurred to me in childhood, had been that I would one day write about my first five years and how I had worked out my own guiding ideas about thinking and about right and wrong and freedom. And I would explain how compulsory school had clashed with my ethical principles. Plus school had also clashed with my way of coming at learning. It was such a horrible fit and was ruining my enthusiasm for the learning effort. My mind and my education were treasures to me, and the ways of public school were the enemy of those treasures.
But even as a child I suspected that I would write that account of my early accomplishments only for myself. I knew that what I had done was unusual, and that it would just be my and my mom’s assertions against the different experience of most parents with their kids and most people’s recollection of their childhoods.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on the world with my treasure exposed. But dealing with the issues in a fictional story – that I could publish for everyone to read.
And I could write the fiction for children instead of adults – because when I was a child I really needed to find someone out in the world that understood “right and wrong and freedom” and who took it seriously the way that I did. I had needed to know that I wasn’t alone in that conviction. But I didn’t happen to run across anyone outside my home who saw it the way I did until I was nearly twenty years old. That meant about 15 years of a certain kind of loneliness when I was away from my family (who did listen to me and support me). And that certain kind of loneliness did not make me eager to get out into the world as I approached adulthood.
For the childhood me, a book like the one that I was contemplating writing would have been a strong source of the hope and optimism that I had struggled to maintain through my school years. It would have bolstered my spirit from the day I started reading it to the day that I discovered the novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, who would then have taken over the job.
My growing up years would have been a lot happier for it. I may even have had the courage to take more naughty risks with my education, in a good way. (Astrid is a more rightly defiant child than I was. I created a heroine far more optimistic than I had been, and with a stronger stomach for external conflict and punishment.)
I had never intended to become a novelist. But now, standing there in front of a clean sink, I was in the grip of an old promise and a new idea, and that combination was irresistable.