But boy, did we – the city as a whole – get one thoughtful Christmas gift yesterday from the New York Times in “Laws of Physics Can’t Trump the Bonds of Love,” a post in its Well column.
The incredible story/video package is by reporter Tara Parker-Pope and videographer Zack Conkle.
The story itself is drawn from Conkle’s short film “Wright’s Law,” about Louisville Male High School teacher Jeffrey Wright.
Conkle, 22, a photojournalism graduate of Western Kentucky University and a former student of Wright’s, told the Times he made the film because he got frustrated when trying to describe his former teacher’s flamboyant, energetic style.
The piece starts by profiling Wright as an example of what an engaged teacher can mean to students in the classroom and in their extracurricular lives.
Richard Suh talks about how he manages to fall asleep in every class except physics, which Wright teachers. Chelsea Fox describes Wright as the teacher she’ll remember when she’s 85 years old.
In the video, Wright is a showman, using home-built hovercraft and exploding gas to demonstrate the laws of physics.
Ah, but that’s just the beginning.
A student who says she’s been on her own since 15 talks about how Wright is the person she goes to with her problems.
And Wright describes hearing about everything from violent neighborhoods to abusive parents to abortions to runaways in his students’ lives of quiet desperation.
It’s why, he says, a one-size-fits-all education approach doesn’t work.
Then he goes home to his own problem – his son Adam, 12, who has Joubert syndrome, an extremely rare disease that leaves his son’s brain encased in a body that won’t respond.
Once each school year, Wright gives a lecture about his son and his views on the meaning of life, and it’s tough to watch without getting emotional.
From the Times story:
Mr. Wright said he decided to share his son’s story when his physics lessons led students to start asking him “the big questions.” “When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.” Mr. Wright starts his lecture by talking about the hopes and dreams he had for Adam and his daughter, Abbie, now 15. He recalls the day Adam was born, and the sadness he felt when he learned of his condition.
“All those dreams about ever watching my son knock a home run over the fence went away,” he tells the class. “The whole thing about where the universe came from? I didn’t care. … I started asking myself, what was the point of it?” All that changed one day when Mr. Wright saw Abbie, about 4 at the time, playing with dolls on the floor next to Adam. At that moment he realized that his son could see and play — that the little boy had an inner life. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”
Wright clearly trusts Conkle to tell the story, and gives Conkle total access to his classroom and to his home. But knowing the Jefferson County Public Schools system as we do, we wonder if Wright will end up getting slapped down for his extraordinary, inspired style of outreach teaching.
And if you really want the feel-good spirit to go away, read the comments in the story, which include some rather brutal opinions about life, love, religion and how our society values – or fails to value – teachers.