Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Back to the school of Oz


By Judith Tabron

It's September, and teachers' hearts everywhere are speeding up at the thought of catching up on copies of Education Newsletter, available in .DOC format from Memoware. (Well, some teachers' hearts, anyway.) Teachers can select from such juicy page-turners as "Supports and Impediments to Mathematics Reform" and "Classroom Discussions Can Enhance Student Writing". Meanwhile soon-to-be students are flooding Bed, Bath & Beyond trying to decide which knit jersey sheets would look coolest under the pile of "Widespread Panic" and "South Park" T-shirts that will actually serve as their bedding for the next nine months.

"It's kind of like learning the name of the Cigarette-Smoking Man in The X-Files; it removes some of the mystique"

I'd like to review some reading material for students so you'll have something to do after you pick out those sheets. After all, many of you just graduated from high school. According to sales statistics, every single one of you received at least four copies of Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go, a fine literary work; but one that tends to grate on the nerves the fiftieth or sixtieth time you hear it. Also, while Dr. Seuss has much wisdom to offer on the endings of things, September is a time for the beginnings of things-. Not just school, but also really important things, like fall flower beds and the realization that the fiscal budget your company started in July isn't going to make it to January, much less next June.

So it is that I'd like to recommend a rather different text for back-to-school, especially for you first-year college-bound types out there. I want to offer something the rest of you will enjoy, too, no matter what starts for you in September.

The Emerald City of Oz

Starting off on a new journey is a popular topic in the texts that schools like to assign for summer reading or for your first year. After all, whether you're traveling around the world to a big university or down the street to a small school, you're going somewhere where the rules and people and expectations will all be new. Your school might give you the Aeneid or the Odyssey, but if I had to pick a tale of travel and adventure and new worlds I'd offer you The Emerald City of Oz. You can download it from Mary Jo's E-texts at

What you miss in losing John R. Neill's wonderful illustrations (in the Palm format) you will more than make up in the joy of rediscovering this classic, if you, like me, read this as a child and haven't read it for a long, long time. L. Frank Baum's just-the-facts style of description and deceptively simple dilemmas and characters are oddly engrossing for any reader of any age. Like the Odyssey and the Aeneid and the Faerie Queene and other epics, there are monsters and magic and good and evil and the whole marvelous mix is reported in the same I'm-just-telling-you-what-happened sort of style.