My son started a new school this year—the first time he’s been out of special ed since pre-nursery, when we began a long journey involving (and continuing to involve) terms and treatments and government programs like perseveration, occupational therapy, Carter funding…and also tremendous growth, creativity, and perseverance. Joe’s new school is the first he’s attended where academics, rather than behavior or socialization, is the primary objective.
With that has come great adjustment and a whole lot of work, and he’s done an amazing job of transitioning to a new building, new classmates and new expectations—with his typical outward nonchalance and somewhat zany humor.
One of the first things we noticed about the new school is that for the first time each of his classes has a syllabus and an organized schedule of homework and assessments. He had four quizzes his first Friday, which in our minds is being thrown into the deep end when you anticipate sticking a toe into the water, but he dealt.
I bring this up because Joe’s first book in English class this year is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. When I first saw this choice I smiled for two reasons. The first is that I’d read it and knew Joe could handle it and would enjoy it (and that if it indicated that the school was going to be this out-of-the-box, I was going to enjoy going through it with him). The second is that my mother always said that my big rebellion in high school was that when I was 16 I spent the entire year listening to a Walkman and reading Agatha Christie. (I saved the fun stuff for college…) If this leads to a parallel rebellion on Joe’s part, I’ll take it.
Then I started to re-read the book, and understood much better why it had been chosen. It turns out that this book—and a mystery in general—is an awfully good (and entertaining) way for 13 year olds to start really delving into differentiating among multiple characters who are introduced in quick succession; keeping track of plot elements (which may or may not be reliable, and are often times purposefully distracting or confusing); and trying to form conclusions as to who did it and how. And in this one, it’s so much about style and technique rather than an elegant conclusion that teaching it as an academic exercise works better than if it had been, say, the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where the unexpected and brilliant answer overshadows a pretty meh plot.
It’s also giving Joe, for the first time, a real insight into reading a mystery. He’s read adventures before, certainly, and Encyclopedia Brown, but never a straight-on adult mystery. In the past week he’s started looking through our bookshelves and showing a new interest in all those paperbacks. And now he’s also seeing that so many of my own clients’ books are mysteries, and it’s starting to make sense to him why I love them so much.
OK, so yesterday he left his math book at home and his hoodie in school—we’ve still got work to do! But it’s great to see that a school is willing to use mystery to illustrate literary techniques and tropes. Bravo, York Prep.