Georgia teacher uses typewriters to keep students away from computers
Rabun Gap Nacoochee School in rural Georgia seems like such an interesting place.
First, it’s a boarding school, which reminds me of Holden Caulfield, the fictional boarding school student in “The Catcher in the Rye”. Second, Rabun Gap Nacoochee School has students from over 50 countries around the world. Tuition fees for international students are over $ 60,000 per year
And third, they have Derek Demmler.
He was on vacation in Nashville recently when he saw my column in the newspaper. I started Project 88, named after the number of characters produced by my Smith-Corona 88 typewriter. I asked people to write about the monumental moments in their lives, their long-lost loves, the people who ‘they lost or anything else that’s really interesting that isn’t politics or an angry rant.
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Derek wrote me a letter on a typewriter with cursive font on thin parchment.
Derek is a professor of United States history. But his teaching does not stop there. He also sponsors the school’s creative writing club and teaches an elective creative writing course. He is known to wear a bow tie in class.
His creative writing students use typewriters.
You read correctly. In the age of smartphones, streaming, iPads and everything else, Derek is back to the future.
“I wanted them (his students) to have to think and be intentional with their words, to separate them from the computers,” Derek wrote to me in a letter. “I know I could have asked them to write this assignment by hand, but I thought it would be fun to hear the keys click.”
I am a strong believer in typewriter-inspired education. When I was in 6th grade in 1973, my wonderful crazy teacher (Robert Mitchell, RIP) encouraged us to sit anywhere in his class. Some of the students were seated on rugs on the floor, others on the countertops. I chose to sit behind the only typewriter in the class.
I became fascinated by the machine. It was an educational typewriter, meaning its keys weren’t labeled with letters. So I had to learn the keyboard to use the thing.
This is where my love for typewriters began.
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When Derek Demmler needed typewriters, he called his friends, family and colleagues. He was able to collect 10.
One of them was a portable Royal Red typewriter from 1932 with a trendy typeface. It was such a cool machine, Derek wrote, one of his students concocted a plan to steal it and bring it home to Eastern Europe.
“Unfortunately for her, COVID prevented her from carrying out her plan,” Derek wrote.
Typewriters became so popular with students at Rabun Gap Nacoochee that Derek placed a few in the dining room “so students could type poems or notes around Valentine’s Day for something special. ‘a little different”.
“It’s always a fun experience for me and for them,” he wrote.
Imagine a world in which students loudly type love poems in the dining room.
Fire flies or lightning?
I received a terrific letter from Alex Jahangir, chair of the Nashville COVID task force and surgeon at Vanderbilt. I had written to him explaining that I was a newcomer to Middle Tennessee, asking if he had any advice on my new home.
His response was a bit funny because he explained that he was confused when he received my letter.
“I didn’t understand why someone from Tennessean was writing me such a nice letter with a typewriter,” he wrote.
Alex explained that the secret of Nashville is that most people have a desire to improve the place. He has written about people saying hello on the streets and collecting food for disaster victims.
Alex has a dog named “Scout” which is cool considering I have a dog named “Boo”. Both are names from one of my all-time favorite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
In my letter, I told him that my 11 year old son had fun chasing fire flies. The good doctor informed me that these insects in Middle Tennessee are not fire flies. They are called lightning.
I will not repeat this error.
I was going to reserve this place in each column to list all the people who wrote to me. But the response has been so great, there are too many to list.
I can say this. Over the past week, I have received an average of over 10 letters per day. They come from 11 states: Tennessee, California, Arkansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Georgia, New Mexico, Indiana, Minnesota, Alabama and New York.
The most popular city for my pen pals (7 letters) is Franklin.
Remember, I type and post one response per day. So I might never catch up with my growing list. But I will try.
If you would like to write me a letter, here is my postal address:
1801 West End
Nashville TN 37203
I will try to answer as many letters as I can. I will choose the most sincere and best written letters as subjects for future columns.
Contact Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or [email protected] or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.