The Coriolanus Syndrome

By Campbell, David | Phi Delta Kappan, April 1997 | Go to article overview

The Coriolanus Syndrome


Campbell, David, Phi Delta Kappan


Mr. Campbell was beginning to hate those science teachers who handed out vocabulary lists to be memorized the day after "Nova" had aired another stunning show that none of them had watched, let alone thought to share with their students. It was just another symptom of his latest problem: the Coriolanus Syndrome.

You're angry, you know, most of the time." I immediately moved just one step below the panic button. I'm told that most men, with the exception of Woody Allen, avoid discussions about emotional states, especially when the other discussant is one's wife, who is almost always correct in her evaluation.

"I am?"

"Yes, you are."

"I haven't noticed any change."

"You never do. It's more like rage than anger."

I had to accept her diagnosis, even though I tried to resist. I thought these symptoms might simply be side effects of my lifelong affliction with Socrates Syndrome - i.e., my predilection for asking questions no one wants to hear. Lately I had been asking more of these questions and had been ignored even more than usual. For example, this past week in a committee "Let's Raise Academic Standards" meeting, everyone agreed that education majors needed more math. I quietly pointed out that most science education majors already took a number of calculus courses that they would never use and that those in other majors had selected their specialties in order to avoid taking more math whenever possible. I placed myself in that latter group and admitted that I had not wanted to take more math courses since I was 14 and yet had been forced to do so for 10 more years, after which I promptly and purposely forgot all of it.

Immediately, a severe oxygen shortage developed in the room as everyone simultaneously sucked in a deep breath. When the atmospheric balance was restored, and while my colleagues' minds were foggier than usual, I asked what I thought was a reasonable question. "And all this talk of writing longer research papers . . . why? Even here at the university only a very few people write such papers, and even fewer people read them. I don't know any schoolteachers who write 'papers' except when they're forced to by us." I was immediately banished from the committee.

Now that should have given me a clue as to my new problem, for I had long ago accepted an inevitable consequence of my affliction: I would either be ignored and remain obscure or risk becoming famous and pretty certain to meet an unpleasant end, as had Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi, Galileo, and JFK, to name a few of the better-known Socrates Syndrome sufferers. I opted for obscurity and thought myself very clever for having chosen one of the most obscure careers I could find - teacher education. Nobody pays any attention to anything we say - even our own students, for they know reality, while we talk about schools that exist only as fantasies in the fading memories of senior citizens.

I took my new symptoms seriously and decided to do a Web search on them: rage; anger; disdain; disbelief; growing intolerance; rejection of being a reasonable guy; refusal to pretend, lie, cover up, ignore, inflate, be "philosophical," sigh and exclaim, "Oh well that's the way it is . . . why bother . . . it's not a big deal . . . it all goes in cycles . . . why should I worry over it." The cross-references that emerged were interesting. See Holden Caulfield, Howard Roark, Voltaire, Moses. And then my combined symptoms merged into a frightening warning flashing across the screen: See Coriolanus Syndrome! Movie-style flashbacks invaded my consciousness - a line lodged in my storehouse of literary trivia from the Shakespeare play, about the noble Roman who was told he was "too absolute," his nature "too noble for the word rabble." But surely I was not so afflicted, so filled with disdain for that "rabble"?

"That's you," my in-home therapist proclaimed, after she heard the enumeration of Coriolanus Syndrome symptoms. …

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