The Loss of the Creature Commentary


–The highest role of the educator is in the maieutic role of Socrates: to help the student come to himself not as a consumer of experience but as a sovereign individual (Percy 47).In the selection from The Loss of the Creature by Walker Percy we are again confronted with the idea from “The most photographed barn in America.” When the barn became labeled as “the most photographed barn in America” it became part of a packaged experience to those who either saw it by accident or sought it out as a tourist destination. It was no longer about the barn and the qualities it possessed that inspired the original photographer, but instead it was about experiencing taking a photo of the barn. As in The Loss of the Creature, the barn article also presents the idea that a way of rediscovering the barn is by observing those observing or experiencing it. According to Percy one cannot see the object by looking directly at it.


Most education has become a prepackaged experience. We have expectations for the classroom and our teachers as well as for what being educated will do for our lives. An educators job is to help students break free from the experience and the expectations to discover the beauty of a Shakespearean Sonnet or the originality of the dogfish. However, according to Percy, any attempt to help students do this “succeeds in becoming, for the student, part of the educational package” (Percy 63). I think on this point I am not entirely in agreement. I think Percy is stating that attempts to help the student discover knowledge in an original and meaningful way is impossible and that the only thing educators can do is help their students become “sovereign individuals” (Percy 63).

To explain my point I am going to refer to a discussion that we had in class. When talking about the possibility that teachers can learn from their students, Adam mentioned that with certain texts there are specific bits of knowledge that students must glean from the pages and he helps them do this with carefully guided lessons that lead students from point to point. This is an example of a prepackaged, expected, and, for the current high school classroom, required educational experience. Flash-forward to a college literature course where the instructor has detailed knowledge of every page in a text with notes of every agreed upon interpretation and yet designs his or her lesson to allow students to determine what in the text is of note and meaning. In the college classroom the students are discovering the text in an original and meaningful way with the help of an instructor aren’t they? On this point I am not sure. I agree that it is still part of the experience but I do think that educators can be successful at helping the student discover the “creature” even while I admit that by presenting them with a specific text we are presenting them with a packaged experience(Percy 47).

Working at the community college I have seen many students that are so wrapped up like mummies in the educational experience that any opportunity to discover knowledge passes them by. They are, as Percy names them, “consumer[s] of experience” (Percy 63). They go to class, turn in homework, take tests, and write papers not in pursuit of knowledge but in pursuit of the college experience and what the experience will bring. Their classes are taught with a lot of guiding from one point of knowledge to the next and they are trained to regurgitate the right or accepted knowledge on demand. Could we call this group of students educational tourists?

3 comments for “The Loss of the Creature Commentary

  1. James
    March 31, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Yes, I think that most students are “educational tourists” but that it is possible to show them how to see “The Creature.” That is, at least, my goal in teaching composition. To break the experience in interesting ways, so that they are never quite sure what is going to happen next. This semester I have altered the schedule somewhat randomly. Mondays we meet in the classroom to which we are assigned. Wednsdays we sometimes meet, and other times they are instructed by email tuesday night to not go to class, but to catch up on their reading, or to give a reading response to an article that is introduced without warning. Fridays we have class outside. The first week I did it without warning–just walked into the classroom at 8:05, and said, we’re going for a walk in about five minutes, anyone not here by then will just miss out. Then I talked for a few minutes and when 8:10 came I walked out of the room saying, “follow me.” and took them over to the peninsula between the creek and the pond at the western edge of campus.

    Now they know to wear a sweatshirt on Fridays, and they are writing like madmen, all assignments are posted to blackboard, and there are well over a thousand individual posts this semester. I told them that if they wanted to be in this class they had to work, and I had a full roster with nine on the waitlist. Now I have twenty seven because I also told them that if they wanted to be there they would be welcome, and I figured that the lazy ones would quit after a week. It worked, I only have two extras, adn since I am only teaching the one class, two extras is not impossible, and I did not want to turn anyone away. I’m just a little short on sleep and my family doesn’t see me much. I know that at least one student has gone and talked to Dr. Wolfe about becoming an English Major because they have never taken a class like this, and they like it.
    And, I made them read “Loss of the Creature” too.

    I don’t know if I’m lucky, or cursed, but they are learning to write, and they are learning to break the package.

  2. tbell
    April 1, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I agree with you in the fact that I also believe students can see the creature even if they are given a packaged experience.

    I still in a gray area about the educational tourists. Is there experience of college any less real or genuine? If this is what they want and what they expect, I might argue that to alter what they do would then destroy their experience.

    What do you think?

  3. James
    April 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I would say that the packaged experience needs to be destroyed so that they can find out what they want. To expect a twenty year old to know what they really want out of life is asking alot. I am not saying that they have to look at anything in the way that I see it, that would make me no better than their priest or their parents, I just want them to look at it from angles that they have never considered before, and then choose which on that THEY like best. I have made a bunch of bad decisions based on my upbringing, and I have made many more based on what I want to do, but I regret very few of them because they have allowed me to see the world in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. In teaching composition, we are not teaching science, or geography, or even a language, we are trying to teach people to think for themselves, and to render the product of that thought into text. That is a different sort of goal than getting a good grade on my Anthroplogy final, and requires a different approach. And I got a good grade on my anthro final because I took it from a different angle. In this country we need people who can think, and who enjoy it, like a junkie needs heroin, and in teaching composition that is how we do business. We teach them to think for themselves, and that requires that you break the mold once in awhile. Percy is good for that specific purpose. So is ethnography.

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