The Simpsons—the best teacher in the world

“I found the episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa’s teacher goes down with suspected Lyme disease very moving, and an absolute classic of American culture.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


From the archives: The original post was posted on 31st August, 1995

Warning: spoilers

A poster, in a strange fit of madness (I hope) wrote:

“I have to agree that the Simpsons is one of the most cynical and vicious TV shows I know of. My kids certainly won’t be watching it.’

You’re kidding?? Tell me you’re joking, PLEASE?? We love The Simpsons.

I think The Simpsons alone is worth paying the vast sum required to get cable or satellite here. Take the episode in which Lisa’s teacher goes down with suspected Lyme disease, and the class gets a temporary replacement (S02E19, season 2, episode 19). Lisa is captivated by this new teacher, who makes everything seem fun, and he is a real hero type—just like the teacher played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. At one point, for example, Lisa describes him rather dramatically in words to the effect that he makes life seem worth living.

(There are several themes running through the episode, each of which is brilliantly woven into the whole, but I’ll just stick to the main point here.)

There are a few scenes pointing out how awful Lisa’s parents are in contrast to the ‘wonderful’ teacher. (Homer is a hopeless embarrassment to Lisa at the museum, and her mother does not really listen to her when she is trying to talk to her about her wonderful teacher, etc.).

There is a very painful scene when Lisa discovers that her beloved teacher has left for another job; she is heartbroken, and runs to the train station to see him go. I could hardly bear to watch it at that point, she was so distressed. The teacher had not even said goodbye or made any attempt to make it easy for the class, and Lisa is totally devastated. She begs him to stay, saying that she needs him, and that he is the best teacher in the world (a point with which he concurs).

His reply is in my opinion the whole point of this episode: he says mildly, that that is the problem—the good middle class teacher will always desert you for some other children who need him more. What a b*stard! He betrayed her, just as the teacher in Dead Poets Society betrayed his pupil. That is almost inevitable given the nature of the teacher-pupil relationship, I’d say. Anyway…

Then, to make matters worse, Lisa’s father and brother laugh at her in her distress—but she finds the courage to call Homer a baboon (which impresses Bart, who has never done that) and she rushes up to her room, sobbing. Then (note the difference between this and the casual, callous desertion of the teacher) Homer realises they were wrong to laugh, and goes to comfort her, and shows that although he is a pretty useless waste of space in many ways, he does love his daughter, and he at least won’t betray her like the teacher did.

I found it very moving, and an absolute classic of American culture. I realise that many US intellectuals are too high-and-mighty for the likes of The Simpsons, but I for one, as an outsider, think it something you should value a good deal more highly. So there! (Maybe it is just too subtle for you, eh?)

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1995, ‘The Simpsons—the best teacher in the world’,

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