Friday, June 20, 2014

"Flowers for Algernon" Author/Teacher Daniel Keyes - and My Tenuous Connection

Daniel Keyes, the author of “Flowers for Algernon,” the story of a man with an I.Q. of 68 who temporarily becomes a genius after surgery — a book that inspired the film “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson — died on Sunday at his home in South Florida.  He was 86.... NY Times

He told the Japanese newspaper The Daily Yomiuri in 1999 that the character of Charlie occurred to him while he was teaching a special needs class; a student approached him at the end of the period and asked to be transferred out of the “dummy’s class” because he wanted to be smart.
“I thought: My education is driving a wedge between me and the people I love,” he wrote in his memoir, “Algernon, Charlie and I” (1999). “And then I wondered: What would happen if it were possible to increase a person’s intelligence?”
I've always been fascinated by Daniel Keyes' science fiction story - initially because he taught at Thomas Jefferson HS when I was a student there from 1959-1962. I never had him as a teacher but I did have one communication from him. He was the adviser to the Jefferson literary magazine. In the 11th grade, my English teacher was Mr. Certner - one of the oddest of teachers -- but for me inspiring. It was in his class that through his encouragement, I found I could write. He urged me to submit some of my work to the literary mag and soon after received Keyes' nicely put rejection notice that my work didn't quite fit the style. Jefferson was loaded with talented kids who went on to top colleges, so I was not surprised. Shortly after, he became famous for his best seller and I took note when there were stories about him or the novel.

The book and the movie are really powerful and worth checking out.

Think about the concept. A drug that will wipe out learning difficulties or reverse the effects of brain injuries - which if you think about someone with an IQ of 60 - isn't that a brain injury of some sort? Or on the other end - Alzeimers. Everyone an Einstein?

Daniel Keyes scary science fiction story opened up the possibilities and the downside - what if it doesn't last or you can't get the drug and you reverse direction?

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