"Gryphon" by Charles Baxter
Project By : Jennifer Lohmeyer
Essay: Do you think Wayne was right to tell on Miss Ferenczi?
In the short story “Gryphon” by Charles Baxter, a group of fourth grade students get a substitute teacher because their regular teacher Mr. Hibler gets sick. Miss Ferenczi, the substitute teacher, easily entertains the students; however, she does so in a way that makes the reader question her ethics as she tells substitute facts, or information that is not completely accurate. In the beginning, the students seem to struggle with how they should respond to the unusual substitute teacher. Eventually, one student named Wayne tells the principal about the questionable behavior of the substitute teacher.
Some people might think that the substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi does a good job with the students because she keeps their attention, teaches them some correct information, and does not really harm anyone. When asked about saying the pledge, for example, Miss Ferenczi decides to tell the students they do not need to spend time reciting the pledge because they must already know it really well, so she easily has their attention from the beginning because of the unique way that she handles the pledge. She also tells them that angels are underneath the clouds on Venus and that she saw a gryphon while in Egypt. Even though Venus has clouds, she makes up the part about the angels. Even if Miss Ferenczi did go to Egypt, she did not see a living gryphon because they do not exist. Therefore, she does teach the students some correct information; she just mixes it with incorrect information to make it sound more interesting which some people would view as okay behavior for a substitute teacher.
Nevertheless, the substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi, and any other teachers who tell students incorrect information, should not be allowed to work with students because students go to school to learn and usually look up to their teachers. In the story “Gryphon”, Miss Ferenczi not only spends time working on tasks other than what the regular teacher assigned, but she also misinforms the students. This teaches students that it is okay not to follow directions, which is not correct. The students also wonder if all of the information she is telling them is correct and actually believe the incorrect information along with the correct information, which can have a negative long-term effect if the students confuse “substitute facts” with real facts. For example, she tells them that six times eleven is sixty-eight in higher math, and she tells them that Beethoven was not really deaf, that he only made people think he was so that he could gain more fame. She also tells them about a meat eating plant, which is partially correct in her description, and she makes them think that she really did see a gryphon. One student named Tommy looked up a gryphon and sees it defined as a “fabulous beast.” He thinks that fabulous means great and then thinks that Miss Ferenczi really must have seen a gryphon. This proves that the students have difficulty separating her facts from her fiction, which makes the situation not beneficial for students who need to learn facts.
Miss Ferenczi also should not be allowed to function as the students’ substitute teacher because the students view her as a type of role model, and she does not set a good example. In the story, one student named Carl asks the narrator if he thinks Miss Ferenczi told them a lie about the half lion and half bird or the gryphon. The student narrator replies with, “It could happen…’I had to improvise...’ I read in this … this mad scientist in the Swiss Alps, and he’s been putting genes and chromosomes and stuff together in test tubes, and he combined a human being and a hamster.” This shows that the student narrator now wonders if it is okay to purposefully tell incorrect information, because he views the substitute as a role model.
The student Wayne definitely made the right choice when he decided to tell on the substitute Miss Ferenczi to the principal. Wayne most likely feels that he has no other choice because Miss Ferenczi tells him that he will die when telling the students their fortunes form a deck of taro cards. While Miss Ferenczi probably has good intentions in telling the students substitute facts, or half truths mixed with half lies, as evidenced by her reasoning that it does not hurt anyone, she is setting a bad example for the students who are copying her actions and confusing the students who want to believe her stories.
Photo Source: www.creativecommons.org
Interview with the Author of "Gryphon": Charles Baxter
Commonly Asked Questions about "Gryphon": Answers from Author Charles Baxter
The most interesting question to me that the author answers on this page is about the meaning behind the marionette lines on Miss Ferenczi's face. He makes a connection to Pinocchio being known for telling lies (which is an obvious connection to me), but he also mentions that Pinocchio is half boy and half puppet just like Miss Ferenczi seems like something from some other world that is not entirely human.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Gryphon (Bird and Lion)
Gryphon: The Legendary Creature
Beethoven: Referenced in "Gryphon"
Recipe: Miss Ferenczi Stuffed Fig
1 tablespoon of ambition
1 teaspoon of honesty
1 teaspoon of lies
1 cup of oddity
1 dash of humor
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl mix 1 tablespoon of ambition so that Miss Ferenczi will not always follow the teacher's lesson plans.
3. Then add in 1 teaspoon of honesty and 1 teaspoon of lies so that Miss Ferenczi will always tell the students half truth and half lie.
4. Then beat in 1 cup of oddity so that she will seem really strange like she is from "Mars".
5. Add a dash of humor so you can laugh at some of the things she says.
6. Pour ingredients into a cupcake pan and place pan in oven to bake for 45 minutes. If you overbake, then Miss Forenczi will never realize why the truth is important, and if you do not bake long enough, then her story will not quite be complete.
-Makes 25 cupcakes (enough for a class of students).
I am including a copy of the recipe card below in case if you would like to print it and use it as a bookmark.
Recipe Card Created at: http://www.skiptomylou.org/recipe-card-maker/