Earlier this month, I received word from the Gazette that a former student of mine, now living in Chicago, read a recent Opinion piece of mine that appeared in these pages, “All is not Quite Lost” and wanted to reconnect with me.

Thanks to the Gazette acting as interlocutor, the following day, I received a warm email from Carly reintroducing herself after an absence of two decades. Her email reflected on times past, times present— introducing her husband, Joachim, her daughter, Paloma, and picking up on “genuine” conversational threads that bound us in friendship years ago.

Although her exquisite letter is to me, much of what she shares about her concerns for her family and the human family in today’s “strange world” is worth sharing with a broader audience, which reads in part:

Dear Mr. Tarbox,

You probably don’t remember me, but I have very fond memories of you! You were my substitute teacher at McHenry East Campus High School about 20 years ago. We spent time in the library talking about my teenage life and other dreams. You wrote a nice letter to my parents about me all those years ago, and I can say that it really helped our relationship at the time, and they still mention it today.

Now I have a daughter of my own, Paloma, an independent toddler approaching three years old in October. I think a lot about her future education. When I met you as a teenager, it was rare to have an adult engage in genuine conversation with me. I hope that Paloma will consider that kind of open dialogue the norm rather than the exception all her life. But the world is so weird now.

One of my husband’s and my main concerns (before the habitual social norms of the world changed so dramatically) was that Paloma unlearns the joy of learning by being educated in a traditional school.

We’ve previously looked into some alternative schooling, but none of them match up with our philosophy, which is that there’s no philosophy except letting the learning occur naturally with interest, and exposure to potentially interesting things and ideas. I see a lot of appeal to the unschooling method. My wish is that our business as archival design dealers will be stable enough in the years to come to give her a solid “unschooled” education with us at home, and a lot of diverse opportunities for experience.

I learned more about you through the “We Love You, Mr. Tarbox” article in LIFE and the latest news of your recently published work on Orson Welles. Congratulations on that wonderful achievement! It would be a great pleasure to learn more from you about your thoughts on and experience in education. Maybe we can have a virtual coffee one day?

How are you today, in this strange world?

Take good care, Mr. Tarbox. Thank you for your meaningful presence in my teenage life, a presence that has endured!



Thank you, Carly, for your meaningful presence that, too, has endured.

Todd Tarbox, author of several books including “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts,” lives in Colorado Springs.

Todd Tarbox, author of several books including “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts,” lives in Colorado Springs.


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