Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Of Fountain Pens, School, and Shawshank

It could not matter less that I use fountain pens as I teach in a public high school with over 3,800 students, nearly fifty percent of whom receive free and reduced lunch assistance.  Some may even see it as a shameful extravagance, although I will note that many of the pens in my collection were given to me or passed down through our family.

Yet recall the scene in The Shawshank Redemption in which prisoner Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) plays the duettino from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro over the loud speakers.  Watch that scene again and note Ellis 'Red' Redding's (Morgan Freeman) narration of what it meant to the men who were incarcerated.

I teach Latin and with it the literature and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  I deal in the true, the good, and the beautiful for a living, and because true teaching involves an incarnation, an embodiment of the content in the lives of both teacher and student, my life should display the true, the good, and the beautiful on a regular basis.

No, there is nothing false about using a ballpoint, and using a fountain pen does not make a person good.  There is, however, something beautiful and elegant about a fountain pen, both in its external features and the way in which it transfers thought to paper.  If nothing else, it is eye catching, and I have had numerous students comment on my pens over the years.  They ask where I got them, how much they cost, and whether I will let them try one.  The answer to the last is yes, of course.  And there is the direct historical link to reed pens used by the ancients and the quills of the Medieval scribes, all of which we study in a unit on paleography, epigraphy, and calligraphy in Latin III.

Yet the true value they bring to my day is through elegance.  They offer a bit of elegance in an often inelegant world, and they show my students that the beauty of human thought expressed through elegant means can achieve a certain sublimity, which, after all, is as necessary for the human soul as food is for the body.  Perhaps, then, precisely because I teach in the school I do, where much of life is hard for many, it actually matters that the Latin teacher uses fountain pens.

The Pelikan, with Regal Purple for grading, and Waterman, with Empyrean Blue for general writing, with which I am beginning this school year.



  1. I agree with every bit of that! The beauty and elegance of the pens, the delight I take in the myriad inks available, the historical connections are all excellent reasons for the use of fountain pens. May I add the mindfulness required by handwriting, especially writing with a fine pen and wet ink? Handwriting is done more slowly than typing and making a clean correction is more difficult, therefore more mindfulness is required to create a coherent and legible product. Fountain pens require mindful maintenance, depending on whether they are cartridge, converter, or one of the more exotic fill methods. In the hectic, multitasking (topic for another day) current environment, slowing to be mindful and reflective are two additional reasons to espouse fountain pens.

  2. Very well said, Lori. I couldn't agree more. We need to lift up the idea of mindfulness. And there is the thrill of recognition when you see a familiar penmanship. I know exactly what the penmanship of relatives long deceased looked like.

    My wife gave me my first fountain pen, a Sheaffer Targa, sometime around 1989/1990. I used it a bit, but did not fall in love with it until a few years later when I began teaching in Texas. I realized that no one could add elegance to my day except me, so I filled it and began using it. I was hooked and soon began collecting.


While I welcome thoughts relevant to discussions of education, comments that are vulgar, insulting, or in any way inappropriate will be deleted.