Tuesday: 9:40 A.M. U.S. Studies

Hester Prynne, meet Muhammad Ali

The topic is Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Even the avid students in this honors U.S. studies class are drowsy. They have just watched a jolly but interminable student video about the colonial South, and English teacher David Mendelson sympathizes with their plight: "I feel like my brain has been sandpapered."

If so, it has attained a fine finish. Over the next 50 minutes, Mendelson, a gangly man with a Dead Poets passion, alights on the distinctions between the Puritan, Enlightenment and Romantic mind-sets; Pascal's wager over the existence of God; his (Mendelson's) sister; the unreliable narrator; and, of course, Muhammad Ali....

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