In J.D. Salinger’s canonical work, The Catcher in the Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield comes to regard himself as rescuer of lost children, explained in the metaphor of catching children in a field of rye before they fall over a cliff:
I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
Setting aside the fact that the metaphor derives from a misinterpretation of the more sordid implications of Robert Burns’ poem “Comin thro’ the Rye” (a confusion that likely is intended to forward the theme of misguided youth), the role of a ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is one that Alliance Tutoring aspires to embody. The metaphor so aptly captures the experience of the young: running around somewhat playfully, somewhat recklessly, in a field of very limited perspective with a giant cliff flanking it, or more accurately, in a field beset by giant cliffs on all sides.
Many of us fondly reminisce of this experience of youth, while also comforting in the fact that we won’t need to risk this precarious situation ever again! And yet this is our children’s daily experience, and unsurprisingly, they begin to fall off the cliffs (or, in fact, fall off them altogether) in large numbers all the time, and they are frequently in need of the support of caring and skilled adults to assist them. If guided well, we can rescue young adults from slipping off the precipitous cliffs that necessarily circumscribe youth, saving lives from those vast abysses they so frequently approach; that is indeed my metric of success for Alliance Tutoring and my teaching career as a whole. In fact, this is a duty to youth that I truly consider my purpose in serving humanity.
The value of this service is one with profound reach. As the character from Salinger’s novel, Mr. Antolini speculates about Holden’s condition and the significance of instruction generally,
Many, many [men and women] have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
The goal of my organization is to establish a network of this type of support that reaches generationally, for when you help a child back to the path, the effects of this type of support can extend that far. And the main objective is not to teach them about solving logarithmic equations or Hemingway’s use of the zero ending or the context of the war of 1812 (although hopefully they learn those things, too!), but to teach them the power of their own inner resources, to ignite a fire in them that forgets the kindling that began it. In most cases, it requires a few large doses of sincere, positive affirmation to steer away from the theoretical voids that surround them. In my experience, the results are often magical, permanent, and poetic. These moments of crisis are, in fact, prime opportunities for transformation.
Alliance hopes to support those teetering on the cliffs of these crises and set them back on the path of young life and back to the fulfillment of their promise. Given the gravity of this mission, it is an honor to serve in this role.