Wisen­heimer: A Child­hood Sub­ject to Debate

Mark Oppen­heimer
  • Review
By – September 7, 2011

Geeks, nerds, and oth­er ado­les­cent out­casts take heed. There is light at the end of the inces­sant teas­ing and wall­flower sta­tus you have endured. Wisen­heimer, an enter­tain­ing comin­gof- age sto­ry by Mark Oppen­heimer, will empow­er all those teens and pre-teens who feel as if there is no place for them in soci­ety. For Oppen­heimer, sal­va­tion arrived in the form of the debate club, the one place where his preter­nat­ur­al gift for ora­to­ry and intel­lec­tu­al prowess was appre­ci­at­ed and rewarded. 

For Oppen­heimer, as for many ado­les­cents, school was an emo­tion­al and intel­lec­tu­al waste­land. He did not hes­i­tate to cor­rect his teach­ers’ gram­mar when he deemed it appro­pri­ate, feel­ing and act­ing as if he pos­sessed the supe­ri­or intel­lect in the class­room. Such behav­ior hard­ly ingra­ti­at­ed him with the fac­ul­ty. Social­ly, he was a mis­fit — not cool, nor entire­ly accept­ed by the oth­er nerds. His luck turned when his par­ents enrolled him in a school that had a debate team. He won his first debate and embarked on a jour­ney of win­ning against old­er and more sea­soned debaters. Oppen­heimer dis­cov­ered sat­is­fac­tion, ful­fill­ment, and equal­ly impor­tant, val­i­da­tion in the world of debate. He found like­mind­ed teenagers who shared his pas­sion for ideas and oral expres­sion. Debate allowed him to achieve the pin­na­cle of any ado­les­cent: the oth­er kids thought he was cool, and he even won the heart of the pret­ty pop­u­lar girl. 

Writ­ten in a pithy and engag­ing style, Wisen­heimer will make read­ers chuck­le, laugh out loud, and even tear up at times. There are few among us who have not expe­ri­enced the feel­ing of being dif­fer­ent or mis­un­der­stood at some point in our lives. Oppen­heimer has the uncan­ny, seem­ing­ly effort­less, abil­i­ty to make such sit­u­a­tions seem almost com­i­cal­ly absurd.

Paula Lubin is a human­i­ties teacher at the North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my Mid­dle School. She has writ­ten for a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions, most recent­ly the New York Health­care Law Update.

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