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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G.
Chapter 22 – “To Teach, One Must Know.”
It has always been my feeling that school is a form of organized torment and cruelty. “Yes!” I hear every student say. But I also hear from parents: “I don’t wanna hafta watch the damn kids all day!”
Look, my point isn’t that schooling should be eliminated. Hell no. Keep the little buggers locked inside of classrooms from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week if you want. Just don’t expect anything valuable to happen without good teachers, good administrators, and parents who buy into the system.
Do the Count
One hand. Five fingers. That’s all it takes to count the number of good teachers I’ve had in twenty-one years of schooling. It breaks down like so:
1 year of pre-school (6 teachers)
1 year of kindergarten (3 teachers)
5 years of primary school (13 teachers, 1 good)
1 year of a Catholic middle school (10 teachers, 1 molestation)
3 years of junior high (36 teachers)
1 year of Bible Study (7 teachers, 1 good)
3 years of high school (36 teachers, 2 good)
4 years for a Bachelor’s (40 teachers, 1 good)
2 years for a Master’s (9 teachers).
Looking over that list, there is probably one item that leaps out at you as being noteworthy. You are correct: I forgot to count the substitute teachers.
What? Oh, right. We’ll deal with the molestation in a forthcoming chapter. But don’t worry, Veronica, for you and others like you who are only reading this book for the funny stuff (and of course for my sharp observations about life, love, people, social customs, lingerie, etc.), I will help you avoid the violence by warning you when something like that is about to happen. You may now keep reading.
Truth in Teaching
When I was sent to Bible Study classes, there was a rotating staff of instructors, mostly well-meaning dweebs who suffered from an extremely annoying trait of goodie-goodieism. These are the types who behave as if they just know they are better than you because of what they’re doing for you. Religion is almost always able to find the condescension lever inside of people and then slam it to the very top setting. This is why you sometimes hear jerks smugly tell you to “have a blessed day.”
What is really being said in that phrase is closer to this: “I am going to show you how much more exalted a person I am by wishing you a blessed day because boy-oh-boy I’m good and it’s such a shame, a sin, really, that you are not as good as I am because you have not accepted Rebus in your heart,” etc.
There was one exception. His name was Frank Doraty and he was the minister at our neighborhood United Church of Christ (UCOC) franchise location. Thanks to him, I got to look at some bits of religiosity in slightly different ways.
Let’s take his commentary on The Bible as just one example. “A great book,” he told a dozen of us who had been compelled to attend the classes. “But a flawed book.” Now he had our attention. “It was written down a great many years after the original stories were told. And because of that, there is some suspicion that there may have been a few slight embellishments to the tales, shall we say.”
Pastor Frank, as we called him, explained about the oral tradition of storytelling. “Some of the best storytellers,” he pointed out, “change a little here, add a little something there,” until they have a story that “really goes over big with the audience, which in this case may have been people gathered around the fire after a long hard day.”
He had us do that experiment where a sentence is whispered to one person who passes it to the next person and so on around the room. It comes out different at the end of the line. “That was just one sentence,” he said, “and look how it changed right here in this class. Now imagine if, instead of a sentence, it was an entire story or several stories. And imagine the stories being passed along from night to night, group to group, tribe to tribe, for generations,” he pointed out to us. “You think there might be a few changes in those stirring tales? Not to mention the continual editorializing by religious leaders along the way.”
He talked about the parting of the Red Sea to allow the fleeing tribes to escape their captors and how the sea then swallowed the pursuing soldiers. “Not too far from the Red Sea was a place called the Sea of Reeds,” he said. “There are parts of the Sea of Reeds that could be traversed at low tide if one was familiar with the location. Like a fisherman knows the shallows of the harbor, someone might know the Sea of Reeds. That person could lead others to ‘walk through the sea’ in safety,” he told us.
“Later, when the pursuers approached the sea on their heavy chariots, they were bogged down and trapped when the tide came in. Next morning there were some dead bodies and half-submerged chariots. Do you see how easily this could become a much bigger story? If they had the electronic media at that point in history, you would have heard this on television: ‘Miracle Tidal Wave Engulfs Pharaoh’s Army, film at eleven.’”
Yes, he made the “film at eleven” joke. Because he had a gift almost as rare as the ability to teach; he was a serious man with a sense of humor. Naturally, this was something that could not be tolerated by the deacons or grand dragons or whatever the big cheeses were called at the UCOC, and one day Pastor Frank was replaced. Not just replaced as a teacher; he was replaced as pastor. After that, my parents understood why I refused to attend services at the UCOC. I noticed that they quietly stopped attending as well.
Elementary my Dear Weston
In elementary school, I had a teacher named Mr. Weston for something called Social Studies, which sounded like it would be a great class for someone whose hormones were raging. But no. According to a semi-reputable site on the Internet, that subject is the “study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.” Which is slightly less interesting than what I thought it was going to be.
But Mr. Weston kept us enthralled, amused, and excited by presenting situations where we could see how our decisions could affect our own lives as well as the lives of others in the community. I actually looked forward to going to school for his class. But he was teaching against a backdrop of an unending flow of conflicting and confusing instructions from the School Board.
A current situation with Social Studies helps illustrate some of the problems faced by teachers and schools. The religiosity brigade keeps trying to get “creation science” or “intelligent design” into the curriculum. For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that a human being is rather badly designed. Reproductive and elimination organs in the same location? Pull-eaze, certainly there’s nothing too intelligent about that.
Still, the religiosity coalition keeps pushing for this intellidesigner thing. They began by attacking science departments and got nowhere. Which makes sense because science relies on, let’s see, what was it. . . Oh yeah: evidence and specifics and proofs and reality.
So, with those darn fact-based science people turning up their noses at the cretinologists or creationologists or creationismists or whatever, the only places that children could be indoctrinated with that particular flight of fancy were the dark recesses of home-schools or the Chambers of Re-Educational Enlightenment Patrol at the cult locations themselves.
But then one of the anti-fact folks got the bright idea to try slipping their alternate reality rants into Social Studies classes. A softer target, they thought. If you go to the American National Council for the Social Studies website, you can see it states that “public school classrooms are not the place for the teaching of religious beliefs.” Which would appear to put an end to the inclusion of gobbledygook in the curriculum, yet the site devotes 1,735 more words to the subject, trying to weasel around the topic, which only encourages the clowns to keep on trying to pervert public school teaching.
Just as an aside, I personally have no problem with the idea that a supreme being put science in motion, and that includes evolution. Seems like an okay belief to me. But remember that the operative word is “belief.” The overlay of religion onto any part of science teaching is a perversion of both science and teaching.
Two in One Place
I was incredibly lucky to have two good teachers in high school. One of them, Margery Thewlis, taught Creative Writing, which became what I did for a living. Talk about having a strong influence on a student! Well, if you can call writing advertising and public relations “creative.”
The other one, Eric Beale, taught Economics, which, since I became a writer, didn’t really apply to me. The most I ever made in one year was just over a hundred thousand dollars, so I didn’t really need an understanding of economic theory, all I required was a decent tax preparation service. Yet this man made the subject compelling. Fun, almost. It was a pleasure to learn about capitalism, socialism, and Marxism.
(Note: Marxism, as it happens, is very very different from socialism — if only every republican could have taken this course! For heaven’s sake, there are members of Congress and presidential candidates who don’t understand this. Mr. Beale, where are you?!)
Art in Everything
In college, I had teachers who slept with their students, browbeat their students, terrorized their students, and were so god-awful they drove people to change majors or even change schools.
But I also took college courses from a guy named Robert Niece, who in every class gently offered to open the window of the mind to the possibilities of seeing art all around us. In the sixties, he wrote a book called Art: An Approach which provided the reader with a foundation for a way of viewing the world.
His teachings were along these lines: If you are in a museum or art gallery, fine, soak in what you see and assess how you feel. But when you’re not in the presence of “art,” keep considering what you see. Niece made you question the reason for the shape, design, construction, color, texture, and materials used in everything. A city street. Buildings. Automobiles. Power lines. Silverware. Restaurants. Coins and other money. Clothing. The totality of things you encounter in life can be considered “art,” and therefore can be considered for different, and hopefully better, design.
And by “better,” he meant effective, efficient, renewing, restoring, rejuvenating, healthy. He seemed both far ahead and far behind the times. His book, now out-of-print, just scratched the surface of his thought processes and teaching methods.
You can count the number of good teachers I’ve had using all the digits possessed by Captain Hook. Five good teachers. Five out of 160. Less than five percent. And you want to know the worst part of this? I’m one of the lucky few who had as many good ones as that. If I had my life to live over, I would try to be one of those good teachers in order to see if I could positively affect the lives of students.
“If you learn how to learn and learn to enjoy learning,” my dad once told me, “you will never have to be bored for the rest of your life.” Perhaps I should say that I had six good teachers.
• To be continued in next chapter (click link to subscribe via RSS) …. or, to read additional articles and some bits of ephemera by John Scott G, visit his story index here: http://enewschannels.com/author/scott-g-the-g-man .
“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011-2012 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten; Author Photo: Phil Hatten.