Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thank The Elementary

I was ten or so years of age; the class was studying a story for English Comprehension, and I was thoroughly uneasy on that Friday afternoon as the school day was winding down.
The piece was one of numerous formulaic entries in a collection of tales designed to encourage morals in children and keep the latter occupied for months on end.
The particular story featured a plucky girl who had received a shiny cassette recorder for her birthday- a popular gift in that era. She stayed home to experiment with the gadget while the family went out; one would hope it was just for milk and potatoes, and not for anything celebratory in the girl's absence.
Burglars shortly thereafter found their way into the house. They tied the child to a chair and set about ransacking the home. Ah, but never fear: our resourceful young heroine had a plan. She pressed a couple of buttons on the machine and deftly committed the robbers' voices to cassette.
Later that day the local police applauded her bravery.
"Well done, Miss," they boomed in adventure-story fashion. "We recognised the voices and have been trying to catch those rascals for months. They'll be in jail for a long time now."
As I recall, some reward or other was dispensed to the girl for her quick thinking.
My difficulty lay not in the implausibility of the crooks being captured on the vague basis of their voices, but in another area entirely. I could not let the matter go.
I had never in my life raised a hand in class to pose an unsolicited question; indeed, I had enough trouble lifting my hand to answer one. On that occasion I was bothered enough that I propelled a trembling set of digits into the air.
"Excuse me," I squeaked. Everybody swivelled in their chairs at the unfamiliar voice.
"Why didn't the robbers take the recorder too?"
A leaf dropped from a tree in the yard outside, and I heard it brush the ground. I thought it to be a perfectly reasonable question, hardly deserving of such a stony silence, and I had been certain that my teacher would offer an answer: an educational textbook could not be structured so flimsily that a child might tear it asunder with a gentle query.
My teacher cleared her throat.
"Well," she said slowly and very carefully, "here's what you can do. You can all write a few ideas on why you think the recorder wasn't stolen by the burglars. Do it over the weekend. I hadn't given you any homework but that's one for you to do. There you go- you can thank The Elementary!"
Her teeth flashed a triumphant grin. The mention of homework implied, by her tone, tears and punishment and frustration.
The bell rang then, and we were off and away. I heard grumbling voices; I heard my name mentioned in sour measures; I felt furious eyes all around; and I still had no answer to my question.
I made up my mind then and there: the whole painful business of speaking up in class, of asking questions, of challenging the bothersome bones of a text- I had my fill of such matters. I had tested the water, and I found it lacking in any sort of reward. I resolved to keep my thoughts, novel or otherwise, all to myself over the course of my school life.
I kept my word.


Pauline said...

Isn't it sad that we do that to our children and especially in an institution that is supposed to foster ideas and mental growth! I find all the public schools I've worked in here to be pretty much the same. We at once tell children to be individuals and to follow the crowd. No wonder we are a confused species ;) I was once asked to leave a religious class having questioned (farm girl that I was) the Annunciation. My mother was called and I was properly scolded. Like you, I kept quiet for years afterwards. I am old enough now to speak out again, thank goodness!

Nan said...

All I can think of it the song by Pink Floyd - another brick in the wall. Yours is an example of the sadistic teachers who get away with far too much behind the closed doors of their classrooms. I asked my junior high teacher husband what he would have done with that question, and he said he would have offered it up to the class for discussion.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Pauline, I thought even at the time that it was a good question. Perhaps she thought I was putting her in a corner.
I know just what you mean about not being able to question certain elements. I can easily believe the fuss you caused! It hinders childhood. Questions are good exercises.

Nan, Thanks for asking your husband- I am glad to hear that you brought it up.
It would indeed have made a good class discussion. Sadly, she never even looked at the homework we did, so never talked about it. She could have turned a plot flaw into something so much more.

Pappy said...

Always ask questions at the beginning of the week, and at the beginning of the class. It was a great question "The", or should I call you "Ele"? However, the teacher was probably thinking of heading down to the pub for a pint after a week with the kids. She is probably writing stories about her students and making millions. Pappy

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Texican, how about an amalgamation of the two names? Theele?
She retired last week... after so long. Too long.

Dave said...

Those that cannot do - teach. I am reminded of my junior high years where, as a decent student, was asked to leave class and have a "free study time" by myself in the library. It seems since I always got an A on the tests and generally had the answer when called upon (though I had already learned that lesson about never volunteering), I was "discouraging the other students". They simply removed me from the class rolls, and only invited me back when there was a "district testing", so that my scores would help the teachers show what a good job they were doing. My next several years were spent alone in the library where I devoured every book, good or bad, including the entire reference section. Truly delicious and the best education I could have received at their fine institution. (Is it a coincidence that jails and mental hospitals are also referred to as institutions?) I think some of those other students became teachers after I was stopped from discouraging them.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Dave, I hear more sad stories about school life than happy ones. But I never fail to be shocked by the callous disregard some teachers have for children. I echo your first line, and I wish people would stick to the careers they were more suited for- this post came off the back of one about that same teacher retiring, and my opinion was that she wore the wrong hat for her entire career.
As too many do.
Thanks for sharing.

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