why didn't Paul Revere just use his cell phone instead of being so mean to that poor horsie?

Favorite rants around here include having to deal with people who think history began with their graduation and spending money on goods of dubious quality from foreign parts. I'm shocked to realize that I've been judging imports from China based solely on what's been happening with Chinese craftsmanship during a few recent years in my lifetime. Quite obviously these are the people who invented silk, in many beautiful colors and textures, whose porcelain and pottery can still stir the heart and whose paintings can lift your sight to heaven. China has a long, long history, much longer than ours, and I can only hope that this brief era of ghastly attempts at world domination through cheap ugly fashion will be a short one.

This is where I explain that my high school had a great turnover of teachers between the time that I graduated and the time my sister entered. Mine were the last of a generation of ancients - I'd like to think they were aged by wartime and economic disasters, but I'm sure my classmates and I had a role. The best of them were cynical and world-weary. Miss A was an Army brat who'd lived in France. She taught its civilization as well as its grammar. She spent her summers taking groups of rambunctious teens on bicycle tours long after the age when she should have been on a bike, but it was the only way she could afford to travel. Mr R's dreams of medical school had been interrupted by an unplanned family, but he taught biology with verve, imparting a sense of wonder every time he helped me focus a microscope. Miss H was a gentle lost soul who read sonnets aloud, ignoring spitballs, paper planes and flying chalk. "I am in this building to expose them to poetry," I heard her say to a colleague. "Even if some of them are only here for the lunch, they are entitled to poetry and that is what I will give them." Mrs S - well, I'm sure her dying words were either about the Bourbons, who learned nothing, remembered nothing, or more generally, about those who do not remember history being doomed to repeat it. Whatever the course she was assigned, those were the principles she taught. And of course there were horrors - the gasp that greeted me when I entered Mr Meredith's calculus class and sat down. He went to his grave believing that the female brain's capacity for mathematics stopped at long division, and I'm still looking for that grave so I can dance on it.

My sister's teachers were world-changers, in their own heads anyway, not that much older than their students, hopeful, cheerful, knowing war from books and media, knowing that they were building a future by molding young minds. They aspired to level playing fields. They were young, optimistic, arrogant. I was the one who told her how to cut school to get to a museum exhibit before it moved on, who snuck her into foreign films, who pushed her to think outside the classroom. Efforts well spent, now she pushes me.

OK, now back to me. I learned from teachers and family that there were people who made it from infancy to adulthood without having seen a television. I learned that for hundreds, even thousands of years, people had no books in their houses. And most had no houses, and books were rare because there was no printing. I learned that scientists suffered because their theories and discoveries disturbed comfortable thinking. I learned that most of the time, people will believe what they're comfortable believing.

If, for example, you believe that your file room is staffed by skilled, dedicated professionals who pay close attention to their work and never lose a folder or a document, you can sign your firm's professional insurance application in good conscience. You don't want to hear from some malcontent with a stamped receipt in her hand that important papers have gone missing. If you believe that your product is beneficial and healthful, you don't have any qualms about shading the description of the strange rashes that afflicted some nervous weirdos after consuming it. If you believe that you have great taste and a fine fashion sense, then it's not a reach to believe that you are doing a good deed by bringing cheap ugly ill-made clothing to the market, notwithstanding Gresham's Law - oh, right, your education was limited to fashion and your high school history course was, um, basic, so the concept that Bad money drives out good also means that crap merchandise drives out good is beyond you....

If you believe that you are an open-minded, clear thinking, good person, you may not notice when your limited experiences lead you to sound like a fool.

Recently someone who (I thought) should have known better, haughtily advised me that Joan of Arc was a legend and never existed in real life.

Um, who was burned at the stake in Rouen by the English in 1431?

Genius insisted there was no contemporary documentary evidence. Like photos.

I began to explain about chroniclers at royal courts and chroniclers who accompanied armies, and stopped. There's no cure for stupid.

Even the teachers whose names I still bless had their failures, and for all I know, they may have thought I was one of such. (But please see change of heart described in opening paragraph. What life has taught me: you can always learn something.)

32 comments:

  1. I went to a really rough school in NZ and looking back I really feel sorry for the teachers (or at least the ones who came in contact with me). There was a Latin teacher (yes Latin at our school - very strange) who was very intellectual and most of the class (except for me) did pay attention though I left after I translated a war into a banquet.
    Think its so much worse here in CA though, I found my 15 year old's essay the other day screwed up in the mudroom (graded) - it was about Kim Kardashian and her effect on sports (Oh brother)

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    1. and me thinking that cooking for more than 2 is a battle!

      wait, did you say Kardashian? and the teacher read it?

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    2. What is Kim's effect on sports?

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    3. come to think of it, I'd like to know too!

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    4. Me three. Minds want to know...

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  2. Oh funny! I started Grade 1 in 1969. My grade 1 teacher, a wily old bird named Mrs. Tuddenham, was 65 years old. She gradutated from "normal school" in 1920 and became a teacher. Now THAT was an interesting lady and certainly her world view was different than than 25 year old teacher the next classroom over! I always appreciated her though; she had chutzpah and thought we were too soft. I guess she was right!

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    1. I recently googled one of my teachers, I'd always thought she was at least a hundred years old, and I found her "dates" on the Social Security Death Index. She was indeed older than my grandmother!

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  3. I just spent a day in a classroom, and I can assure beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were not even remotely considered a failure by ANYONE! If you want to put it to a test, ask a room full of educated adults to name the 50 states. Hilarious(or tragic!) enough, with out even having to ask if they can name the capitals. You are right, you can't fix stupid. But, OMG, I wish there was a ladylike cure for smug and stupid.

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    1. Smug and stupid: yes, that's toxic. I left an otherwise decent job once because each of us was supposed to mentor a newbie who'd had 7 or 8 years of higher education. They couldn't punctuate. I glanced at one memo that was handed to me, and asked its author if he'd like a little more time to proofread it. He said no. The suppressed resentment - paying these semi-literates cut into profits, thus into my share - finally got to me.

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  4. I worked with a guy who had gotten into Northwestern for his MBA. (They rejected me.) I was reading "Army of Angels," which is about Joan of Arc. He saw the book. Asked what it was about.

    "Joan of Arc," I told him.

    "Who's that?" he asked.

    I shook my head. Idiot.

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    1. yes, idiot. no better word.

      In an excess of self-indulgence, I refer you to this post.

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  5. Goodness, I love a long chewy Fred post.

    Have a marvelous weekend, m'dear!

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  6. I don't believe that we give teachers enough respect. An important job, and a difficult one. Oh yes, there are people teaching who shouldn't be, but I hope and trust they are in the minority. And I had some wonderful teachers and only one or two oxygen thieves.
    That said, I do think that quite a lot of research funding could usefully go on finding a cure for stupidity (of the wilful/lazy variety). Also on a cure for pratts.

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    1. ok, I have a new favorite expression - oxygen thieves! perfect!

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  7. I remember all the blue-haired Misses and their requirements of us. We had order in the classroom, our grammar was corrected regularly, our reading was encouraged. We saw "Wizard of Oz" once a year when it came on TV.

    My oldest had a temp job recently grading the writing part of standardized tests; her conclusion:"Be Afraid".

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  8. What's that quote.....don't try to reason with fools?

    Most of the young guns at my work place have no idea how to write correspondence, type documents or punctuate. If you try to kindly correct them - oy.

    I had two or three good teachers from my school days but the rest of them sucked. It's the truth. I learned more on my trip to Europe as a 15 year old than I ever learned in school and I learned more on my own after school ended.

    I have opinions about what is being taught in the school curriculums and I feel more 'adult' things should be taught in schools (i.e. money, how to budget, what a mortgage is, etc). You know -- things which actually prepare you for real life once you're on your own.

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    1. Hi, LR, as tax time approaches, my memory turns to the time a young genius burst into the office where one of the tax guys and I were outlining a "project" to a "team." (The reasons for the quote marks are boring.) Anyway, genius had received his first big-boy paycheck, and was frantic because it was about half the size of the outrageous sum he'd expected. Colleague and I took turns explaining withholding taxes, social security, medical insurance, 401K, etc. etc., but the kid wasn't buying it. "I have no intention of participating in any of those things until I have addressed my school debt," he declared. We started to explain that this was laudable but impractical, then thought better and told him we were not the proper people to deal with this problem.

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    2. Now that does take the cake. I am assuming said chap received a 3 year graduate professional degree.

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    3. in which the words "Gannett House" featured largely... and I'm sure his parents were very proud.

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    4. Law school teaches many things: unfortunately common sense and humility are not among them. If you are lucky enough to come in with these qualities and you are very careful, you MAY leave with them.

      Of the 300 members of my law school class, I found I could stand about 4 of them. We used to tally up all the insufferable comments of our colleagues and then did a shot for each of them, after class. We were usually quite drunk most nights.

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    5. was frantic because it was about half the size of the outrageous sum he'd expected.

      When that happened to me (although not with an outrageous sum), I started to care about how the government spent MY money and I really started to wish they wouldn't take so much of it.

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    6. and "civility," Danielle - hope from time to time you raised a glass to Civility.

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    7. hi, Class Factotum, I'm interested to see how the Gummint will manage with less. As to what they've done with it to date -- This weekend we drove on an Interstate highway to the Jersey Shore, to see the rebuilding. "Nice to see the system work for a change," he said. I reminded him that to get to Flintstone Manor, we drive past an enormous VA hospital and two National Cemeteries, and the need for those was not created by wind and storm.

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    8. Ahhh yes, to civility!

      As a current government employee (professor at the preppiest of all the military academies), I'm a little annoyed that I'm taking a 20% pay cut without a 20% reduction in job responsibility. Sure, I'm only supposed to work 32 hours a week--but I can't only grade 80% of my papers or do 80% of my administrative paperwork. My colleagues waiting to hear about tenure can't only write 80% of their journal submissions. While some federal employees do work hourly sorts of jobs (janitors, bank tellers), professional service employees are getting...well...there's no nice word for it.

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    9. only a little annoyed? I'd be growling and frothing at the mouth.

      My pop used to say "When Congress is in session, no man, woman or child is safe." These days, they need watching when they're not in session, too.

      I live in a city that is sustained in uncountable ways by federal funds, grants, programs, institutions,, and we scream for more, more, but not out of our pockets, of course. It never ceases to amaze me how many people must believe in the Great National Printing Press.

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  9. When I was younger I had the misfortune to be educated by nuns. To those people who wonder why there are fewer female serial killers and psychopaths, I'd say have a look in your nearest convent.

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    1. Hi, Sulky, I worked briefly at an NGO with a former nun. One day I was explaining to her that the relevant authority on a point she was making was all against her. She pinched me. The rest is history.

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