Friday, November 17, 2006

The Fifth Grade Incident - Part II

(This is part 2. To understand it, part 1 is required reading.)

Of all of her good gifts, life gave me imperfect parents with unwavering devotion and love. As I walked to my father’s place of work, I was worried about the consequences awaiting me at school but I felt no fear of telling him what had happened. I saw him as endowed with infinite patience, unlimited wisdom, righteous anger and the ability to fix any problem.

I explained the events and my father took me home. I don’t think we had a phone during those years and I am uncertain how events transpired as my parents, the teacher and the principal communicated. I definitely remember the principal coming to the house and talking with my father. I’m 99% certain my father went to the school and confronted the teacher. Somehow, someway my father resolved things.

The next day I was back in school. I wasn’t moved to another classroom. The teacher and I had to learn live together harmoniously. At lunch break, she told me to get my brown-bag lunch that Mom packed for me and to remain in the classroom. While other students went to the cafeteria, she and I had a “discussion”. She had a paper with questions and space for me to respond. There were about eight questions that began with “Why did you….?” To each question, I responded honestly – “I don’t know!”.

One question, the most incriminating question, I remember distinctly. “Why did you say you would kill me?”. Today, I can provide an answer other than “I don’t know” but at the time I was eleven and not yet fully human. She replied “Was it because you were so angry that you didn’t know what you were doing?” My response was “I don’t know. I guess so.” “Write that down” she commanded and I did. I wrote what she dictated.

And life went on. End of story.

As I think back on this event, I have some questions, some observations, some things for which I’m thankful and some things that still rub me the wrong way.

I’m glad I wasn’t moved to another classroom. Life isn’t about running from problems. It’s about confronting them, learning to deal with them, growing through them and becoming more fully human. Life is about learning to live with one another.

I’m thankful for my father. I can’t imagine what children feel who don’t have a champion to protect them.

I’ve heard that “God created mothers to protect children from neighbor children and God created fathers to protect neighbor children from mothers.” (Supposedly C. S. Lewis made this statement but I’m not certain if he’s the source.) My mother carried a hatred for the teacher for forty years. This was a mixed blessing. I regret the harm she did herself by clutching to hatred but I learned from her reaction to let it go. I feel no anger toward the teacher. I’m not certain whether she or I can claim the majority of the responsibility.

I never had another problem with the teacher. Though I reacted to the situation in a childish way, the result does underscore the necessity to stand up for ourselves. We teach others how to treat us. If we accept abuse then we’ll receive abuse.

I was born and raised in the coal fields on the border between Virgina and West Virgina. My heritage is not genteel society. Discussions populated with profanity, anger and violence were common. My statement of “I’ll kill you” can be categorized with “it’s raining cats and dogs”. It was not to be taken literally but was hyperbole pregnant with anger. Interestingly, my experience of moving to western New York state at the age of ten was accompanied by some feelings of inferiority and being classified as “poor white trash”. So be it.

What caused the original problem? My father quoted the teacher as saying “He’s from the south and he’s got to learn!”. Was the root of the problem prejudice and culture shock? What did she expect me to learn – academic work or new behaviors? I learn easily and could have been a straight-A student. I seem to remember some resentment because I was lazy, unmotivated and didn’t try. But, perhaps this was another teacher.

The real injustice that I feel is not the way the teacher related to me but the way the confession or report was created. I don't mind being held accountable but I was eleven. My father or an impartial adult should have been present. I interpret our discussion as a cowardly act of manipulation. But, the past is in the past.

I wonder what happened to my written “confession”? Did she keep it to protect herself against legal action or was it put in my “permanent file”. Actually, I don’t give a damn; it’s just an idle curiosity.

I’m not proud of this incident of anger and rebellion and yet, in some ways, I am. It’s part of who I was and helped make me who I am. I like who I’ve become and am becoming.


Blogger Buffalo said...

I'm of the mind that you should be damned proud of the incident. You stood up and didn't take it. Your Dad stood up for you and your Mom disliked the teacher forever. Sounds good to me.

I had never heard the quote about Dad's protecting others from angry Mom's. I like that.

11/17/2006 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Lilly said...

What a great story! Your discription of "imperfect parents with unwavering devotion and love" hit home. My parents were like that and I can only hope to be like that for my kids.

Our educational "system" is managed in ways that hurt both teachers and students, setting them up to be at odds with one another and to fail.

I'm so glad you stood up to that teacher. We have to confront the bullies or they become too powerful. Well done, young Paul!

11/17/2006 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger robin andrea said...

It takes a very brave child to stand up to a mean teacher. You had a young sense of what it means to be treated harshly and singled out for abuse. You handled it well. You protected yourself from further abuse. That's courageous stuff for a young person. I love how your parents handled it, including your mom hating that teacher for 40 years. As it should be.

11/17/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Whitesnake said...

Too often we encourage the next generation do what we believe to be the best.
It isn't the way it should be.

It is also easy for parents to take their siblings side.

I found that when I ask for both sides of the story it was the teachers who actually got their backs up. "How dare I question whatever it was!"......Just made me realise that I must be doing something right.

11/17/2006 02:20:00 PM  

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