11/20/2001; 11:15:00 PM

The story I wrote on Saturday about my early experiences with a teacher who should have known better, and a mom who stuck up for her son made quite a splash. In less than 48 hours, it became the most-read single page on this site, including this story, that I wrote in January, which was linked to from a story in Wired News. I guess it touched a nerve.

Apparently one of the nerves it touched was Dori Smith’s:

“Where I differ from the non-breeders is that I think that Jake’s parents… mishandled the situation. His mother could have done any number of things; what she chose to do was to verbally spank the teacher. While I’m sure that was tremendously satisfying at the time to both Jake and his mother, I don’t see that it actually succeeded in teaching Jake anything of value.”

I don’t think it was satisfying for my mom, and I know it wasn’t satisfying for me, at least not at the time. When it happened, it scared the hell out of me. It was later that I grew to appreciate what had happened from a learning perspective.

Yes, she verbally spanked the teacher, and that was the right thing to do. If a teacher ever tells your kid that they’ll never amount to anything, kick their ass (not literally). Statements like the one she made, however offhanded or exaggerated, are extremely damaging to children. Kids have thin skins, and believe everything they hear unless a parent sets them straight. For a teacher to make a statement like that is almost as damaging as for a parent to do so.

I was very fortunate to have a few teachers later in life, who were excellent character builders, as well as being skillful knowledge conduits. The teacher I wrote about on Sunday was not one of them; not even in the same class. Had my mom chosen to not defend me, I very likely would have closed myself off to the possibility that there were any good teachers at all.

As to whether I learned anything else of value, I refer you to this post that I made on Sunday.

“It could have been a lesson in make-work… It could have been a lesson in dealing with authority figures. It could have been a lesson in dealing with ignorant people who want you to jump through stupid hoops. Lord knows, there’s enough of that going on in the world today; might as well start learning how to handle it early.”

What I learned early was that I didn’t like make-work, and that I don’t think it’s fair to force someone to do it when they don’t want to, especially when the only reason they give you is “because I said so.” If you ever find yourself in a situation where there’s lots of make-work to be done, and you find make-work dissatisfying, degrading or even boring, then it’s time to do something else. (I realise I said on Saturday that there’s no such thing as make-work, but I take it back now. Sue me.)

What I continue to learn from this tidbit of personal mythology, is that sometimes authority figures must be challenged. Maybe it’s a teacher, and as I said before, I have another story I’ll write sometime soon about a similar conflict I had in college, or maybe it’s a government.

Maybe it’s a Congress which passes laws which restrict my right to write this or your right to read it. Maybe it’s a Presidential administration that encourages the Department of Justice to make a settlement with a monopoly corporation that has a strangle-hold the technology we use to make a living.

Or maybe it’s a co-worker or a superior who’s about to make a terrible but well-meaning mistake that could cost your company millions of dollars, and threaten the jobs of you and your colleagues. (I have one of those stories too.)

Anyway, I think the next story I write will be about a teacher who actually taught me something. I bet it won’t get as many hits though…
11:15:00 PM  

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