“If children are not afraid of their parents, parents will become afraid of their children.”
“If students are not afraid of their teachers, teachers will become afraid of their students.”
Of all of the poignant statements of life Dennis Prager has propagated, I find these two among the most memorable. Of course neither are universally true, but my chips will be bet on both of them as sure winners.
I taught high school classes for twelve years from 1960 to 1972. I substituted periodically during the late 1980s and taught half time for a year in 1990. Pay was exceptionally poor in any and all of these experiences. I taught Russian language and classes in Social Studies, from American History to my favorite, Problems in American Democracy.
I enjoyed teaching, in part because of my own drive for knowledge, but more importantly from the awe and respect of the vast knowledge and confidence in that knowledge my old maid school teachers demonstrated every time they walked into my elementary and high school classrooms when I was in their care. (With the exception of two years, 7th grade and 8th grade in elementary school when I was not in awe of any of my teachers, mostly a new breed out of the post WWII GI Bill who were still sorely in need of an education. They wanted to be my friend. They possessed none of the wealth of knowledge these old ladies presented by a simple look, and the gift of speech backed up with an incredible encyclopedia of evidence and flawless technique.) The ladies were the best show in town. They lectured. They exposed what they knew with certainty. They were religiously respected for what they knew and demonstrated. The GIs may have been tough on the frontlines, but they didn’t have the education and years of knowledge or a love of learning which inspired nearly every one of these old ladies.
Think about it. Throughout the years of my public school education, 1939-1952, what other career could so satisfy an intellectually disposed, bright American female, wanting to share her thrill and mastery over some phase of learning and help intellectually raise children of whom she had none of her own? As a high school teacher she was at the top of her world! And I benefitted enormously from this phenomenon. By 1955 these women had disappeared from the face of Minnesota. Knowledge and respect pretty much disappeared soon after, and by the black, feminist, gay, druggie, and anti war movements a bit later, adult rule was ceded to student rebellion and it has never quite recovered despite whatever discipline may show up from time to time.
I describe the collapse of public schools where I taught as the collapse of a masculine institution into a feminine one…something I railed about long before I ever knew Dennis Prager was on the scene. My old maid female powerhouses ran a masculine house of learning. The path to learning improvement was made clear to all. The purpose was to raise the student to be a responsible citizen in our American democracy. To be so, certain skills and knowings (which these ladies with the recommendations from the leading universities would determine) must be mastered. These were the minimum requirements for achievement. If you did not amass and pass them, you did not receive the school system’s blessing. In other words, no diploma. About ten percent were “weeded out” by age 17. Failure existed. Achievement was rewarded. Feelings didn’t matter.
As the American universities became more feminized, the approach to teaching as well as content of teaching was feminized. Of course, society itself became more feminized. One had to understand where the student was coming from. Forced integration was around the corner. Black students wouldn’t be interested in “white learnings”. Whites should learn to listen. Teachers were taught by the ever less educated. Learning knowledge became out of date, replaced by the Leftwing dream of teaching young people “how to think” and then graduating onto, “what to think”.
I taught highschool students at a mostly white and very, very traditional, civilized, well disciplined public school from 1964-71. I likened it to “Happy Days”. Middle class mostly blue collar families including working fathers. The first student I noticed “high” on something was in 1971, a senior in my homeroom. I was very closely involved in the neighborhood. The families were what was then described as “fine Christian families”, mostly Catholic, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox and Lutheran. I agreed. Some of them, the Catholics perhaps more so, were a bit rougher on the boys, and despite this being out of my experience, I really liked them all.
In his radio broadcasts such as the one this morning, Dennis bemoans the collapse of education in American schools. He refers often to his own knowledge of Judaism to remind us of the importance of fear, both the good and bad of it. I never practiced fear either as a father or teacher. In both occasions I lived and worked in an environment in which the systems were enough in sync, everyone knew adults were in charge. Personally, I was never hit as a student, and never hit a student. My father never hit me, even though I believe he should have on one occasion. My bipolar mother made up for everyone else’s more pacific tendencies.
In 1972 I was transferred to a predominantly black Minneapolis public high school. The institution should have been closed. Crimes occurred every day. Serious crimes once or twice or more per week. Teachers had to be paraded from a fenced in parking lot through the school’s boiler room and still were spat upon by black groups, many of them students in the very same building. An assistant principal was assaulted by group plan, teachers robbed, girls manhandled, and again, by group plan, several white male students, usually tall ones, were brutally assaulted. White female students were routinely robbed if they brought money with them, or threatened violence if they didn’t bring money next time…one girl, a student in my own class had two teeth knocked out, but excused her black assailants, because she understoond “where they were coming from”. I could continue for thousands more words describing the violence as well as the fraud called education which was tolerated and hidden by the school’s administration. Peace broke out in classrooms where teachers white or black encouraged black pride and racism. The rest of the teachers cowed. I was disgusted at the fraud.
All of the perpetrators of crime and associated activities were black. All of them. One half of the victims were black. On a Monday in December, my first hour Modern Problems class of about 20 students, with a fifty- fifty racial split, began awkwardly. Our discussion didn’t seem to include any black students. “Hey, guys and dolls…What’s going on here?…I’m on to something you’re up to…What’s this I’m feeling?”
“Hey, Mr. Ray. Don’t you know this is Honky Day! It’s the day we folk ain’t supposed to talk to you whites.”
“Oh…a little racism here. But you’re black, Arthur”…(one of the truly nicest young men anyone could have as a student)…”and you’re talking to me and I’m pretty white…How come?”
“I don’t believe in that stuff”. By noon someone had poured cigarette lighter fluid into his locker and set his winter coat on fire. Arthur missed class for awhile.
A language teacher had her purse stolen from her locked classroom while she had gone to lunch with her students. The principal, a minority youth young beyond his years, appeared concerned. Promised to have a new lock put on the door by the next day, which was done. Despite the new lock, and the door being locked while the teacher and her class went to lunch, her new purse and its contents were stolen as well. When she approached the principal with the news, he was offended and told her that maybe by now she might be smart enough to leave her purse at home.
Many of the professionally oriented teachers locked their doors even when their classes convened for their own safety as well as for the safety of their students. A gang of three each threw bricks at me in one class, one brick nearly hitting a student sitting right next to me. It broke when it hit the radiator, it was thrown so hard. Fortunately none of us were hurt.
The Minneapolis Star and Tribune, both evening and morning papers of the same ownership wanted city schools to succeed. They wanted Minneapolis to have a good reputation hoping more whites would return to the city and maintain a “favorable racial balance” directed by the local courts. No one wrote anything but fiction when it came to reporting on the chaos of the city’s mixed race schools. Finally, a shooting in the student cafeteria during lunch by a St. Paul youth stalking his girl friend’s other boyfriend could not be hidden. It made the news. The race was not identified.
I well remember the last day, about twenty years later, I ever entered a public high school as a teacher. Actually I was a substitute teacher for a 9th grade junior high school social studies class in a small outer ring Twin City metropolitan community. It was an all white school. In this class just before lunch, a slightly chubby boy, bigger all over than the rest, at the very beginning of class, started to play drums with his pencils intentionally disturbing me and the class. We were discussing the assignment. I was to ask questions about some phase of American History. I politely asked Brian not to make the noises. He stopped, but started again as I began the next question for the class. “Would you like to answer the question, Brian?” He gave a snear, but quit drumming for a few minutes, but a bit later began again. “Put the pencils down, Brian. It is very rude to do what you’re doing. Stop wasting our time.” I stated firmly.
He seemed to comply for about five minutes and then he came up with two bigger pencils, and made louder noises. I confronted him thusly: “I want to warn you as clearly as I can. Everyone in this class should know, including you, Brian, adults know how to be a lot meaner to you young people, than you can be to us.” I addressed the class and asked if they agreed. They agreed. I looked at him with a very stern, severe look. “You have been very mean to me and the class with your disturbances this morning. I do not want to be mean to you, but I assure you, I will be very mean if you disturb us again!
Brian retreated. The class was tense from the beginning and had remained very quiet throughout. Eventually, Brian stuck out his jaw in tune with his loud pencil action yet again,. I walked slowly toward him, my eyes staring at him unflinching.
“Stand up! Get up, now!” He did, slowly. Drenching with derision I asked..”Well what do we have here? Some would say only a very ugly boy would act so ugly. Some would say only a very ugly boy would disrupt a class. Some might say you are a rather fattish ugly boy who likes to disrupt classes…..a bully, perhaps?” A few students gasped. “Some might say you don’t belong in a school where you disrupt classes. You’re not old enough to be in a school…they might say”. I paused, looking at my now deflated Brian. “Tell me. Are you an ugly boy too young and ugly to be in this school?” He shook his head ‘no’. “Good, but, we’ll see!” The class resumed with thirty minutes of peace. Then the students went off to lunch with Brian quietly moving along with them.
I had brought my lunch, but didn’t have much time to get to it. Two girls from Brian’s class came to the door with an adult. He entered my room and announced he was an assistant principal and had been shocked at what these girls had told him. I had called Brian a fatty. I had belittled him calling him ugly. He didn’t want any junior high school suicides on his hands by some teacher embarrassing a student.
There remained three hours of classes. I assured him I wasn’t into promoting student suicide either. I told him that I would have been very unprofessional if I called him fatty and ugly. “Did Brian explain to you what happened?”
“No. I haven’t talked to him. These girls both told me you called him names.” I looked at them and then back at him, gathered my lunch and advised, “You take the rest of the classes. Be sure you keep all of them from committing suicide. Tell the principal I won’t be coming back tomorrow.” He was caught dumbfounded.
This actually happened. Would Dennis…would you, dear readers, after hearing Dennis defending the use of the “masculine touch” from time to time…perhaps a slap on the back of the head, cuffing, or a little shaking up…would that have been a better procedure to check Brian than the one I chose? When I was an established teacher, I never had a moment like this. My reputation included fear, I suppose. I never saw it that way, but I ran the show in my classroom as my mentors ran their show when I was in high school. No one ever would have played drums in any of these classrooms.
“When students no longer fear their teachers, teachers will fear their students.” When children no longer fear their parents, parents will fear their children.” Dennis Prager