18 March 2016

Students: You Can't Teach With 'Em, You Can't Teach Without 'Em-- A Look Back

More memories from my middle school teaching days. Some of these have previously appeared on this blog.

Once a student insisted that Abraham Lincoln had owned slaves. I told her that Lincoln did not own slaves and in fact was famous for his disdain for that peculiar institution and is credited with helping topple it. She retorted that her grandmother told her that Lincoln had owned slaves. I gathered from the manner in which she communicated this fact that there was no dissuading her from this spurious notion.

On a test once I had an essay question about slavery as we had been studying the topic for some time. An African American student answered this question by writing that her ancestors had not been slaves but princes and princesses in Africa. From what I knew about her and from her last name I was reasonably certain that, despite her protestations to the contrary, the sad truth was that she was the descendant of slaves. I further questioned her assertion that any of her fore bearers were of royal blood. Oh I didn’t doubt the possibility, however slim, I merely questioned that she could no such a thing with any degree of certainty. Besides I hoped that she would be a strong supporter of democratic republics and would take no special pride in being of royal lineage. Yeah, maybe she was a monarchist.

Once a student wrote on a quiz that Pearl Harbor was the woman who dropped the atom bomb on Japan. Knowing the student as I did I’m certain this was not meant as a joke.

Another student identified Adolph Hitler as a man who helped the Jews. After a fashion I suppose, but its a bit of a stretch.

On an essay question about life in West Africa during the 1700s,  part of a student's answer included: "life would have been hard because and you wouldn't have cable TV." Truth.

Once I was surprised that no one in a class new who James Naismith was. I said, “he invented what David does after school everyday.” (David being a student in that class.) A young woman named Maura, who went on to Yale replied, “James Naismith invented masturbation?” This evoked one of the greatest laughs I’ve ever enjoyed.

I had a more embarrassed laugh once during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. A female student made the contention that the president’s woes were the fault of his wife. In her view Hilary should have been providing the particular sexual service that Monica Lewinsky had willingly given. She then asked me— to prove her point — “Mr. Hourula, don’t your wife be giving you head regularly.” Yes, I should have been outraged but I buried my face, turned away and did all I could to stifle uproarious laughter.

I once had a student ask me for the time. The clock was directly behind me high up on the wall. He was facing the clock, however in order for him to see the time, he’d have had to look up. I challenge anyone to find a better example of laziness.

After the school year ending graduation ceremonies I overheard a student ask if there were pictures of the just completed event in the yearbook that she held in her hand. Surreal? Insane? Bizarre!

As a joke I once told students that Abraham Lincoln’s email address was ALinc@Stovepipe.com. Later in the period I noticed that a student had written it in their notes.

A student named Rochanda came late to class one day with a note from her mother that read: “Please excuse Rochanda for being late she had a painful bowl movement.” Of course passing a bowl is always painful.

I was often struck by the number of students (male, of course) who insisted that had they served in battle no harm would have come to them. It was impossible to convince them that luck often played a major part in whether one survived a war. Many further claimed that if a slave they would have killed the master and promptly headed North. I countered by pointing out the hazards involved in taking such a course but they could not be dissuaded. It’s akin to the unshakable belief that they would someday be a professional football or basketball player. Some who insisted that this would happen hadn’t even made the middle school team. (Full disclosure: at the same age I was convinced that I would be a professional soccer player and a famous writer and perhaps an actor.)

I often had students write about Dr. King's famous quote that includes the following: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it...." One student wrote that she agreed with what Dr. King said about violence relative to war but that on the other hand, "sometimes people need to get they ass kicked." Not sure Dr. King would have agreed.

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