Wednesday, June 08, 2005

School Days Revisited

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On one of my favorite blogs, Seraphic Press, Robert Avrech talks about a school incident from yesteryear. Okay, so it might have been from yesteryear, but the incident has had long-lasting physical, emotional and mental effects on him.

It is horrible to think that many schools and yeshivas of the past used a strong hand --literally and figuratively (I first wrote "physically" by mistake!) to teach their students. Verbal abuse would be heaped upon a young child, as he or she stood before the class. Of course, many of these children who were at the wrong end of such treatments lived with this emblazoned shame, thinking and understanding that they were at fault, that they deserved this kind of treatment being bestowed upon them.

At such impressionable ages, children were meant to "set an example" for their peers, but at the same time further opening themselves to ridicule not just from the administrative staff, but from classmates, as well. Reputations were made or broken as a result, as were childish egos.

It is heartbreaking and aggravating to learn of such treatments that happened in schools in the "good old days."

Thank G-d I was a good student, albeit shy, and don't recall ever being marked for a teacher's ire or its resulting consequences...except for one incident. When I was in my first year of junior high, in seventh grade, a teacher said something to me that every now and again plays in my head like a broken record. Is it supposed to be a reminder to me of how I am behaving and how I should be behaving? Is it a reminder that everyone has their good and bad days and sometimes just let loose on anyone who is in their path?

It was French class with Mr. K. -- a cute, Jewish guy in his early thirties, I suspect. Yes, he was cute, but I think he was also a bit anal in appearance, attitude, teaching methods. One particular day, my classmates were not in the most responsive of moods -- Mr. K was asking questions and the kids weren't too interested in answering them. Some kids raised their hands, others did not. I was one of those who did...and did...and did. I wanted to participate, I wanted to please him in showing that I knew the answer. I suddenly transformed into Arnold Horshak, aka Horshak, from Welcome Back, Kotter. You know, the one who sits at his desk, raises his hand and says, "OH,OH,OH," trying to draw attention to himself so that Mr. Kotter might call on him. Well, in my Mr. K's class, I was raising my hand, waving it around and trying to get him to pick me because nobody else was bothering to answer. And then he blurted out: "PEARL...STOP ANTAGONIZING ME!" Now, for a shy kid to be put on the spot like that by her teacher is crushing. Okay, so maybe I was bothersome a bit that particular day, but it was not as if there were several other hands going up. I knew answers, I wanted to answer questions. But instead I got that figurative slap in the face.

Can I be a nudnik, as my Mr. K hinted at? Yes -- and several fellow bloggers already know that. But the teacher could have said, "Pearl. I do see you with your hand up. I will call on you, but want to give some other students a chance to answer. Let's take turns answering, shall we?" That's only several more syllables than his original statement; it takes only a few more breaths to say; it's much gentler; it doesn't hurt as much.

I cannot imagine being in a position as Robert Avrech was. Bullied by a seemingly "eesh chashuv" (important person), someone who is supposed to be a leader, someone you are supposed to look up to, someone students in a different kind of world might have chosen to emulate, had he been a different kind of person.

Those types of teachers and administrators described by Robert could never truly be the victors. But people like Robert were certainly the victims.

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