We start from the negative.
We come into the world already in debt.
It’s a little like going to school on student loans. And the devil is the student loan collection agency.
I’m pretty sure this theology came from Calvin or somebody who had a couple of really cranky babies. I think that historically it’s not only the origin of the doctrine of original sin but I think Calvin (not the little guy with the talking tiger whose theology I’m much more in tune with) also coined the phrase “terrible twos”. I think any daycare worker or school teacher you talk to doesn’t need to be convinced that we’re prone to trouble as sparks fly upwards. Whether Christian, Buddhist or Hindu I don’t think you can walk into a junior high classroom and not believe in evil.
I attended junior high back in the days before budget cuts took things like mandatory music and choir out of the school. My junior high music teacher was a very large man who, though married, would have made a sensational addition to the cast of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. For several hours each week he would be out-numbered by us in a very small room as he tried to teach us music. No matter how much the whole process might have felt like torture to us it was nothing compared to the torture we put him through.
I honestly can’t explain to you why we tormented our music teacher.
To the point of making him scream and completely lose control of himself.
And then we pushed him a little further like trained Junior Gestapo officers until he broke down in tears in front of all of us.
He swept in to class and went to the piano and I watched in slow motion with the rest of the class as he sat down on the piano bench and the tacks that were spread across it. His rear was nearly as big as the piano bench itself and every tack seemed to hit a nerve as he shot back up with a shriek. We laughed. Even those of us who felt really, really bad laughed. To be honest, I’m not sure which group I was in.
Have you ever laughed when you shouldn’t and then trying not to laugh only made you laugh harder? This was one of those times.
He was furious. From this end of time I realize now that he was less hurt and more embarrassed. Less in pain and more frustrated.
As we laughed he fumed and he reached for the Teacher’s greatest weapon. The pad of Detention Slips. I’m pretty sure every single one of us in the class was getting written up that day.
But someone had stolen the pad. Gone.
And that was it. We’d driven him to the edge and over he went.
My present day self still can’t believe that my past self treated another human being that way. Why did we just go along with the group? Why didn’t someone shout a warning?
Substitute teachers of course were fair game. They were brought in like reserve soldiers out of their regular lives and normal routines and suddenly dropped on the front line and told to hold this hill.
One of the most popular activities at my junior high was trading seats. I had a social studies teacher who made a seating chart up and attached our names to a specific desk in a specific spot in the room. It made attendance easy for her, if the seat was filled you were there, if it was empty she could see exactly who wasn’t there because of the name on the seating chart.
When a Sub came everyone sat anywhere BUT there assigned seat. I came in just before the bell rang to a class like that and discovered my assigned seat was filled by someone else. I didn’t say anything; I just took the empty seat. I wasn’t all that into messing with the Sub but I was very into not getting punched by Jeff or slammed into a locker later by Doug. It got pretty funny as the Sub would call on someone 4 or 5 times before the person in their seat realized she (the Sub) was talking to them. In the end it didn’t work out so well for me. The person who occupied my seat decided to be rude and do some things that got them (me) written up in the Subs notes. When the regular teacher came back, punishment was given out based on the scrambled seating chart. So, as we said on the streets of Roch town, I did the time but I didn’t do the crime.
Junior and Senior High were both like that.
Remember when your mom told you not to show fear around a growly, mean looking dog?
“They can smell your fear.”
Or something like that.
I don’t know about dogs but I know it’s true of a pack of teenagers. If they smelled weakness off a teacher it was like the old Woody Allen bit about “living in a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear”. Some teachers just came to school in their Milkbone undies.
One teacher in high school, around whom many stories were told involving the Viet Nam war, toupees and relationship problems went too far one day when rudeness and the innuendo that students kept floating about this teacher and one of his female students shoved him right over the edge and he grabbed a desk and it flew across the room and into a wall – literally INTO the wall under the chalkboard.
We had one class that went through 3 teachers in one year. I’m pretty sure that’s a record that still stands.
We weren’t a school in the ‘hood. We weren’t the future gangsters of America. We were a 99.9% white, middle to upper middle class bunch of kids who were mostly going on to University. We didn’t, for the most part, physically torment our teachers; it was psychological, behavioral stuff that wore them down like the eraser on my #2 Ticonderoga during an algebra exam.
Thankfully, when I finally did get to University it finally stopped. My first day of English Comp 101 started with two good ol’ boys taking all the erasers and chalk away from the board before our professor got there. They sat in the back corner giggling as the prof started searching for chalk to write with after she arrived at the class.
This wonderful, tiny woman simply asked us if we knew where the chalk had gotten to and as one the class all turned to the boys in the corner. It was clearly the first time something like that had happened to them in their entire education experience. They got up and took the chalk and erasers up to our teacher. In a very gentle and quiet voice that sounded both soothing and unyielding, she explained how things were going to be and the good ol’ boys never tried any terrorist’s moves for the rest of the year.
What drives us to be cruel? Why do we choose one person who seems a little different and then torture them like hell for the majority of our school days? Why did we listen to stories that guys told about girls they dated and how far they claimed to get with them and judge each other based on such faulty evidence on the word of people who clearly played fast and loose with the truth? Why did we call someone ‘gay’ and torment them just because somehow that label made it o.k.? How did we go from playing with everyone in kindergarten to the cliques separated by clear boundaries and active minefields?
Did we torture some teachers because teachers taught us to torture someone? Did we learn the behavior or are we really, like that guy Calvin or whoever said it, are we just bent that way?
And why don’t we put junior highers in charge of prisoner interrogation?
Any stories you can share?