A Square Peg in a World of Round Holes

 

Social media can be exasperating but it does allow me to stay in touch with former teaching peers and students…all from the comfort of my den and recliner.

A student I had not interacted with for a while chimed in on a post and brought a huge smile to my face.  I spent the day thinking of square and round pegs and the holes they don’t fit into.

She was a slender, wisp of a girl.  Cute, with long dark hair and large matching brown eyes behind huge dark-framed glasses.  Dressed in her school uniform she looked just like any of the twenty or so students that met in my geography class.  I’m sure if she had been allowed to wear clothes of her own choosing, she might have dressed as a neo-hippy or in goth black.  She was a square peg in a class of round holes.

The classes were small, and the course of study was anything I wanted to make of it.  I had died and gone to teacher nirvana.  There were no standards to teach to, no end of course testing to prepare them for.  For a teacher on the backend of his career, it was almost like being semi-retired…almost.

I had been employed to teach geography and with carte blanche, I decided to make it cultural geography focusing more on the who and what than the where of geography.  Project-based; it would allow students controlled by the right side of their brains to express their creativity.  It would also provide great opportunities for “controlled” arguments.  I found her often to be in a not so silent minority as I attempted to control arguments that ran wildly off the rails.

She was a square peg in a world full of round holes in a class filled with round pegs.  We had just started up a new charter school, a “middle college” program that allowed students to take dual credit, giving them the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and a college associate degree.  Free college credit…well, free on the taxpayer’s dime and Warren Buffet seed money.

The makeup of the school was interesting, to say the least.  Former homeschoolers, Christian schoolers, and malcontents crushed into the melting pot that was my geography class.  More than once I found myself on the left side of discussions even though I considered myself middle of the road.

I had a suspicion most of my students thought I might be standing shoulder to shoulder with Karl Marx when all I was attempting was to get them to realize that most arguments had two sides.  My little square peg was definitely on the left side of the arguments.

As I thought about her, I realized, I really like the kids that tended to wander down their paths of life.  Remember, “all who wander are not lost”, and you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you are going.  As I have grown older I found I related better to the “lost on purpose” folks than to those who were in lockstep together.

I didn’t always think that way.  My early days of teaching as I did “on the job training” were a different time, a time when history and social studies were equal parts course of study and propaganda.  We were still carrying around the pre-Watergate and Cold War “My Country! Right or Wrong” baggage.  The culture was changing but the old status quo was holding on with a death grip…and still is.

We didn’t seem to care much about modes of learning or personality profiles in my early career.  In those days we tended to try and knock the edges off the square pegs and force them into “our” round holes using our five-pound hammers and wooden paddles.  Thankfully those days have passed…they’ve passed, right?

As I talked to a mentor about one of my early square pegs, she schooled me, “They think with the right side of the brain and are not always logical to those of us controlled by our left side.  If we can get them out of high school, they will do fine.”  I think Mrs. Leatherwood was on to something.

As I look back on my own evolution, I find that it was those square pegs that made teaching interesting…more interesting. They brought a refreshing breeze into the classroom…and outside it too.  The little boy who tried to fly his hang glider off the hill at the football stadium, the crazy smart kid who came up with a plan to “streak” the “halls of education” his senior year (It was nipped in the bud before it came to fruition, saving his career).  Even the ones who filled a fifty-gallon trashcan on top of the gym foyer before painting it as a Budweiser beer can.

Inside the classroom, they were more comfortable with art and poetry than the Third Law of Thermodynamics.  They were the headbangers or want to be actors.  As painful as their creativity could be, it was refreshing.  Many times, I was forced to be the disciplinarian when what I really wanted to do was laugh.

For clarification, I enjoyed my little right-wing fascist too, and honestly tried to be a mediator rather than an indoctrinator.  I tried to argue both sides of arguments and reframed from making my political stances known…some things you just can’t hide though.

As I texted back and forth, I realized my little square peg would never wish to go back to her high school days.  Part of me thought it was a shame, another part of me is cheering her on.  I would not want to return to my high school days either.

My mentor, Mrs. Leatherwood, was correct, my little square peg is simply fine in the world she is making for herself.  Throwing clay and making art in her off-hours, she is still a square peg in a world of round holes, but she seems comfortable with it.  I’m sure she will face many forks on her path and not always make the right choice.  But I think she is comfortable with the making of mistakes all humans make.  See, all who wander are not lost.

Thanks for the smile you left me with.

***

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who has taken up the art of writing badly in his retirement.  His author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR350Q1Jn0cOSjibk-4UScnGT9xKCp27KjrSuWxp1RymNShmpgGq04zrDF8

The image is from https://the-art-of-autism.com/the-shape-shift-square-pegs-dont-fit-into-round-holes/

 

Tide Pods and Heroes

 

I wasn’t going to react…I really tried hard but the “daddy” teacher in me has reared its ugly head and I will not sit on the sidelines while thousands of young people exercise their First Amendment Rights…and get ridiculed and called names for doing it.  My inner child of the Sixties has stood up and grabbed me by the ass and shook me.  I was young once and so were you…and if you didn’t do stupid things, you should probably head to the doctor and find out what is wrong with your memory.

Yes, some of these youngsters are stupid…no not stupid.  Some are immature and do stupid things.  Like, take the Tide Pod challenge.  Stupid things like goldfish swallowing contests, flagpole sitting, telephone booth stuffing, pet rocks, flappers, zoot suits, platform shoes, lily-white Irishmen in Afros and lime green leisure suits.  Abuses like beer drinking, smoking marijuana and premarital sex with the wrong woman.  Stupid things that immature young people from previous generations did (I know this for a fact)…and went on to do great things.  Before you say that I’m advocating for beer drinking, marijuana use, and premarital sex…JUST STOP IT!  That is not my point.

Growing up is being taught by caring people if you are lucky enough to have them: parents, teachers, family members, the clergy of your choice…the village.  Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, it’s also about ignoring what you were taught, striking out on your own path, and somehow managing to survive it…and learning from it.  I was lucky…I survived.  I didn’t learn much, but I hope the newest generation survives and learns.  I believe the will and that they will go on and do great things too…but they won’t do it our way.

I saw plenty of heroic young people, not one of them had a Tide Pod in their hands…or mouth.  We focus on all the immature actions and fail to recognize that they have a voice that echoes their pain, their concern, and their fear…whether they are high school students or not. They don’t have the life experiences.  Tell that to a kid whose mother works two jobs and leaves him to care for a little brother…no don’t.  You don’t have the right.

Sure, some left just to get out of class and there were, as my brother pointed out, some knuckleheads.  There would have been knuckleheads fifty years ago during YOUR or my generation, and after.

Others knelt in hallways when they weren’t allowed outside.  Peace signs were created by elementary school kids.  Shoes were placed in protest near the capital. Chicago students marched for mental illness awareness, equal educational opportunities, safety in their OWN communities and THE PARKLAND, FLORIDA, DEAD, and SURVIVORS.  I watched one young man march and stand silently…the only person in his march.  I think it was pretty goddammed heroic.

For you deflectors and detractors, sure the problem is more than JUST about gun control.  I don’t want your gun, I have one.  But their march…their conversation was about guns and dying in a school.  Organize your own march…I’ll march with you.

The PROBLEMS are about a failure in a law enforcement and background system that allows a mentally ill youngster to obtain a legal weapon that can kill thirty people in a minute.

It is about bullying, something some people still blame on the victim not being tough enough.

It’s about something being wrong with men of my race and gender who have a need to shoot up things with weapons only one or two steps down from a battlefield…and call it huntin’.

It is about violence in certain cities and the double, the national norm, unemployment figures that go with it…and the inequality in the education they receive.

It’s about prisons for profit that robs families of men who have minor brushes with the law when other men get a slap on the hand and community service.  But that’s something some of us don’t want to hear or even entertain.

It’s about a judicial system that seems to punish, more severely, one group over another.

It’s about moral depredation, Christ follower or Athiest, that must be someone else’s fault cause it ain’t mine.

And, it’s also about smart and consistent gun control, even if it means JUST enforcing the laws already on the books.

There are plenty of facets to the problem…just pick a cause…or not.  But that will be YOUR CAUSE, not theirs.  Or just sit back and denigrate young people who want to start a conversation…one we can’t seem to have without yelling.  I’d say you failed at quieting them and I think that is a good thing.

To quote Buffalo Springfield:

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image was taken by Amber Nelson Wagner

Video from YouTube

 

 

AN OLD TEE SHIRT

I have somehow collected hundreds of tee shirts over the years. Some are old athletic tees dating to the Mauldin years when I first began teaching and coaching at the high school level. Many are tattered and yellowed from age, others carry what I hope are grass stains. Some are covered in memories and is why I have a hard time getting rid of or “repurposing” any of them; the tattered “lucky” blue one I wore the year we won a state championship, another from a region championship, the only region championship, in football. Some are not athletic wear from former teams but are souvenirs from races I have competed in, if you can call my running even running much less competing. I am drawn to one, almost forgotten, which brought back memories of the player who gave it to me. It was off white from its conception, not just with age, and has a prominent hole in the back. Dang! How did that get there? On the front, there was a design including a Kiwi, the bird not the fruit, surrounded by the logo “Kiwi Country.” Underneath the logo, screened in block letters is “New Zealand.” Wow, I had forgotten all about this particularly beautiful fashion statement.

“Hobby” Hobson or Hobart R. Hobson had a thick and, by my Southern “hillbilly” standards, a somewhat odd English accent and the coaching staff decided to pronounce it as a cockney would, ‘Obby Obson’. I don’t think he was very impressed. Hobby was also not impressed when I began to sing “Walzing Matilda,” the unofficial Australian National Anthem. I would have sung the New Zealand National Anthem had I known it. Oh, yeah, it’s “God Save the Queen. Despite being in the same hemisphere as Australia and settled by the same imperial power, Britain, I found they were more than thirteen hundred miles apart in distance and even farther apart in culture and mind set.

“Kiwis” do not like being thrown into the same pool as the Aussies. Despite the fact both were mapped by noted explorer James Cook and claimed by the British Empire, Australia was settled as a penal colony while New Zealand was settled as a religious colony. Think prisons rather than churches. Also, there are major environmental differences that provided opportunities for different cultural outlooks. Think deserts, snakes and drought in Australia and lakes, forests and glaciers in New Zealand. They also developed a love for different types of sports. Australia has Australian Rules football, which aside from its name, a very large football and large goalpost, resembles American football only slightly. New Zealand is known for Rugby which, despite its plumper ball, does resemble American football and is one of the sports that American football is derived from.

Foreign exchange student Hobby Hobson from New Zealand seemed to be a very serious and quiet young man; much more mature than his American counterparts. He was quite unlike the Crocodile Dundee character that I was still attempting to compare him to and he never understood why I continued to belt out “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” after his repeated denials of the existence of Kangaroos in New Zealand. Physically dark, with brown hair and a sturdy build, he looked and sounded nothing like Paul Hogan. This did not stop me from kidding him with questions about “shrimps on the barbie” or “What did your didgeridoo?” I always stopped short of cruelty and always goaded him with a smile on my face. I would not know how well he took it until much later. Hobby found that his serious good looks and exotic accent gave him an advantage when it came to man’s favorite sport, girls. Hobby was a “chick magnet” despite his quiet demeanor. They all seemed to want to take him gently into their arms and crush him passionately while lining up as if on a bill of fare at some blue-plate restaurant. When questioned about this week’s “menu choice” he would just smile and add that New Zealanders were more gentlemanly than their Australian counterparts. Never having met an Aussie I don’t know.

Hobby played rugby and therefore thought he wanted to play football. Of medium height and stocky build, physically he was typical of Riverside athletes, undersized for a linebacker or defensive end and too slow to play defensive back. A typical Riverside player, small and slow. We moved him from position to position until he settled in as an outside linebacker. He would hit you if he could get into position but there is a learning curve in football and sometimes we found him curving in the wrong direction. It began with the simple act of dressing. Did I mention that Rugby players don’t wear equipment? The game of rugby involves blocking and tackling, all without benefit of the equipment that we associate with our game of football including helmets and shoulder pads. This might explain why when “Googling” rugby I saw so many smiling rugby players without all their teeth.

Once he learned how to dress, and made it to the field, we decided to limit him to defense because of the learning curve involved with offense. In addition to never having played football, Hobby had also missed all four weeks of preseason practice. Defense is more about alignment and reaction than having to learn a play with all the terminology involved. “Bunch Right-Liz-Move-Combo Veer-On Three” is akin to learning another language in addition to acquiring the technical ability required to execute the play. He did find a place to play. Despite his disadvantages, Hobby would run as hard as he could and was not afraid to cause a collision. This made him perfect for the kickoff team and he became a good “wedge buster.” Unfortunately, this was not one of our better teams meaning we might not get to kick off but once due to our propensity for being shut out. As the season ended we also put him on the kickoff return team which gave him many more opportunities to play.

The end of football season also meant that Hobby and I did not run into each other as often. At the fall athletic banquet, he presented each member of the coaching staff a wall hanging of a New Zealand map which was divided according to their rugby teams and each of their team uniform shirts. After the banquet, there was limited contact until one day the following spring I saw him in the hallway and we paused long enough to catch up on how well he was doing and to remind him that I still thought he was Crocodile Dundee despite his protests. He was dressed in typical teenage faire, which is universal it would seem, blue jeans and tee-shirt. This tee shirt featured his county’s name and logo and I made a big deal about how much I liked it.

After bidding the seniors a fond adieu that spring, the next day would be spent completing those tasks that teachers must complete before we can run, cheering and dancing to the closest bar as we close school for the summer. I had completed my list of duties and had wandered to another room to try and assist another teacher. When I had assisted, or interfered all I could, I wandered back to my room and found the tee shirt neatly folded on my desk. There was no note but I got the message loud and clear. It would also explain why I have held on to it these years, hole and all.

This is a selection from the book “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”, a feel good kind of book based upon Don Miller’s forty plus years of teaching and coaching. Should you be interested in purchasing this book or other’s of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try the following link: http://goo.gl/lomuQf

IN DEFENSE OF KIDS

I have to speak in front of our local Lion’s Club, well I don’t have to, I agreed to. The subject is kids, something I should know something about having taught and coached them for over forty years. As any educator will tell you, JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU HAVE SEEN IT ALL, THEY WILL DO SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU REALIZE YOU DON’T. However, even saying that, I BELIEVE KIDS ARE STILL KIDS. I read or see our next generations being characterized as entitled, elitist, dumb, stupid, weak, soft, lazy or gullible…should I go on? No because I believe, like a lot of “OLDER GENERATIONS,” we are not giving them their just dues.

There were entitled, elitist, dumb, stupid, weak, soft, lazy and gullible kids throughout my teaching career. What has changed is not the younger generations, what has changed is the world we live in. Technology, social media, the destruction of the middle class forcing parents to work longer to put basic necessities on the table, national media focusing upon the negatives that sell rather than the positives that don’t and giving out trophies to everyone who participates in any an extracurricular activity are just some of the reasons that SEEM to make kids appear to be different, weak and entitled. They are different but different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and if it is bad, it’s because we, the previous generation, have made it that way.

These new generations do things differently than “our generation” …the same way that I did things differently than my parents and my parents did things differently than their parents. I don’t think any of us want to go back to planting seeds by hand or using a seed drill pulled by horses to put beans on the table the way my grandparents did. This “new generation” doesn’t learn the same way that we did nor even work the same way we did…if they are lucky enough to find a job. I don’t believe we want to give up our computers, smart phones or data processing software for an abacas or wax board, rotary phone or old Royal typewriter with correction fluid. I do call my daughter when I need to program some new form of technology.

Maybe I am looking through rose colored glasses because I was always associated with good kids for the most part. There were a few little “Johnnies” but not many. I don’t think I am suffering from cognitive dissonance because I taught at many different types of schools; urban and rural, large and small, economically entitled with over a ninety percent college attendance rate, unentitled schools where kids were more likely to go into military service, predominately white and predominately other races. I found kids to be nothing more than kids who wanted to learn, who wanted to be taught boundaries, who wanted someone to listen to them and give them some attention. The only difference seemed to be that the modern generation tended to use the word teachers and coaches hated the most…” Why?” “Why do we need to learn this or why are we having to do this.” “Because I said so” was not the best answer to provide.

Children of all ages, races and socio-economic standing want attention and, unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter whether it is negative or positive. They want love and will look for it wherever they can find it; at home with their family, in church organizations, with positive mentors or with drugs, gangs or bad interpersonal relationships. That was true fifty years ago and it is true now. Unfortunately, the numbers involved in negative activities seems to have increased.

That is where you and I, the old generation, comes in. We need to bridge gaps whether it is through the Lion’s Club, the Phyllis Wheatly Center, tutoring, the Y or just coaching a little league team. All we are doing is investing a little time to insure the successes of our next generation.

For more unique life stories or posts by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf