Sometime in the fall of 1968, we moved to the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The move introduced me to my fourth school by the early part of my Second Grade. I moved to William Charles Cole Claiborne Elementary School. I had to write the entire name of the school on each of our tests. Most of the time, the test was over by the time I finished writing the full header including my schools name, my teacher’s name, my name, the date, and the subject.
This started an endless sequence in my life of being the new kid in class, and being the crash test dummy for the discipline system of the school. Over the years I sported a rather impressive resume` of new schools, types of education, and the underbelly of the beast waiting for my punishment at the hands of a principal, or a teacher.
It was the late 1960’s. Psychology and alternative thinking was in full swing. Generations before were raised on the three “B’s” of Education, Bust their Butts with a Board. It was suddenly cool to just mess with a kid’s mind, rather than bruise their butts. My Second Grade teacher was a woman named Miss Grant. She had one of these big bouffant hairdos that must have consumed several of her waking hours trying to get that much volume. I still remember thinking she was hot. The great poet, Confederate Railroad, described the look so well.
“Shoulda seen the looks on the faces of my Dad and Mom,
When I showed up at the door with a date for the senior prom.
They said: “Well, pardon us son, she ain’t no kid.
“That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig.
I said: “I know it dad, ain’t she cool, that’s the kind I dig.”
Yeah, an’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an’ er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side.”*
Miss Grant must have slept with hair rollers the size of toxic waste drums. I believe her makeup was applied with a mason’s trowel. It has been about forty-five years, but I think she was the first woman that made me notice that females have significant anatomical differences from men. Turns two and four on the race track were particularly overstated.
Miss Grant was particularly fond of psychological manipulation. Offensive students were “Put out of the community.” The class had a little annex section toward the back left side facing the teacher. When you were “put out of the community” she would move your desk over to the annex away from all the good kids. I love to make light of this form of punishment years later. I lived outside the community. I ran organized crime outside the community. They elected me mayor of outside the community. I used to make fun of the “Sheeple” inside the community.
Reality is that I was absolutely crushed. My mother’s eyes would flash, with the momma bear’s protective instinct when I would sob that I got put out of the community today. It was my first taste of years of the new kid syndrome. Most kids are tied to their school district by the location of their house. For many children, their home address doesn’t change for decades. Every year spent in the same school creates a web cliques that gets tighter every year. Overcoming the inertia of this gets harder and harder as time progresses.
This blog brings up a personal issue. How influenced are you by other people’s opinion? I meet people totally oblivious to other people around them. They absolutely don’t care what people think of them. While people like that seem to have few friends due to the number of people they alienate, I am somewhat jealous of them. They have immunity to peer pressure. No one manipulates them with guilt, or ostracism, or anything. The other end of the spectrum is a person who is so controlled by fear of his peers, he is absolutely paralyzed. I have spent most of my life trying to balance either extreme, but erring on the side of being controlled by fear of other people. That fear has led me to spend most of my life trying to attract attention to be popular. It is a great resume` for a comedian. The fear can be absolutely crippling.
Being put out of the community should have been effective discipline. The need for attention always took over, and it was another round out of the community. There is a level or resignation that comes over a person when they start to believe they can never do anything right. I have seen that look on Sunday school kids, Christian school kids, reform school kids, and hardened criminals. When hopelessness takes over, discipline is almost useless.
Sometimes we need to reboot our thinking. It is not just enough to get someone to conform to a set of rules while they are under your authority. In the big picture, you are trying to teach someone a set of values. I say this like I have never made a mistake. Reality is that I have learned most of right by doing wrong and dealing with the consequences. The art is correcting the mistakes in a way that instills a desire to do right. If you are crushing the esteem and spirit of a child, you will produce a robot that conforms in your presence. The end game to that is rarely pretty.
In the end game, I survived. It wasn’t the worst injury I ever had, and it certainly wasn’t the last injury either. Somehow forty-five years later the event was traumatic enough that on my Saturday off, I am choosing to share it on an internet forum. This leaves me with one final chilling thought. What kind of mistake am I making today, that will waste someone’s Saturday forty-five years from now? That is way too chilling of a thought for me to deal with on my day off.
*Confederate Railroad, “Trashy Women”