|Dicken's Mr. M'Choakumchild in the Age of No Child Left Behind|
© 2000 Hearst Newspapers
As a teenager, I would get into bitter arguments with my parents about the minutiae of a such-and-such fact. Is a shark a fish? Why does Louisiana have the Napoleonic code? I think my parents thought I was just being a know-it-all. I am pretty sure my mom thought I was arrogant most of the time. I liked to read, and I wanted to find someone to bounce off ideas. When you're a kid, your audience options are limited.
Frustrations came to a head one night at my dad’s house. We were eating spaghetti and meatballs. I brought a book to the table to read. Boy, Dad did not like that idea one bit, and he basically chewed me out. I think I was telegraphing the message that I would rather learn from a book than have a conversation at the kitchen table.
While my family valued education and wanted their children to have college degrees, they themselves did not go to college. Learning was something espoused as important — but, frankly, I did not have good models in what learning looked like and I was seldom praised for being curious. I don’t think my parents were ready for that kind of teen rebellion. And of course, stupid disputes over where homo sapiens first originated then blew up into debates about religion and politics. I was taught early on that diverging viewpoints are dangerous.
It is ironic that I eventually — in my adult life — earned a Master’s degree in Continental Philosophy and in English - basically a degree in asking questions and being curious about the nature of everything. I wanted validation that I wasn’t just an arrogant little kid who wanted to know everything.
Now that I am a teacher, I find myself turning into my father. I know. It’s crazy, but you do transmogrify into your parents. I am not talking about a one-to-one transformation — but tics of parental inheritance find their way into one's being. I become miffed when a student knows something that I do not know. I'm my father. Or when that teacher gets a kick out of telling everyone at lunch how I misunderstood that the word lovely in the sentence “Dog food is lovely” is an adjective. Hey, I thought, I wasn’t paying attention to the lesson. I imparted the wrong knowledge. Happens all the time.
I share a classroom with that knowledgeable teacher. He is similar to me in that he likes to know everything. To my chagrin, however, he corrects me when I make a mistake in my class, and I am pretty confident he enjoys the satisfaction of catching me in error.
Now, on the one hand, I could — one day — turn into this teacher. But, I do not want to turn into that teacher. Just as much as I do not want to turn into the distasteful versions of my father that I despise. I guess what I am trying to say is that I recognize a conflict within myself. That part of me that was a curious kid who wanted to know more, to do more, to learn more, to be more than what I was and am set against the voice of others who were frightened by that tenacity. You see. As a kid, you are set by the limitations of your parents. As an adult — not so much. However, as an adult, the voices of your past creep up and haunt you.