then when all else fails
use meekness as a weapon
it worked on Mom …
Watching and waiting for this Presidential Election cycle to come to a merciful end and wondering if the President will ever figure out what has happened and what he needs to do, I was reminded of my 10th grade English teacher, oh wait, HONORS English teacher, Mr. David Throckmorton, at Grand Rapids Creston High School.
What was this guy doing teaching in a high school?
Mr. Throckmorton should have been teaching in one of those weird little New England colleges like Brown or Dartmouth or Amherst or someplace with a name that bespoke unspoken deep thoughts from unread deep books.
Instead it was Creston High School for Mr. Throckmorton.
The same high school he had graduated from.
Mr. Throckmorton famously spoke at a Creston High School Pep rally saying, “I have always been a big Creston High School athletic supporter.”
I don’t know.
Maybe it was penance.
I once told my chemistry professor at Grand Rapids Junior College that I would be coming back to teach at GRJC as a history instructor.
She said she couldn’t wait and would take my class for revenge.
Mr. Throckmorton taught the experience of language in english rather than ‘traditional’ subject-verb-object, I before E type of stuff.
Not that he ignored grammar and basic tools but the class was so much more than that.
But he was stuck on how to grade our level of progress as required by the Board of Education.
He settled on two things.
For the first half of the school year we had weekly spelling tests with a massive 200 word final at the end of the semester and the 2nd half of the school grade was based on a weekly vocabulary tests with a massive 200 word final.
This produced a grade for the class.
I got nothing against spelling.
I just can’t do it.
I cannot explain it but me and spelling just do not get along.
Today Spell check is my friend but I also have Mark Twain’s “It is a poor sort of person who can’t spell a word more than one way” branded into my brain.
It was worse in this class as I took it up as a cause that grading class room performance on just SPELLING was stoooooooopid and I wasn’t going to do it.
I was loud in my complaints on this system.
I refused to study.
I was to put it simply, a real jerk about it.
I also got D’s.
I also didn’t care much for Mr. Throckmorton though all and I mean ALL of my friends loved the guy.
Then the semester ended and we moved to the vocabulary tests which I could pass without any studying and my world and relationship with Mr. Throckmorton changed.
I loved the class.
I embraced the teaching.
I embraced the teacher.
We still had assignments for essays and short papers and such.
On one such assignment I did not have my work ready and I got an E written down in the grade book.
I made the effort to meet up with Mr. Throckmorton after school.
I explained why my paper was ‘late’ (I hadn’t written it yet) and my excuse took in the phases of the Moon, the Carter Presidency, the Gadsden purchase and anything else I could come up with.
I apologized and said I understand I was wrong to not have the paper done.
I apologized again and explained that I was aware of the assignment and the due date but I just messed up.
I apologized again and promised that if he could only give me a little break, I would have the paper on his desk first thing the next morning.
The morning after I wrote the missing assigned paper that had been due today but I didn’t say that part.
Mr. Throckmorton stared at me.
I think he nodded his head slowly a few times.
Did I mention that Mr. Throckmorton had an uncanny resemblance to Fidel Castro?
Mr. Throckmorton held me in his gaze as his curly hair and bushy beard slowly went up and down.
Without a word he turned back to his private closet and unlocked it.
He opened the door and dug through a stack of books until he found an old, very worn, anthology.
He looked at me.
Then he paged through the anthology until he came to a certain poem.
He handed me the open book and said “read.”
I read the indicated poem.
I read it again.
I looked back at Mr. Throckmorton and read it a third time.
I closed the book and handed it back.
I nodded and smiled with my lips tight together.
“Thanks,” I said.
And I left.
It is odd how often that poem comes back to me.
Maybe someone could read it to the President.
On Flunking a Nice Boy Out of School
I wish I could teach you how ugly
decency and humility can be when they are not
the election of a contained mind but only
the defenses of an incompetent. Were you taught
meekness as a weapon? Or did you discover,
by chance maybe, that it worked on mother
and was a good thing — at least when all else failed — to get you over the worst of what
Is that why you bring these sheepfaces to Tuesday?
They won’t do.
It’s three months work I want, and I’d sooner have it
from the brassiest lumpkin in pimpledom, but have it,
than all these martyred repentances from you.
—John Ciardi, 1916-1986