“Kennedy, You’re Weird”

“I never feel like I get any closer to you,” she’d say. When the Carpenters came out with their song, “Close to You,” she’d say, “That’s how I think of you. You’re difficult to reach.”

It made me feel guilty, but I didn’t understand what she meant. I was just me. I was just a kid. What were other people like?

“I never feel as if I really know you, or touch you. You’re always somewhere else.” Echoes but this was the great love of my life, not my mom.

What in the world did they want?

Now I believe the “complaints” came from fundamental differences in personality that I didn’t know about until I required hundreds of business majors (my students) over a period of years take the Myers/Briggs Personality Inventory as part of a report project. My goal was to:

1) teach them how to write a business report as a group project,
2) teach them about different kinds and levels of research,
3) expose them to a work problem — there were two; one was using personality tests in hiring which is done fairly often and the other using personality tests for team building, also used fairly often,
4) give those who were unhappy in their major a chance to question their direction if they wanted to.

I learned about me.

Some of my students rejected the tests out-of-hand saying, “It’s like a horoscope” to which I replied, “Sure if you get your ‘sign’ by answering questions about yourself then it is. I agree.”

Most of my students thought the project was kind of fun. One of them said, “Whoa, I’m changing my major to ceramics.” That was the ONE kid out of thousands who had the same MBTI type as I have. INFJ, (Introverted/iNtuitive/Feeling/Judging) statistically the rarest personality type. No, that doesn’t make me think I’m special. It actually makes me special. Sorry. So all the people who have said over the years, “Kennedy, you’re a freak,” knew what they were talking about. 😉

A group of business majors is already a self-selected, elite group of people who are unlikely to be introverts, and very few were. Most were men, my direct opposite ESTP  (Extraverted/Sensint/Thinking/Perceiving) and ESTJ with one or two “accountants” ISTJ sprinkled in. Since the class wasn’t required for accounting majors, there were never many of those. Once in a while there was an “N”, an intuitive person, usually a girl, who was tuned in to the feelings of others. All of these types are very common in our world. They are the people that keep the world going every single day.

Their personality types were extremely outgoing. They were not prone to self-reflection, not aware of the feelings of others or overly concerned about them. Extroverted, Sensing and Thinking, they went through life without a lot of interpersonal awareness. This is all a way to say they were not the most sensitive people in the world and were strongly ego driven. I, as an introverted, intuitive am almost always aware of what’s going on with other people and I wear my heart on my sleeve. They could hurt my feelings easily. They would say things to me and get in a physical proximity to me that were very challenging. When I understood who they were, I realized it wouldn’t hurt them at all if I gave them back what they were giving me, and it didn’t. They expected it. They gave it to each other. It was the way things were supposed to be in their worlds, from their perspectives. I stopped defending myself ever.

“Why did you give me a D?”

“I didn’t give you a D. You earned a D. If you don’t like the D, you can talk to me about what you could have done better, otherwise, I don’t have anything to say.”

“OK. What could I have done better.” Challenge, provocation dripping from his/her voice.

“I’ll tell you if you’re really going to listen, but if you’re just angry at me right now make an appointment to come and talk to me next week.”

“I’m angry.”

“OK. Come see me Tuesday before class. I don’t talk to angry students.”

I don’t think those kids ever knew what it took from me to be the classroom teacher whose classes they fought to get into or the teacher in the office who sat with them for hours helping them learn to see their own work, their own selves, take responsibility for their own achievement. They naturally figured I was like them, deriving boundless energy from proximity to other human beings.

Until I had done this project with several classes, I’d been skeptical about the tests. I’d seen it simply as a good project that would interest my students at this moment in their lives — 19 is all about self-discovery. I became a believer when I saw how knowing the overall personalities of a class of business majors could help me teach them.

We are not all the same. That “special little snowflake” thing has more than a germ of truth to it, but we’re stuck with the other people in the world. From this experience, I saw why I’m hard to be close to. I need a lot of psychic and physical privacy. I have a lot going on inside my head. I thought everyone was like this, but my 10,000 business majors taught me that is not the case. They also taught me how to compensate, how to reach others, and that was an enormous gift I wish I’ld learned earlier in my life.



Rock Star

I got an ovation once. It was at the end of a student show at the end of the term at the international school where I was teaching. I was thrilled, surprised, honored by the ovation. Proud of my students and of myself. The group in the auditorium — students — stood up and yelled, “Martha! Martha! Martha!” But now I don’t even remember the amazing thing they did under my Professor Keatingesque tutelage!

For some reason, for years I was kind of a “rock star” to students. My classes were “not like the other teachers’.” I don’t know how they were different, but… For a while when I walked across campus students would cheer. It’s true. It’s weird, but true. I’m a humble person, and I found it kind of embarrassing and still kind of cool.

I wasn’t even completely aware of it as a phenomenon until, one day, one of my former colleagues at the international school asked me, “How’s teaching at the university? Are you still a rock star?”

That’s when I started noticing it. I also began noticing the way my colleagues looked at me.

We all know teaching is a serious business. Teachers aren’t supposed to have fun and students aren’t supposed to have fun. If the teacher and the students ARE having fun, no one’s learning anything. My experience over the years showed me that teachers are often among the most conventional and unimaginative purveyors of social norms. Thinking about that some more, I began to see that’s what’s expected of teaching. A teacher’s job is to keep the values of society intact. A teacher’s job is not to challenge and provoke and inspire. I began to see that clearly in the response of my colleagues to me.

If students do well in your class and get high grades, you’re an easy grader NOT an effective teacher. If students do Hamlet  as an extended role play, you’re not teaching Shakespeare. If, in a class that lasts 4 hours, your remedial writing students turn out a complete essay, you have failed to teach them discipline.

I viewed teaching as a dance. The students were my partners and we were trying to get through the song with as much grace and joy as we could. I believed nothing was too hard for them IF they wanted to do it. I believed some things that were difficult were so good and so important that they needed to deal with them — but I’d help them. I believed they were human beings, and, as most were 19, they were human beings in search of self not in search of society’s expectations of them.

I’m glad I was a rock star. It’s kind of hard to imagine at this point, but it really happened. And there are students out there — now in their 30s or 40s — who know that some of our best friends are “dead friends” (exist for us between the covers of books) and that the Crossopterygii was our ancestral hero.


There is Nothing More than This

A teacher is the carrier of a baton. Most of the time, we never know who grasps it as we pass by, but once in a while something happens and this morning  I woke up to the most amazing thing, messages on Facebook and comments here on WordPress that needed my approval. What?

I got an early Christmas — and the BEST — present today. Fifteen years ago I taught a young man — a kid — he was 17 — in a summer intro to literature class.  He had — at that point — never studied literature. He asked me outside the classroom if I thought he could do the class even though he’d just gotten out of high school. He didn’t just do the class. He fell in love with literature and with Goethe and then with German. His dad was German; his mom Mexican. One of HIS students found my blog post in which I had written about him as he was long ago and she wrote me this:

Hello, Ms. Kennedy,
Your former student, Prof. Schorsch Kaffenberger is my world history professor at a college I attend (I found this blog from a year ago by googling his name to find his office). Professor Kaffenberger must have been an extraordinary student for him to be remembered after 15 years. He’s one of my coolest and most supportive professors. 🙂

This student was exceptional in many ways, mostly in his courage and passion for learning, his curiosity and openness to all that was new. In that first class (I taught him in a few classes) he was shy and young, but stepped forward to read lines from Oedipus when no one else would. He took what I had to give and he ran with it. That his student describes him as “cool” and “supportive” means the world to me.

I might have always had other dreams and aspirations, but when I turned that corner in 1976 and became a teacher, all the other dreams and aspirations took second place. In my heart lives the hope that the people who grasped the baton handed me by my teachers carry it into the future with love, faith and passion. There is really no treasure worth more than this.






Talkin’ ’bout — Speak up, Sonny!

Back in the day when I was teaching Business Communication I had my students do a group research project to help their (fictional) co-workers communicate better with colleagues from different generations. It was a good project because the research was pretty simple, and there is a lot of stuff online about the four (almost five now) generations currently in the work place. The biggest differences between the generations related to preferred communication media and fundamental values. As part of the project, students had to conduct a survey that would allow them to determine if the research they found was true of the people around them. This was important because it was a way for them to penetrate stereotypes. For example, the stereotype of Gen X is that it puts family before work and expects people to do the same; they might leave projects for another day: the stereotype of Boomers is that they put work before family and will stay at work until the job is done; the stereotype of Millennials is that they need constant communication and reassurance. What this means is that a Millennial with a Boomer boss or a Gen X boss is going to feel like they’re treading water in the deep end.

For a while the project was very successful, but over time, as No Child Left Behind had affected the learning abilities of more and more of my students, the big picture faded for them and it became a dangerous enterprise to write this report. How would they know if they got it right? What questions should they put on their survey? How could they have 20 questions when SurveyMonkey only allows 10 for free? The questions went on and on, most of them questions that could be answered by just a tad of critical thinking/reasoning/problem solving. They could actually do that — but their fear that their reasoning would lead to the wrong answer paralyzed them.

And they always felt I was holding out on them. When a student (one I liked!) said, “Fuck you!” to me one day when I passed back the projects, and the one done by his group earned a B (for concrete reasons that had been specified in the assignment) I knew I was done. He apologized profusely and often afterward, and I heard from him a couple of times after I left California when the “kissing up” couldn’t BE kissing up, but the damage was done.

His generation and my “generation” were not going to last long in the same class room.

Generations probably didn’t matter when four of them lived under the same roof and did the same work the family had done for, uh, generations. Nowadays they reflect social changes that affect a (I hate this word) cohort of people in the same age group — No Child Left Behind is one. Dr. Spock was another — most Baby Boomers’ mothers had and used that book as part of raising their children. Kids who went to a one room school were less likely to be affected by some governmental edict regarding education. But still technology affects a generation. Plate armor saved lives.

The other day I read a very long and well researched discussion about why Hillary Clinton will be indicted for whatever crime sending classified emails on a non-State Department server would be. I was stunned by ONE statement:

Clinton’s only justification for the private server is that this system was more convenient for her. Because government issued blackberries could not control multiple email accounts at once, she argues it was simpler to carry out all her correspondence, work and personal, on one phone under one email rather than through different emails between two phones.

While that answer has generated abundant scorn and skepticism from the Republicans (and Democrats), was technological simplicity really that ridiculous of a request from a then 60-year old Hillary Clinton? Would you expect your grandma to want to use two different cell phones?  Read the whole article here.

Try as I might, I don’t understand why that comment is there. But I do recall how my students were somehow convinced that because they could use (so-called) “technology” more easily than their parents, that they had somehow invented it.

“No guys, you just grew up with it. Someone invented it back in WW II. That’s right. Your great-grandparents.” I wanted to say that, but I knew it was all they had to cling to. 😉

The gap between THAT generation and MINE is enormous, but it isn’t what many of them (and/or us) think it is. It’s not that Millennials are more technologically advanced than we Baby Boomers. When I walked out of the classroom FOREVER I was far more adept at using current technology than my students were; I had to be if I were going to teach them.  The gap is more profound — but the biggest part of any gap between generations is…


…the gap of maturity and experience.





In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Night and Day.” Have you ever had an experience that was amazing the first time, but terrible the second time around? Or vice versa? What made it different the second time?

Not exactly the “second time” but a definite change… For most of my career, I loved teaching. I was a college and university writing instructor. I engaged easily with my students and I was effective — and entertaining — in the classroom. Since I never taught anything anyone WANTED to learn (I taught only required classes) I as lucky that I had conviction about the importance and intrinsic interest of learning how to write.

As a part-time teacher (no, I didn’t teach part-time; I taught more than full time) I just had to go into a classroom prepared and “divest myself” (as a jokingly referred to it). For decades I was one of the most popular teachers in every school in which I taught.

Then it changed…

The final two years of my career, I actually had classes that never came together filled with students who — for one reason or another — I could not engage. I began hating what I had once loved, and dreading what I had once anticipated enthusiastically. In my final two semesters I had both the worst and the best of the classes of my whole career — and the best was good beyond all expectation and the worst was heart-shattering.

The factors leading to the change are complex and myriad. Was I part of the problem? Yes. I was done. I’d reached a point that — at the beginning of my career, in my early 30s — I didn’t even imagine possible. At that point in my career I went to a conference and heard an older teacher talk about dealing with burnout. I thought, “Then you were never a REAL teacher, you lump of fabric.” Now I know, she must have been a real teacher or she would not have cared enough to burn out.

Other factors? I think the biggest other factor was the change in the school system before college. By the time I left teaching, my students did not have the same basic foundation of knowledge and skills my students had had when I began. I could not assume the same foundation. These creatures shocked me daily, from a girl (not a good student or an interested student in the first place) raising her hand and saying, “You have to print on the board because I can’t read cursive,” to the kid who didn’t know there was such a language as modern Greek. Because they were so ignorant — and so arrogant about their ‘knowledge” (they could use electronics) — I began to feel contempt for my students, a contempt which, sadly, they deserved and yet could not have cared less about (or in their parlance, could have cared less…).

No one should teach if they view their students with contempt. I had plenty of those professors in my life and they, oddly enough, inspired me to become a teacher. When I became them, I knew I had to get out of the classroom.

Is it Worth Reading?

Here it is, September 11, again. People are posting here and everywhere (I imagine) about remembering the events of this date in 2001.

Why? It certainly did not wake us up and make us better people or more aware of our place as a nation in the WORLD. Following on the fall of the twin towers, we had a president who committed war crimes and can barely even leave the US, he’s so wanted by other nations for the evil he sanctioned during what I can only call his “reign.”

I still don’t think anyone really knows HOW it happened or really WHO did it.

Ultimately, it all seemed to have been pre-visioned by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy (of four books…). It all seems to me like the Krikkit Wars and the US is Krikkit.

Krikkit is am immensely xenophobic planet. The people of Krikkit are just a bunch of really sweet guys who just happen to want to kill everybody.

The first Krikkit attack on the Galaxy had been stunning. Thousands and thousands of huge Krikkit warships had leaped suddenly out of hyperspace and simultaneously attacked thousands and thousands of major worlds, first seizing vital material supplies or building the next wave, and then calmly zapping those worlds out of existence.

The planet of Krikkit was sentenced by the Galactic Court to be encased for perpetuity in an envelope of Slo-Time, inside which life would continue almost infinitely slowly. All light would be deflected around the envelope so that it would remain invisible and impenetrable. Escape from the envelope would be utterly impossible unless it was unlocked from the outside.

That morning I was driving to school and listening to the classical music station that broadcast out of Tijuana. I didn’t even know about the events until I arrived and everyone was going around “Did you hear? My God! Isn’t it horrible?”

Yes, it was.

Class was held as usual but students were so distracted it was difficult to teach. Smart phones didn’t exist, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the US had been attacked.

After class, I went to my job at the school’s writing tutorial center. Everyone was talking about the attack (of course) and debating whether to turn on the TV. We were also waiting for the President of the college to announce that school was closed. Meanwhile, I worked thinking about how all my life the US has prepared for war. I grew up 2 miles from a large bevy of B-52s. “Peace is Our Profession” said the Strategic Air Command signs at every entrance to the base where my dad worked. I mostly just wanted everyone to shut up. The damage was done. Life goes on. I held my peace about that, though. I could already tell that Xenophobia would become the order of the day (week, year, culture). I’d lived in the People’s Republic of China soon after the Great Proletariat Culture Revolution and I KNEW what could happen if “most” people got the “wrong” idea about a single dissenting individual.

I knew that real freedom was on the way out.

Just at the darkest moment of all this, one of my former students came in. He’d been 17 years old when he was in my first class, an intro to literature class. He’d never read poetry or studied literature before. His dad was from Germany. His mom was Mexican. He loved the class and it inspired him to read literature and write poetry. He also learned to love Goethe because of the class and to be interested in learning German and maybe going to visit his grandfather in Germany. So, in he walks, “Hey Martha! Is this any good?” He holds up Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.

And I thought at that moment, “Yeah, the twin towers have been attacked, and the Pentagon, but the world holds to its eternal thread of beauty and here’s Schorsch to remind me of that which really matters.”

Meanwhile almost everyone else was watching the Twin Towers fall again and again and again and again; hypnotic, rage inducing.

The following days I was stunned by the kindness and gentleness of strangers in the grocery store, on the street, everywhere. I loved the silent hills over which the planes had stopped flying. Messages of condolence came in from all over the world expressing sorrow over the act of terrorism and (worse) the loss of innocent lives. The pace of life slowed and then, just as suddenly, there was Christmas music in the stores causing people to salivate heavily and buy things, the planes were back, people were taping a newspaper insert American flag to their front windows and wearing American flag lapel pins and (horribly) “REAL” Americans started attacking our local Chaldean businessmen in fits of stupid, fucking, ignorant fear and rage. A government agency was set up — a new cabinet position — “Homeland Security” and the “Patriot” act was passed making many of our Cold War nightmares come true. White powder in envelopes was feared to be anthrax and on and on and on… A new normal for us Krikkits.

Americans need to get out more both to SEE the world and BE SEEN.

On the big stage, Tony Blair and Dubbya and Chainy cooked up a fake case against Saddam (based largely on a dodgy doctoral dissertation Tony Blair had plagiarized). I stopped class the following March so we could watch, on TV, the first attack on Iraq.

So…I don’t know how to view 9/11. I’m very sorry for all the people who lost loved ones. I also think of all the people all over the world losing loved ones to terrorism here and there. Having lived in a neighborhood which was a haven for refugees (lots of Section 8 housing) I saw waves of disturbed, distressed and disheartened people from all over the world who were not in the US because it was their dream, but because it was their only hope of safety.

In 2004 I went to Italy where, after a young Swiss woman berated me angrily for the war in Iraq, I learned it would be wise of me to let people think I was German. It was an effective disguise, except, of course, in Germany itself.

Interviewing a Little Girl about School


My First Halfway Decent Depiction of a Horse 🙂

Yesterday I got to hang out with a little girl and talk to her. I was at the Art Co-op Store where I have a few paintings hanging. I was working with the little girl’s grandmother, and I was painting a small watercolor of a horse. The little girl came in, and I gave her something to paint on and with and she sat down with me and we had a good time.

She’s going into third grade. I said, “I remember liking third grade. I had fun then.” In fact, it was hard, because I was a new kid in a new school, but, you know, otherwise, it was very good. I learned a lot about drawing — my teacher’s husband had been stationed in Japan and she brought Japanese paintings for me to copy (it kept me quiet, too…)

This little girl said, “I don’t think I’m going to have any fun. We don’t have any fun at my school.”

“Why not?”

“We just take tests.”

“I remember getting to read some good books.”

“I won’t. I’m still in the last level in reading so I get to read second grade books until I pass the exam. In reading I’m still in level X-2 and I need to be in level X-3 if I am going to read new books.”

Imagine that. Knowing when you start a WHOLE new school year you’re going to read the SAME thing you did the year before even though you’re in a new grade.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “If I ruled the world you could at least read a new book.”

“Yeah, that would be nice, but I can’t read a new book until I pass the test.”

“Well, like I said, if it were up to me.”

“I’d like school if it was like this.”


“Yeah. I’d like that.”

“You don’t get to paint in school?”

“No. We just take tests on iPads. I hate that..”

Her painting of a volcano was pretty good and showed a decent understanding of geology. It had fiery red lava, a black sky and a dark mountain. She wanted to put smoke in her picture, but since she’d painted the sky black, she couldn’t see how. “Take a paper towel,” I said, “wet it and soak up some of that black sky. You’ll have nice smoke!” She did. She followed instructions, saw how it worked and got some very good smoke effects for her efforts. I was tickled. She was a teachable little girl, truly interested and ready to learn.

After she finished her volcano she did two more paintings on blue post-its, both of them were of the beach. I said, “Are you going to put in sea gulls and an umbrella?” She did and then she told me the story of all the people at the beach.

When she finished drawing, she went outside and jumped rope.

This is a very cool little girl. She’s smart and she’s talented and imaginative. In no way is she a behavior problem or learning challenged. She’s just a normal, bright kid. She’s 8 years old. She likes to learn and she hates school.

I could cry.

Place in Life

Daily Prompt Cringe-Worthy Do you feel uncomfortable when you see someone else being embarrassed? What’s most likely to make you squirm?

“All-right, Kirk. Pass the trash can around so everyone can throw in their garbage.”

I can imagine my little brother — fourth grade? Carrying the metal trash can from desk to desk so his classmates could throw in the construction paper leavings of whatever project they’d been doing. He’d have loved that because it made him the center of attention AND he was moving around not stuck sitting at a desk. His class got to leave, but he had to stay after school and finish cleaning up the room. My brother was a discipline problem, and, I’d guess, almost unteachable. (The “almost” inserted as an acknowledgement that he may have learned something.)

“It’s full, Mrs. Whatever.”

“Well, step on the trash and smash it down.”

At that moment, in an evil congruence of stars, I walked in to see if he was ready to go home just as his teacher said, “Kirk, you’ve found your place in life.” He was standing in the trash can.

“You have no right to talk to my little brother like that,” I said.

My brother was constantly in situations like this one. Most people are hurt by public shaming; I don’t think my brother was. I don’t think he cared if people hurt him or beat up on him or made fun of him as long as they were noticing him. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stand to see my brother maligned. It didn’t make me cringe; it made me want to kill.



Daily Prompt IMHO Link to an item in the news you’ve been thinking about lately, and write the op-ed you’d like to see published on the topic.

“I am Ho.”


“I thought that’s what it said.”

“Lamont, you’re familiar with text speak.”

“Yeah, but it’s early. I thought they were going to ask me to write about the time I was a ho.”

“You were never a ho. Good grief.”

“We’ve all been hos, bro. I was a ho from 2005 to 2015.”

“Wow. Must have been a very specialized clientele.”

“Yeah, right? There’s a lot of that kind of ho going down in the news. Teachers, you know, whose job depends on the grades their students ‘earn’. I read a long opinion blog post about that last night from one of the bloggers I follow here, Creative By Nature. As always it was well-researched and articulately presented, but it’s nothing new. My job as a teacher of business communication depended on my classes having a C or C+ average gpa at the end of the semester.”

“Seems arbitrary.”

“It was, mostly. It led to a lot of abuses. Some of my colleagues just gave exams no one could pass and rounded the class grades to C since F was ‘average’.”

“Where did this idea come from?”

“Oh, the college of business thought part time teachers bought good evals by giving high grades. It was fucked up, Dude. I just made my classes very difficult — but that was good because my students needed to be prepared to succeed in a world in which no one would cut them slack. I took their fixation on grades as an opportunity to challenge them. Paradoxically, it made me a better teacher, but it was still wrong.”

“So are you going to write an opinion piece on this topic?”

“No. Education right now seems to me to be completely messed up. I left last year because I could no longer respect my students. It was a five year downhill slide out the door.”

“But you still care.”

“Yeah. I didn’t retire because I didn’t care any more. I retired because I couldn’t fix it. The problem that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and Common Core have created is far too big for one little person like me on the shady side of the mountain. I had to look at the time I have left vs. what I might be able to accomplish in the classroom. I chose to let younger, more energetic and idealistic people take the baton. I taught them, too, you know, in a thirty-five year career. I taught many, many amazing, smart, perceptive, kind, and inspired kids over the years. I believe in my own work and I believe in them. I’d be a total failure as a teacher if I could not believe that those young teachers have the ability to turn it around.”

“Will they fix it?”

“Not alone. They can’t. They’re caught in the jaws of education policy. The federal gubmint has to get OUT of education. If the gubmint gave the money they spend on coming up with dumbass programs based on high-stakes testing to actual school districts and paid teachers, then something would happen. The fact is, humans want to learn. Common Core and NCLB have stolen that joy from a generation. Added to this (or causing this?) are corporations who make money out of pushing standardized curriculum — companies such as Pearson.”

“Do you have any bright ideas about how to get the feds out of education?”

“I do. Parents and students are beginning to protest high stakes testing. Parental pressure and voter pressure could turn it around. United Opt Out is one locus for information and action. There have been rallies in LA, Denver, NYC and other cities (fairtest.org), but I don’t think attendance is large enough. So far people are just making irritating noises, but it’s a start. Parents are key to turning this around.”

“Are you going to get involved?”

“In this way, Dude. I can write. I can share ideas with other people and present a vision of a different classroom to young teachers. But I was not a public school teacher. I was the guy at the end of the assembly line who stood in front of the product of NCLB and tried to reach them. Over the last few years my students were increasingly ignorant of general knowledge that I’d always been able to take for granted in a college class. They were afraid of challenges and unable to think critically. I am sure that when elementary and secondary school teachers are blamed and punished if their students fail to learn that hundreds of kids could end up in college and university ignorant, frightened, lacking basic skills and with a false sense of their own abilities.”

“Failure is bad, Lamont.”

“No it isn’t. Failure is sometimes the first step toward learning, self-awareness and personal responsibility. The fear of failure is the fear of growth. I often asked my classes if anyone had ever failed. Over the final five years, fewer and fewer hands rose in response.”

“Maybe they were embarrassed in front of their classmates.”

“That could be, but my hand was up. Godnose I failed a lot of stuff all through school. I think — but I am not sure — that failure became less common as NCLB and common core wound their insidious ways into teachers’ job security. But it’s faulty logic to think that because a student fails a class the teacher has failed to teach. The burden of success in school should be on the student.”

“Yeah but students are just kids. Isn’t that a heavy burden?”

“Life is a heavy burden, Dude. A kid who fails also has the chance to learn (if his helicopter parents allow him to) that his future success rests in his own hands. Failure is his job to fix, to turn around. Failure can be empowering in ways success never is. If a school system doesn’t allow students to fail when they FAIL, then it’s not preparing them for life.”

“What’s your plan for fixing this?”

Fix high school. That’s the first thing. Teach trades, skills and marketable abilities so kids getting out of high school do not have to go to college in order to get a good job. Kids getting out of high school should be able to be secretaries, auto-mechanics, accounting assistants, store managers — all kinds of things. They should be able to run a car-rental franchise or a tire store or a Michael’s. Phase out community college except as night school for refining skills attained in high school and as recreational education. Make university the place for people who must have higher education to succeed in their careers — teaching, medicine, engineering, etc. Tax dollars pay for public education. By NOT using public education to the best of our ability, we are making people pay TWICE for their training. That’s wrong.”

“Wow. You’d overhaul the whole thing? You’d phase out your own job!”

“I know, Dude. But even though I was doing it, and happy doing it, I never thought I should be teaching basic grammar to college students. I never thought I should be teaching university students how to compose a polite and friendly message. Never, never, never. With some exceptions, I spent most of my 35 year career teaching material and skills I learned between sixth and twelfth grade. That should tell you that even I didn’t need my master’s degree to do my job well.”