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Archive for October, 2019

I am amazed at times what a little rest and little reflection can allow to come around in our memory. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of challenge by way of time pressure and emotional workout. So, even though today is also full of chores and duties, I had the privilege of sleeping late. But sleeping late for one in the habit of early rising is difficult. Usually 7 PM is all that I can manage, but it was a few minutes past 7:30 when I first saw the clock this morning, and my dear wife slept away. In the unhurried moments I lay musing on random thoughts when one came through quite clearly.

Do you remember the names of your elementary school teachers? Sequentially from 1st grade through 6th mine were Mrs. Denton, Mrs Gaston, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Gervin, Mrs. Tucker, and Mrs. Alexander. I know that a child’s view of the world and the addition of many years makes memories a bit skewed, but I thought of a few things I remember about them.

Mrs. D was a large lady. I don’t mean overweight, just a big person. She was kind but seemed sad. She had gray hair. None of my teachers were young. I always wanted to please my teachers and I wanted to do my best for her. One day during milk break in the cafeteria, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish my milk. Mrs. D would stand at the garbage can inspecting to see if we had finished our milk. I was nervous and dropped the carton, mostly full of milk, just before she took hold of it. It fell and splashed milk all over her dress. She had to go out and change her clothes. She was not happy with me. I don’t feel like that she held it against me after that. I think I remember struggling to learn to read and yet enjoying the new world it opened up.

Mrs. G was a small round woman who wore lots of jewelry and smiled most of the time. She was also strict. The first and last time I ever cheated on a test was on one of her weekly spelling quizzes. I wanted to do well but spelling did not and does not make sense to me. I used a little cheat sheet and she caught me. I was publicly shamed and worse, my parents were told. In this day and time publicly shaming is frowned upon, but I think it only hurts significantly because we tell children falsehoods about self-esteem the rest of the time so that they have “entitlement issues”. At any rate, I never cheated again, ever. I struggled in reading. After a short stint in reading group #1, I was demoted to the second reading group. My mother was told that I was struggling and it was suggested that I read extra at home. Mrs. G had a box of 2nd grade reading level books. I checked out one or two a week to read to my mother at home. I improved in reading, enjoyed the stories, being drawn most of all to facts related books. I am still a laboriously slow reader, but I understanding is good, and I enjoy an encouraging story or informative narrative. We still had nap, or quiet time. Most of the other students giggled and fidgeted on their mats, but I frequently went fast asleep. I distinctly remember several times awaking, disoriented and drowsy, to be given a hard time by classmates and defended fiercely by Mrs. G.

Mrs. H was almost certainly the youngest elementary school teacher I had and I’m pretty sure she was middle aged. She was innovative and energetic. She decided that our study of American History and the Capitol, Washington D.C., should have a visual. So she set out having us make paper mache models of the various buildings in D.C. I made a Washington Monument. By 3rd grade I had a best friend, Andy D. We loved math and did problems together. We liked science and talking about space exploration and going to the Moon. We liked drawing symmetrical shapes with ruler and compass. I grew up with mechanical drawing since my father worked as a draftsman for ORNL from shortly after the war.* So, Mrs. H selected Andy and me to draw out a map of D.C. with streets, bodies of water, and the locations of monuments and buildings all to scale. We did this on butcher paper laid out on the floor of a particularly large, empty classroom down the hall from her room. Andy and I would get to skip classes we did well in to work on the map. My childish memory wants to say the map was perhaps 20 x 30 feet in size. We spent many hours drawing, talking, and reveling in time together, just the two of us in that empty room. After all of the paper mache buildings were completed with white acrylic paint and all, they were placed on the map which was painted with black streets and blue rivers and pools, and large green spaces. The model that I had made was not selected and I thought it was better. Later someone helped me to understand that Mrs. H had allowed me the privilege and limelight of drawing the map. It would not be equitable to also place my paper mache monument on the map. During the next PTA meeting most of the school and their parents walked around the periphery of the map in that otherwise empty room admiring our work. It was probably the most unforgettable thing for me about elementary school.

Mrs. G was a thin, quiet woman. I somehow remember being a favorite of hers and growing in my love of learning new things. I had a vague memory of some written project that I did well on, but for some reason everything about that year is vague. In fact, even the room we were in seems vague, being set back in a corner at the end of the hallway. Mrs. G liked to keep the blinds shut so that the room had a dark, calm atmosphere.

Mrs. T was a fierce, little fireball who loved to raise flowers. She lived about a block from me in a little white house that was unimpressive, but the flower garden because of the small yard could not be anywhere else but next to the street, was impressive. When I would walk or ride my bike by her house, you could see the weedless beds of massive flowers of many varieties and smell them, too. Many evenings and summer mornings, Mrs. T was out weeding and replanting slips or cuttings. In class, she expected her students to work hard and behave, all orderly and well presented like her garden. I wanted to please my teacher so I did both. Good behavior produces good results. I was allowed to help the teacher and do work ahead of my grade. One of my best friends did something one day that set the class off and sent Mrs. T into a frenzy. It was warm and our school did not have air conditioning, so the banks of casement windows were laid open. A yellow jacket flew in and buzzed around the back of the room. Many of the girls screamed and others jumped out of their seats to get away. While Mrs. T was trying to settle the class, Jack jumped up with a new pencil, made noises as he sung his pencil like a sword, knocking the bee to floor dead on his last downswing. The class went wild with elation.

Mrs. A had to be close to retirement. She told me she had been a teacher for some period of time that seemed astronomical to my young mind. She always seemed to be happy and encouraging. I’m not sure if I am remembering correctly, but I think that I heard that she had had some deep hurts in her life, which if my memory is correct, made her demeanor all the more amazing. She liked to have classroom competitions and interclass competitions: weekly Spelling Bees, group math quizzes, history facts group competitions. I dreaded the spelling bees and seem to remember managing many 2nd places, despite my abhorrence of the art form. Mrs. A invited a number of her best students to come to her house a few times to study extra for a math competition that we went to. I felt so special eating a snack in her breakfast room with a few of my classmates. 

This commentary is a very narrow slice of what I remember about my elementary school years. There was baseball and bowling and bike rides and vacations and good grades and friends and chorus and library and safety patrol and playground (woods, swings and monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, kickball) and PE with the principal and plays and promenades and always working real hard to please my parents, my teachers, and make good grades and times with friends. But my teachers had more influence on me than I have previously given credit for in many long years. They may not have been the best teachers by modern pedagogical standards, but they had high expectations, rewarded what was good, punished what was not, and seemed to care about their students and their content. That was enough for me.

* I decided to say it the way we would back then instead of explaining it for the younger set. ORNL stands for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of the Manhattan Project where my mother was secretary and just a couple of years before my father arrived, and much of the focus of anything related to radioactivity studies. The war, of course, was World War II where my father had recently arrived home from when he began working there.

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In Biology class we are studying cell reproduction. The somatic or body cells reproduce by mitosis, yielding genetically identical daughter cells. The gametes (sex cells: egg and sperm) come about by a “double mitosis” as it were called meiosis, that yields genetically divergent cells that have half as much genetic material. Biologically, when an egg and sperm combine you have all of the potential of the mature person. This single cell is called a zygote. After several mitotic cell divisions the zygote is called a blastula. As the cells continue to multiply, they differentiate into various major body parts and systems in what is now called the gastrula. These early stages with their various names are clumped under the name embryo. From 8 weeks on the differentiation is significant enough to recognize some large body form features and the embryo is called a fetus. Most people recognize the fetus as a baby even before he/she is born. The baby becomes an infant, the infant a toddler, the toddler a child, the child an adolescent, the adolescent a teenager, the teenager a young adult, then middle aged adult then senior adult. From fertilization until death the organism is a live person with all of the potentialities of the original zygote. None of us have reached our full potential, but that in no way makes us less human. Therefore, the zygote all the way through the old goat is a human fully deserving the respect of other humans and full protection of the law. Abortion makes no logical sense.

I had a student the other day want to present to me a position speech she was supposed to give for English class as a way to practice it. Several other students were in attendance in my classroom for this “study hall/remediation” session, so she had a willing audience. Her speech contrasted the conditions, laws, and attitudes about abortion in Missouri and Illinois. Then she ended by giving her opinion as the assignment required. She declared that she is pro-life. She stated along the way that she believed that the baby is a human and should not be aborted except under two circumstances. Her two exceptions were rape and incest. I ask her if the child conceived by rape or incest was also human. She conceded that they are human. “Then,” I asked, “Why shouldn’t he/she be afforded the same protections as any other baby whom you claim should not be aborted?” She replied that their conception was a horrible situation that would be harmful to the mother, the baby’s future, and the wider family. “So,” I continued, “You are saying it is OK to abort this baby based on feeling rather than law.” She replied, “The mother has a right to make her own decision.” “But you just said that she did not have a right to abort a baby not conceived by rape or incest,” I rejoined. I went own to say that we cannot ultimately rule by feelings because the whole society will and is falling apart. We must rule by law consistently and that her perspective about abortion did not make logical, legal, or moral sense.

I would throw this one small bone to the pro-abortionists. At least when they desire and demand abortion at any stage for any reason, they are being logically consistent. They are not being morally or legally consistent, however, because according to their scheme, no one has protection under the law. The fetus, like it or not, baby, is fully human at conception. Therefore, they must be given protection like all other humans, or else no humans are guaranteed protection. And of course, this is true. Euthanasia is an extension of abortion “rights”. An “all-wise” doctor, sanctioned by an “all powerful” government decides when the infirm are no longer human, just as they decided when the fetus began to be called human.

Claiming that I have no right to speak about the subject of abortion because I am a man is just another means of ruling by feeling. Besides, I have worked very hard, and by God’s grace, and raised five children. I pointed out to this young logician in my classroom that the problem of unwanted pregnancies could easily be solved by relaxing the adoption laws so that the many people wanting children could raise happy children conceived in less than ideal circumstances. The circumstances of no human are perfect. We live in a fallen world. Much better to make a child’s circumstances better than end his/her life and destroy the mother emotionally and sometimes physically.

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