"ITíS ALL STORYTELLING,
YOU KNOW. THATíS WHAT
JOURNALISM IS ALL ABOUT "
"IF YOU DONíT KNOW TREES
YOU MAY BE LOST IN THE
FOREST, BUT IF YOU DONíT
KNOW STORIES YOU MAY
BE LOST IN LIFE."
"ALL HUMAN BEINGS HAVE AN
INNATE NEED TO HEAR AND
TELL STORIES AND TO
HAVE STORIES TO LIVE BY."
"TO BE A PERSON IS
TO HAVE A STORY TO TELL."
Recently we had friends over for dinner. Conversations at dinner can, and usually do, go to interesting places, particularly under the influence of good food, wine and company. On this occasion, we told stories of our school days about the teachers and fellow students who shed light and cast dark on those experiences. I doubt stories like these happen in contemporary education.
I remember Miss A. She was our Grade 8 history teacher. She was singularly unappealing in appearance, a large, solemn woman in her late 40s, I think, with witch’s hair sprouting from her chin, dressed in plain, gloomy clothing with overly sensible shoes and white anklet socks.
Miss A was remarkable in her disciplinary method with the boys. The misbehaving culprit was confined to the kneehole space in her desk while she sat at it dispensing the lesson of the day. The poor boy sat in cramped semi-darkness; pressed between Miss A’s knees and the inside front of the desk. Anyone with foresight or past experience would face the front of the desk; otherwise he might find himself with a view up her legs.
My mischievous friend ended up there one day. While the class sat in bored attendance, he slipped his hand out under the front of the desk, out of sight of Miss A, and safely gave her the finger. There was an immediate ripple of giggling that startled Miss A. She smiled uncertainly, pleased that she may have amused her usually apathetic class and confused about how World War II could be funny to us. Luckily we are all saved by the bell, particularly my friend.
Mr. B was our Grade 10 history teacher. I think he became a teacher so that he could be a high school wrestling coach. He was a short, squat, muscular man, a brick with extremities, and very strong, who spoke with an oddity of manner and expression. His nickname was Jake.
Mr. B (a.k.a. Jake) often gave in-class assignments. He then moved around the room with a watchful eye to be sure we were doing our work. We could never tell where Mr. B was in the room. He was very quiet and seemed to make himself invisible, disappearing into the woodwork. If anyone was dawdling, Mr. B would suddenly appear out of nowhere and strike swiftly with a reprimand.
Of all the class, one boy had the clearest educational mission and vision. He would quit school at age 16. Obviously, he had motivational issues around class assignments. One day, he decided to forego the assignment and engage in what really interested him, which was apparently wood carving. Not having a knife, the next best thing was the sharp point of his ink pen. What better subject than Mr. B, the immediate object of his resentment who, from a quick scan of his field of vision, seemed clearly absent from the room.
He carved on his desk top a coiled snake ready to strike with a man’s head of remarkable likeness to Mr. B. He captioned it “Jake the Snake”. It was apparently to be a poetic commentary on Mr. B. Upon completion, he leaned back in satisfaction. Only then did he see Mr. B standing in his blind spot, right behind him, looking down on his creative artwork, so to speak.
Only an exceptional teacher would have looked past the affront to see the artistic potential of the boy’s work. In as much as Mr. B knew many wresting holds and was very strong, he grasped the boy by the back of the neck with one meaty hand and lifted him out of his desk.
For Mr. B, it was “my way or the highway,” or more specifically, the hallway. Teachers who were coaches often took misbehaving boys out in the hallway and rattled a few metal lockers with them to pound in a little sense. We could easily overhear education in action. For these men, it was mostly physical education. There would be no sissy coddling like sending them to the principal’s office to think about what they had done.
Notwithstanding his interest in wood carving, this boy was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Embedding a less than complementary commentary on your teacher in ink on your own desk top lacks a serious amount of foresight. The event probably was an argument for his education plan, particularly since the conventional route did not appear to allow for such creative detours.
Clearly, these stories have their places in history. Storytelling itself is one of the earliest forms of folk art. Story tellers were both entertainers and also historians of sorts. There is currently a renewed interest in the art of storytelling. Festivals attract wide audiences.
Story telling covers the life span as a source of enrichment. I remember as a small child, sharing a bedroom with a very clever and creative older brother who always obliged me when I said, “Tell me a story” before dropping off to sleep.
On a related note, the Edmonton Public Library hosted a “Living Book” event in the summer. People with interesting stories to tell from their lives were available to be “checked out” for a half hour by participants, provided that they “returned the book in the same condition they found it.” It was very well attended.
It struck me that we all have stories to tell. We are books of many short stories that can be shared and enjoyed with others even if it is only at the dinner table with friends. What story will you tell?
C O P Y R I G H T 2 0 11. Gary Holdgrafer ALL RIGHTS