Column
July 10, 2014

They taught our children well

By Cindy Phillips updated Fri, Jun 27, 2014 11:03 AM

Schools are letting out for the summer and I expect for most teachers, it can’t come soon enough. Violence in schools has become far too common an occurrence. It wasn’t that long ago that news of a school shooting brought our country to its knees. Now, we simply shake our heads and switch on our defense mechanisms to block the pain.

School was different when we Boomers spent our days in the hallowed halls. It was a safe haven. Our parents sent us off on the bus each morning and didn’t think about it until we returned home in the afternoon ready for a snack. We worked diligently on our homework so we could get outside for a game of kickball or riding our bike.

Back then, teachers could actually teach. They weren’t mired in regulatory red tape and they didn’t worry about being attacked by a student. Most of us were raised to respect authority. I feared the Sisters of Saint Joseph as much as I did the wrath of my mom. I memorized those times tables and practiced my cursive every night. I remember my favorite teachers well:

Connie Brooks – Madison High School’s wise-cracking English teacher played by Eve Arden. She butted heads with principal Conklin on a regular basis and tried to grab the attention of the handsome biology teacher. “Our Miss Brooks” was a down-to-earth character who often found herself in madcap adventures. She was the Lucy Ricardo of the teaching profession. Extra credit – Richard Crenna, prior to his famed Luke character on The Real McCoys, played student Walter Denton who drove Miss Brooks to school each day.

Richard Dadier – played by Glenn Ford in “Blackboard Jungle.” The new English teacher at inner-city high school North Manuel challenges his oftimes anti-social students to garner something from their education. This 1955 film may have been ahead of its time as Mr. Dadier is subjected to violence and schemes at the hands of his students. Rising stars Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow played two of Mr. Dadier’s angry young men. Extra credit – this was the first movie to use rock and roll in the soundtrack.

Mark Thackeray – oh the irony that Sidney Poitier played Glenn Ford’s nemesis in “Blackboard Jungle” and here he finds himself the novice teacher at a London high school on the bad side of town. (“To Sir With Love.”) Karma? Watching Mr. Thackeray win over his unruly students by treating them as adults and teaching them the true meaning of mutual respect is heartwarming. We all fell in love with the concept as well as with Mr. Thackeray. Extra credit – Lulu singing the title song.
Gabe Kotter – In ‘Welcome Back Kotter” Mr. Kotter returns to his roots to share his knowledge with the beloved Sweathogs at Buchanan High School, his alma mater. Gabe, a real-life stand-up comedian, uses humor and wisecracks to reach his remedial misfits. He gets it – he was a Sweathog himself. And because of that he recognizes the potential in his students and builds their self esteem. Extra credit – unofficial Sweathog leader and heartthrob, Vinny Barbarino, was portrayed by John Travolta (pre-“Saturday Night Fever”).

Glenn Holland – probably one of my favorite teaching characters of all time. Mr. Holland takes up teaching as an interim job to pay his bills and keep a roof over the heads of his wife and deaf son. As he becomes more and more dedicated to his students, the music writing goes by the wayside along with his dreams. The impact he has on his student’s lives comes to fruition when he is forced to retire due to cuts of the music and art programs at John F. Kennedy High School. The alumni band surprises him with a concert of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” He is handed a baton and conducts his orchestra of former students. Extra credit – this movie causes a rise in production of Kleenex each time it airs, at least in my house.

Arnold Hand – history teacher at Ridgemont High, (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) is perpetually confounded by stoner surfer boy Jeff Spicoli (played by a young Sean Penn). Feeling that Spicoli wasted too much of his precious time during the school year, Mr. Hand gets the ultimate revenge by showing up at Spicoli’s house on the night of the graduation dance. At the end of Mr. Hand’s final history lesson, the two have actually discovered some common ground. Extra credit – the as yet undiscovered Forest Whitaker as Ridgemont’s football standout.

LouAnne Johnson – though a former Marine, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character questions her own strength and ability to handle her rebellious students in “Dangerous Minds.” Guns in school? The concept seemed foreign to most of us when this film aired in 1995. Little did we know we were peering into the looking glass. Extra credit – Bob Dylan versus Dylan Thomas lesson plan.

Did we Boomers teach our children well? Or did we teach them to question authority to the point that it has backfired? Who has the answers now? Do we still have time to re-teach our children well?

Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times, cphillipsauthor@yahoo.com.

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