I hope everyone had a great Easter, or just an overall generally great Sunday. Another blog has me thinking about lies, ‘what is your lie’, and it reminded me of another greatly narrated and animated poem about the destructive power of a single unchecked lie.
For the uninitiated into the world of public education, this could very well just be a cautionary tale about letting oneself get carried away with rumor and hearsay, or how one seemingly harmless yet very manipulative lie could create a ripple of disastrous consequences. And if it were only just that, it would still be very powerful, very twisted, and very sinister. I mean, ‘don’t tell dumb, potentially dangerous lies’ seems like a pretty universal and safe to bet on lesson for decent human beings. ‘Don’t be a jerk kid’ or ‘don’t be terrible parents’ could definitely also be derived from even just a cursory reading of the poem. But coming from that field, and having spent time on that side of the desk, the fact that the subject matter revolves around a well-meaning teacher and a student with no sense of consequences, there is a very specific extra jolt that sends a chill down my spine.
I know what it’s like to feel as though everything you’ve worked so hard and so long for can hang so delicately in the balance between the reckless words of one child and the all-too naive and gullible ears of the parents and the eager to please subservience of a timid and fearful school administration. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line the public stopped trusting teachers as much as they used to. Suddenly there are now a thousand other voices in the classroom, trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Parents, businessmen, politicians, everyone seems to know better than the person who actually trained to educate and spends the most time in the classroom with the students. That this character’s entire career and life has been drastically changed because of the pressure of parents choosing to blindly follow their ‘perfect little angels’ really strikes a personal chord with me. It’s often times these ‘angel children’ who are the most uncontrollable and overall, the least mature. It’s easier for their parents to look at the faults and inactions of their teachers than to reflect on perhaps their own shortcomings as parents or to address any real actual needs or problems their child might have. In my school we had to be extra careful of what we said or did, especially because by high school that kind of school culture is so ingrained into the students, we were constantly being warned that they knew they could cling to any sort of perceived slight and get away with it. ‘F’s became ‘E’s because the ‘F’ had too much of a negative connotation, and if they did receive an ‘E’ for whatever reason (including their own inability or irresponsibility to respect deadlines or requirements), we were required to give them a chance to redo the assignment for full credit, no questions asked.
There’s a Man in the Woods
-poem by Jacob Streilein
There’s a man in the woods.
What a spectacle.
Before the stories started, this school was still respectable.
My students used to skip down the hill to the honeysuckle,
pluck a couple,
and collect their nectar till they picked their fill.
Except one obnoxious kid, Sid.
Who just watched them eat the flowers
while he seethed and scowled
’cause he couldn’t bear to share his sweet treats throughout our recess hour.
I remember Sid saying:
“There’s a man in the woods!”
That’s how the rumors began.
Of course, Sid had spotted him first.
The poor kids. He got ‘em immersed in his spiel
about a serial killer whose gun barrel glint hint said peril.
A visit to the nurse, or worse, a hearse,
waiting just beyond the dale.
The children saw him everywhere.
“Look! Over there!”
“That man had Batman ears! We – we swear!”
“And crazy yellow eyes!”
“We saw something rusty! His shotgun? It must be!”
“I saw a lady’s severed thigh!”
every word I heard was absurd.
Yet each day, Sid would stray down
way past the playground.
Who else was brave enough to save us from the killer’s next plot?
The rest of the lot would stop back at the black top,
sure that any closer they were bound to be found
deep in the woods, left to rot.
I pleaded for the kids to think,
and learn to be mature.
But after a few more rumors doomed my attempts to prove
the school was secure
their fear was undeterred.
And when the buses drove them all home,
the parents finally heard.
Everything just blew up.
I received a wall
of emails and calls
full of shrieks, wails, and all.
From terrified families
who’d heard word of the murderer,
and didn’t like my lack of action at all.
What was I supposed to do? Comb the whole forest?
Yeah, right. Would you?
That means I didn’t care? That’s not fair!
The stories that worried you weren’t true.
Of course I would feel regret,
had there been a real threat
and I ignored it,
and some poor kid got kidnapped
while the kids were napping.
But you couldn’t admit that your
good little kid
would formulate a fib
so you ignored what I said.
Your little angels could never cook up such incredible creations?
“An overactive imagination, maybe, but my kid could never lie!”
How dare I.
Accuse a child of being dishonest?
The parents were displeased,
and when the PTA took action,
they dismissed me from the classroom.
Like THEY knew what was best for their kids!
Do you know how difficult it is to get a job
when a bitter mom
slanders your rep
with child neglect
from the outset?
NOW who’s in control of your classes?!
Single file lines!
Single file lines.
Little vile swine,
a killer by the pines.
Really? Are you blind?
Will you find your spines?
Sid. A child decides
to fill our minds with lies
and the next you see
is people treating me
like I’ve committed crimes.
I WAS IN MY PRIME!
Those kids were lucky to have me.
Do you see what you did?!
But I can play along.
I can be good.
Do you hear that, Sid?
There’s a man in the woods.
I hope that was dark enough for y’all. Keep your kids in check. Hahah.
Man: 250 Loneliness: 33