Day 283: The Man and the Power of Your Lie; ‘Jolt’

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.

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For the uninitiated into the world of public education, this could very well just be a A veteran of hundreds o parent-teacher conferences, fifth grade teacher Sheila Wurtz was prepared for anything.'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 Blame the Teachersand 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!”

Trust me,
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?
Just monstrous!

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.

Day 283

Man: 250 Loneliness: 33

Day 87: The Man and the Emergency Test System; ‘Test’

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When did tests lose their power?

It’s not a matter of irony I don’t think, but it is interesting to note how we grow up fearing and dreading tests. Tests were the only things that mattered. It was the end all be all ultimate measure of our knowledge and worth. It’s why we stayed up all night and slept with textbooks under our pillows. But now we throw out ‘this is only a test’ and suddenly whatever we are working on doesn’t matter. It’s our best excuse to preclude judgement or criticism. ‘Tests’ now have absolutely no bearing on the real world.

As a child my parents had me write down my test schedule on our family calendar. Displayed on the refrigerator for all to see, along with family and friends’ birthdays and Ear Flick.JPGanniversaries, was every math, spelling, history, science, and reading test I had coming up. Tests were a big deal in my family. I was rewarded for good performance and heavily punished for poor. I remember reviewing for spelling tests, my mother would sit across from me and start drilling the words. If I got the word wrong, she would flick or twist my ear. ‘Thermometer’ and ‘temperature’ were so difficult for me that when I was finally able to recite it correctly multiple times in a row without fail, my ear was so red and swollen that I could barely hear out of the left side of my head. My father was the math wiz in the family so he would take on the responsibility of drilling me before math tests. He would create hundreds of problems and have me do them all. God help you if you got any wrong because my father certainly wasn’t going to. He’d look over the list and if any were wrong he wouldn’t point out which, he’d just tell me to go over all of it again.

I really have nothing bad to say about how my parents handled my schooling. Honestly I might not have achieved as much as I did in school if they weren’t so literally and figuratively hands on. And as I said they were as serious about rewarding me as they were about punishing me. When I would come back home with 100s on my test or with my straight A report cards I’d receive the fruits of my labors. Extended curfews. Cash. Toys. Ultimately, the message was clear. Tests mattered. They measured something. Maybe not our worth, maybe not our talent, but definitely our preparation. And in a world where tests mattered, results mattered. Poor results needed to be met with remedy and reprimand. Successful results deserved award and merit. And this understanding held water all throughout my schooling. Each test did matter. They made up the percentage of my grades, helped me get into a magnet high school, got me into the college of my choice, assured me a full ride scholarship, and distinguished me when I started applying for teaching positions.

But then I left the academic world. And suddenly I saw how the rest of the world viewed tests. They are ubiquitous in our daily lives but we are so saturated with the term that we barely even notice it. Do you remember starting your WordPress account? Do you Magic Bullet.gifremember ‘testing’ out various themes and investigating pages? You would load up a theme, browse the different pages, maybe visit the ‘About’ page. ‘This is a sample of an ‘About’ page,’ it’d say non-committedly. ‘This is a test.’ ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.’ Nonsensical words that are so prevalent in online text that you imagine if you say it enough times in the dark in front of your bathroom mirror the ghost of Al Gore would appear on the other side. I’d be watching my favorite late-night infomercials like Magic Bullet or Nu-Wave Oven and before falling asleep to the sound of ‘one, two, three seconds and you have perfectly chopped chicken for your quesadilla’ I’d be jarred awake by the *eeenh eeeenh eeenh THIS IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM*. You’ve probably heard this so many times that the moment it comes on you just turn off your TV or switch to something else.

But what about the test results?! Did you like the page layout and design? Did you check to see if, in a real emergency situation, you’d be able to hear the information immediately following the beeps? When did tests lose their power and prowess? It seems in the real world tests have come to signal the coming of something of little consequence. Something not to be considered or regarded. Oh it’s just a test. Pay it no mind. It doesn’t matter. There’s a huge pushback against tests and testing now. We grow up thinking that tests are the ways in which we could prove ourselves. Some of us even have to take tests just to get potential jobs. But when it comes to the actual work and the way in which we interact with others, when was the last time you ever took a test? And I don’t mean ‘which dog suits your personality best’ either.

I feel that part of the reason why we avoid tests in life and have begun to reject testing is Radcliffe Test.gifthat tests naturally come with the potential for ‘failure’. No one wants to be labeled a failure and in our culture of participation trophies we seem more and more averse to the possibility of failing. But we need failure. We need to know that there isn’t always a safety net below our feet. Failure is a great motivator to get you on your feet and moving because you know the only other alternative is to feel the walls start to close in on you. If we desire and crave success we can only ever achieve it if we acknowledge that the alternative exists as well. Failure tests us. It is how we find out if we actually have the resolve to continue on. How many things have you failed, never to try again, and how many things have you failed that only motivated you to try even harder the next time. I’d rather listen to the stories and lessons of failure than the boring repetition of lackluster success.

I understand also the viewpoint that tests aren’t the end all be all most efficient or even effective way of measuring the whole of a person. And this I think is not the fault of the tests themselves, but of our own definition of them. It isn’t the test’s fault that we are so bad at interpreting their results. There are certain things tests will never be able to measure. But they are damn good at measuring the things they were meant for. Like preparation, for example. Focus. Attention. I would certainly never place the entire weight of my self-perception on how I do on tests. Two students who receive exemplary results on a test but approach it from very different methods should be viewed differently as well. Perhaps a test that is aced with little to no prep is a measure of someone’s talent or inherent ability. Compared to a student who receives a similar grade but with much more preparation, we would classify the latter as an example of their focus and determination.

Even as adults we still need tests. We should constantly be testing ourselves each day because there are so many things that are important to us that are worth measuring and succeeding in. We should test our abilities in occupations that challenge our minds and bodies. We might not like to think of our relationships as ‘tests’ but there certainly moments that test us. Our faithfulness. Our commitment. Our concern and consideration. Maybe we if viewed these as tests where the possibility of ‘failing’ them meant losing those we care about, we’d put more pressure on ourselves to be better for them.

Day 87

Man: 68 Loneliness: 19