My fight has always been with the man. I am generally a pacifist, though I have thrown a few punches in a few fights for great justice. However, when it comes to the man, I have a definite “bad boy” side.
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you already know I am a geek and nerd ad comfortable with it. The story I want to tell you about authority is about an obese man who got his kicks by being the duly appointed tyrant of my middle school English class.
I was 13 years old and in 8th grade. The last class of the day was English. The class itself was alright. There was less literature than previous years and a stronger focus on process and technique. I had an appreciation for the art of writing then so it was not hard to pay attention. The problem I faced was the way in which this man needed to demonstrate authority over pupils in the realm of vocabulary. He had a way of teaching vocabulary that worked phenomenally well and had been in use for at least 5 years. I can tell you that from firsthand experience. Just as in 3rd grade, we would write the definition of the word, write a sentence with the word and then write the word 10 times.
Yes, in 8th grade.
I am sure that the system worked well; I mean it had worked in 3rd grade, how could we dare threaten the system?
As the “bad boy” you know I am, I refused. I would turn in a list of all the definitions and sentences every Thursday and would be sent down to the assistant principal’s office. I don’t know that I was ever even reprimanded in the office. Maybe the first few times, but it was a recurring event. Eventually, I would go down to the Assistant Principals office on Thursdays and tutor a kid in math.
This was the wisest punishment that has ever been doled out. Only as I write this do I realize that this is possibly where my definition of genius comes from:
Genius: combining 2 or more problems into 1 or more solutions.
I was given a purpose. I was not told that I was a horrible person. I was treated with respect even though it was tempered with some mild annoyance at the fact that I was adamant about it being below me. I hope that when I have children and interact with them, I can treat similar situations as well as this. It is hard to take a child seriously when they are being so serious about something so trivial. At the same time, I recognize that if I had been yelled at and scolded and my parents had been called, I would have been forced to comply.
If I had been forced to comply there, I think my life may be easier now. However, I instead have a strong sense of what is right and wrong. I will do what I think is right no matter who tells me not to. I believe the universe will not punish me if I am true and honest and direct. If I had been forced to comply at such a crucial point in my life, perhaps I would be like everyone else who complies and is scared to speak the truth for exactly what it is.
In my job today, there are situations that come up where I have to defer to my boss’s judgment. I will offer her the situation and all the details along with my own opinion in no uncertain terms. Sometimes I am sure she thinks I am retarded because I will ask her and make my case already knowing what her answer is. I will, however, never become complacent or complicit with the system.
In every facet of my life today, I seek the opportunity to teach. It makes me come off as conceited, regularly. It is not because I am better, it is because I may know better. I am not humbled when the new guy at work teaches me something, I am awed. I have learned to respect learning from teachers and from “bad boys” who buck authority by refusing to follow simple rules.
Yeah, I guess I won. I think I came out stronger on all fronts because of it. I am glad that I had an ally in the system. Though I guess he didn’t start as my ally. I am glad that he had wisdom and vision. I am glad that he understood that there was a failure in the system. I am glad for all of it. When it comes time to list the pieces of myself that I am proud of, this is it.
“Screw broken systems. Think. Be free. Live well together. Help one another. Respect people who know what respect is. Ignore the people who should be hated.”
This is what Mr. M taught me. This is what I wish to teach you and everyone else.