I respect a lot of schoolteachers. Many of them are amazing people, people who could have done other things but decided to dedicate a large part of their lives to helping mostly unappreciative kids learn and grow, and these people are very passionate about the work. (There are also horrible teachers, but we don’t need to talk about those people.)
I think most teachers mean well when they’re doling out lessons and advice to the kids, but some of my teachers told me some definite fibs when I was growing up.
Here are a few of them.
1. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is a pretty effective way to keep primary school students in check, because if we’re saying something that isn’t particularly nice at that age, it’s probably not backed up with a lot of insight or rationality. But as an adult, if you clam up unless you’re saying something nice or complimentary to people, you’re not going to get very far. In fact, people will probably find you weird and maybe annoying. Your coworkers will be at the water cooler saying things like, “Scott doesn’t seem like a terribly happy person, but when we had that meeting about what could be improved around here, the only two things he said was that he loved Janice’s dress and that whoever is in charge of ordering snacks is doing a wonderful job, then he winked and said and that he really enjoys the peanut butter-filled pretzels.”
2. “Respect your elders.” I’ve always had trouble with this one. Maybe I’m just bad with authority figures. I don’t know. (I do know. I’m awful with authority figures.) But a person does not automatically deserve your respect just because they’ve been on the planet longer than you have. That makes no logical sense. Some of the biggest douche bags I know are old as hell! If you buy completely into this kind of malarkey, it means you should respect people like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un and, shit, even Kim Kardashian! That’s just complete fucking madness.
3. “You better learn your mathematics, because you’re never going to have constant access to a calculator.” Boy, the teachers who told me this old chestnut were super wrong. Even back then, calculator watches existed, and these days everyone has a cell phone. For which there are several very well working graphing calculator applications. I get, like, perversely gleeful whenever I use my iPhone to calculate a basic sum—I’m like “Ha, I could have totally done this in my head or using my fingers, BUT I DON’T HAVE TO (and also I totally forgot how to BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO DO BASIC MATH)! I’m actually interested in how teachers try to convince kids to learn to do equations and “show their work” in present times.
4. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” I, personally, and usually unintentionally, have hurt so many more people—and in deeper ways—with my words than I ever have with physical violence. And vice-versa. A person who doesn’t like me could, apropos of nothing, punch me in the face, and I’d spend less time thinking or worrying about it than I would if the same person called me a douche bag and made a well-said argument as to why they believe this to be true. Words can fucking hurt, man. That’s why cyber bullying is such a colossal problem. (Also, I’m actually like 98 percent sure I’ve never in my life hurt a single person with a wooden stick or with a stone. Though I know that plenty of people do. Adrian Peterson is an example that comes to mind.)
5. The early bird gets the worm. I suppose this one is pretty easy for teachers to buy into, since schooldays start obnoxiously early and if you have to be awake at 6AM five days a week, you’re going to want to spin it positively, if only to maintain a grip on your own sanity. But it really doesn’t matter what time you’re doing your work, as long as you’re doing good work. I personally am mostly useless in the early morning hours, and come to full alertness around the time the sun goes down. It’s just the way I was built. Which I suppose makes me an owl in this analogy, which is pretty dope if you consider that owls have night vision and spend their evenings dining on mice and other rodents. Owls don’t even have to fuck with worms!
6. You can do anything you set your mind to. No you can’t. Just imagine how many people have set their minds to creating a teleportation or time travel device, or, more depressingly, cures for fatal diseases, all for naught. This is a dangerous thing to tell young, impressionable children. They should, of course, be encouraged to try and do whatever they want to, but they shouldn’t be set up to think they’ll be successful just because they’ve burned a bunch of brain cells on something.
7. If you keep reading Animorphs novels sneakily during class, you’re going to fail in school and eventually life. When I was in fourth grade, I had more interest in the war going on in a fictional universe between the Yeerks, Andalites and a few brave adolescent human beings than I did in learning American history. (I was something of an escapist.) One day my teacher took me aside to let me know she knew what I was doing, and hadn’t wanted to say anything to me at first, but then my test scores had started to slip a little bit, and she felt like she had to. I stopped reading during lessons for a while, because I respected my elders and was way too afraid of what would happen if I got a B instead of an A on a mostly meaningless elementary school report card. But I firmly believe that my time was better spent inserting myself into a sci-fi fantasy world than reading through chapters about how Christopher Columbus was the man and slavery was awful—because the first one is pretty much untrue, and the second is pretty much, you know, a fucking GIVEN. And anyway, I didn’t fail at school, and I haven’t failed at life. Not too awfully. At least yet, anyway.