True educational stories from three levels: grammar school, junior high, and high school.
1950, Hillside Elementary School
The Cold War was raging. Bomb shelters in the news. Nuclear bombs being tested. I was in the 5th grade. Someone thought we should all have metal “dog tags” like soldiers wear. In the event of a nuclear attack, they could identify our charred bodies. The dog tags could withstand 1500 degrees. Reassuring.
One at a time we were called to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room to do the serious business of filling out the order forms for our dog tags. She asked what my full name was, including middle name. I said, “Frederick Seymour Gilbert.” She responded: “Let’s just call you Rickey. By the way, how do you spell ‘Seymour?'” I had no idea. Neither did she.
I week later I was proudly wearing my A-bomb-proof dog tag identifying me as “Rickey Seemore Gilbert.” Fortunately my dog tag never had to be used for identification, with or without the proper spelling of my name.
1952, Garfield Junior High School
Science class with Mr. Edwards. He was known for being eccentric. Some said he was a drunk. Occasionally he fell asleep in class. With our homework reading, he told us to write down words we didn’t know and ask for a definition in class. “Don’t hesitate, even if it seems silly,” he said.
One day, a timid boy in the back slowly raised his hand, “Mr. Edwards, I don’t know this word, ‘spout.'” Edwards responded with an enlightened, humanistic, student-centered approach by bellowing at the top of his lungs, “What! You don’t know what a ‘spout’ is? You are in the seventh grade and you don’t know what a spout is? Jesus!”
At that point, Mr. Edwards filled a pitcher with water, climbed up on the huge lab bench in the front of the room and poured water all over the floor, yelling and pointing, “See, this is a spout.”
To no one’s surprise, that kid never asked another question. But none of us ever forgot what a spout was.
1956, Berkeley High School
Drama class. I was working with a partner on a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. She was Maggie and I was Brick. Tempers were flaring. The scene called for her to smash a vase. During rehearsal the day before our performance in front of the whole class, we had no vase.
So on the way home I stopped at the Goodwill Store and bought an old vase for 25 cents. Came the big scene, and she threw the vase on the floor. The vase pulverized into about a million pieces. My next line, which I dutifully said was, “That’s OK, Maggie. I can glue it back together.”
The class was laughing so hard, you’d think we were doing a Jackie Gleason routine from the Honeymooners. We still got an ‘A.’