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“I had great teachers in the first and second grades who taught me everything I know. After that the teachers were nice but they were dopes.”–Jane Jacobs (author THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, DARK AGE AHEAD).

Like Jane Jacobs I learned everything I needed to know from my first and second grade teachers. After that not all the teachers were nice (my second grade teacher sure was not nice) nor were all of them dopes.

Before I started public school there was a huge fight between my mother (who had been brought up in The Church Of England) and my father’s family which was Roman Catholic.

At that time a marriage between those two faiths was more frowned upon than one between a white person and a person of a different skin shade (I refuse to use the word “race” as the idea of race is a fiction. We are one race, the human race. It comes in a variety of colors).

My mother wanted me in Public School. My father’s family wanted me in Roman Catholic School.

The fight went on long and loud. It ended when my mother said, “Why don’t we let him decide?”

That night, alone with no one else around, my mother said, “Do you want to go to public school with the good kids or Catholic school with the bad kids?”

When I returned from my first day at school all of my cousins were waiting for me. They called me names. I had now officially become an outsider, an other, a queer.

At six we don’t know what the names mean. We just know that our former friends are no longer our friends.

I have been an outsider ever since.

Not that I am complaining. Outside is a good place to be. Being outside either kills us or makes us strong. In later years I learned to thank the bullies of my youth. They prepared me for the tough road ahead.

“Draw stick figures of men and women,” our first grade teacher told us.

While most drew men straight and women with a triangle for a dress I drew women with breasts and men with our gear.

“Ahhh! You are an artist,” said my teacher.

She encouraged me by giving me bits of used colored chalk.

I got a very different reaction from my grade two teacher.

“You have  a dirty mind,” she said when she saw my stick figure nudes. She beat me. They could do that then.

Nonetheless, I stuck to my nudes.

My first grade teacher was the wife of the principal. At 7 I knew that if I had been doing something wrong she would have told me. I had learned the greatest and most important lesson. I learned that a teacher could be wrong.

It seems to me right now we live in a time dominated by my second grade teacher.

This is a time which more than ever calls for strength.

“You have the wrong attitude. If you leave this school today you will starve in two weeks,” my high school principal told me half way through grade 13.

Had I not left that very moment I would not have met one of the greatest teachers I was ever to meet, Jane Jacobs.

In his book TRUE AND FALSE David Mamet writes, “Deny nothing. Invent nothing. Stand up. Speak up. Stay out of school.”

I’m with him.

From Jane Jacobs I learned the concept called childhood is a recent invention. Traditionally infants were viewed as adult minds in small bodies.

They are.


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