Mr. Castlebaum, my primary 5th and 6th grade teacher, wasn't a native of West Virginia. He was a New Jersey guy, and fresh out of college. Central West Virginia in 1977 wasn't Trenton, and Mr. Castlebaum always seemed a little stymied over the culture in which he was immersed.
In 6th grade, Mr. Castlebaum was also our softball coach. All rah-rah and prone to whistle-blowing, Coach Castlebaum was dedicated to getting every effort out of our boys team. He yelled, he screamed and he cursed. He cursed a lot. Hearing a teacher swear was sort of cool, really. It was so unusual, so rebellious, that it made practice even more fun.
Apparently some of my classmates and their parents didn't share my enthusiasm.
One day after lunch, Mr. Castlebaum began calling each of the 6th grade softball players into the hallway, one at a time. My turn came early in the rotation:
"Do you like playing softball?" he asked, obviously nervous.
"When we're practicing softball, you've never heard me use swear words, have you?"
"Well, yeah. A few times." It became suddenly clear why Coach Castelbaum was nervous, and where this was heading. Someone had complained.
"No, you haven't." And he said it with a sneer. It was less a disagreement and more of here's-how-this-is-gonna-go, kid.
"Yeah, I've heard you curse. Sometimes you swear at us kids, and you've said the F-word a lot. The one that rhymes with truck."
"I think you're mistaken," he said. He leaned down, and toward my face.
I don't know what kids are like in Jersey, but kids from the holler aren't intimidated that easily. I didn't easily roll over for teachers, especially if it was clear the teacher was trying to weasel out of something he knew was wrong.
"Yeah, you did it. I didn't tell anybody, because it was no big deal. But you did it. You did it a lot."
I walked back inside, sat at the desk and waited as he called other students into the hall to grill them. A couple of them came back in sort of teary-eyed.
I've been suspicious of teachers since.
Behavior like Mr. Castlebaum demonstrated creates an environment where kids are fearful of stepping out of the norm. It promotes the dumbing down of dreams and ambition, and helps above average kids become just average. It dooms less than average kids.
It's my opinion that in order to educate kids, teachers have to encourage and inspire them. Make kids believe in themselves, always being thoughtful not to do anything that will discourage a kid to dream, and to set lofty goals. We have too few teachers that do that on a day-to-day basis. And although I'm saddened when I hear a story that reminds me of Mr. Castlebaum, I'm no longer amazed.
Last night at dinner, my 11-year-old daughter was telling us about her day at school. She was upset about a conversation that occurred with her female Health teacher earlier that day.
"The teacher said women shouldn't be President." Although we haven't heard Maddisen say she wanted to be The Prez, we've never discouraged her from from setting any sort of appropriate goal. We've been especially thoughtful about not discouraging her from setting goals based on societal expectations of gender.
That's just the way we live our life.
"How did she come up with that idea?" I asked, trying to hide my anger.
"She just said her husband always told her women shouldn't be President, and she can't vote for a woman because of that. She kept saying 'Believe me, we don't want a woman for a president!' over and over."
I suddenly had that old feeling of being called into the hallway back in 6th grade.