I got notice this week of my high school class's 45th reunion. I went to the 20th one with my wife and (at the time) toddler daughter. I pretty much decided then that it would be the last shindig of that sort I'd ever attend. But they had a get-together a couple of years ago when most of us turned 60 and I saw some pictures from that event which indicated they were having a pretty good time. So I may change my mind this year and go. It's only a six-hour drive and it's not like I have anything pressing I have to do around here.
This started me thinking of things I'd like to discuss with various classmates, and the one thing I kept coming back to was whether their experience with our 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Yates, was as meaningful in their lives to come as was mine. Her influence on me was as permanent as that of my parents, and with a whole lot less complication. I suppose she was what you would call “attractive;” not beautiful, but enigmatic. Her face could be seen as either expressing disapproval or amusement, depending solely upon the eyes. She was whip-smart about both her native language, famous folks who'd used it, as well as basic human nature.
I would like to quiz my former classmates about Mrs. Yates' little “special group” of 10 or 12 kids whom she hand picked for a “project” on which she was working. I, of course, was one of them because not only was I one of the smartest kids in my class (he said as an established fact and with naught a whiff of hubris) but I was also Teacher's Pet.
Years later as I ruminated about this group it occurred to me that Mrs. Yates was likely working on an advanced degree and this was part of her classwork. I think it might have been in the early years of IQ studies when educators were trying to determine the best methods of measuring that beast. Our group would meet for the hour we would otherwise have been in study hall (something none of us obviously needed) and we would take strange little exams and perform weird tasks. For instance, we would read a sheet of information as quickly as possible and then take an immediate quiz to see what we'd retained. Or, she would read out a string of numbers and we were to repeat them back to her in reverse order. I can't remember much else about the details, but one afternoon she asked to see me after class and she did something that was probably totally inappropriate. (NO! Not that! How dare you harbor thoughts such as that about Mrs. Yates?) She told me I had the 2nd highest IQ of anyone in my class. She told me the number but it meant nothing to me then and probably means much less now. Of course, I had to ask whose was higher, and she inappropriately told me that, too. It was a homely girl named Francis who I learned died last year from a brain tumor. (This would become hysterically ironic later on in life's tale.)
This IQ group was not the most meaningful thing Mrs. Yates ever did for me. Back then, I wore my hair like everyone else; parted on the side with a sort of upswoop on the wider side in the front, held in place with Brylcreem or some such shit. My best friend's older brother brought home a copy of Meet the Beatles one day and the next day I decided I'd wear my hair differently. Instead of the upswoop with goop, I let it hang naturally over my forehead, thus simulating in a pathetic sort of way the moptop look of that band whose music had given me the shivers.
Things went well that day. A few kids said things that were either hurtful or encouraging, but when it came time for English class, things changed dramatically. As I sat down in my first row (of course) seat, Mrs Yates stared a hole though me for what must have been a full sixty seconds. Then, in a tone I'd never even heard her use even with Dennis Hughes, the world's worst troublemaker, she barked, “Mr. dannye, you will immediately go to the boys' room a fix your hair and do not ever come in my classroom again in such a disheveled state!”
She knew this was a crucial moment in my life, and how right she was. It was that day that I quit respecting adults just because they were older than me and decided to become a rebel with no subjunctive clause. The rest of my life would be defined by that day, and much of that definition would be questionable at best and horrific at worst.
So I'd like to discuss this with my classmates who are still on this side of the dirt. Thanks to people like Mrs. Yates, we got so much more out of high school than it appears kids get today. Even though I'm sure doyle is a wonderful teacher, I'm also sure he'd agree that the overall high school education his students are getting is inferior to the one he got in the 1950s. We could argue the reasons for this, but I do not believe we can dispute the truth of it.