Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Teaching outside the Curriculum

My favorite teacher would have to be hands down my 11th grade history teacher. His name is Mr. Furrow and he taught American History. But more important than World War Two or Watergate, he taught us about life.

I knew I would love him from the start because of his teaching style. The entire curriculum was made into power point presentations and projected onto the wall. That way he could stand at the front of the class and lecture while having visual references. I quickly realized that this is the best way for me to learn. (I have always like lectures and I can remember images of words most of the time.) As most people when they lecture, he would go off on tangents and use personal experiences to help us relate to people and situations.

One lesson I still remember clearly today was about ultimatums. He warned us never to use ultimatums to try and force someone to do what you want (because that is essentially what an ultimatum is). He explained that in fact, all you are doing is putting yourself into a corner. The chances of that happening are high since you wouldn’t have had to give the ultimatum in the first place if they were willing to do what you wanted. Then you are stuck doing something you don’t want to do or go back on your word. And it is in those moments you define what kind of person you are.

I have never given an ultimatum.

He also taught us that some victories are worse then losing. I remember him reading excerpts of William March’s Company K. The most moving being the chapter about “The Unknown Soldier.” It is about the thoughts going through the soldier’s head as he lies dying, trapped in barb wire. He is basically giving a voice to whom that soldier might be and why he is unknown. I tried to find a link to it but I couldn’t so here is part:

“It’s all a lie that people tell each other, and nobody really believes,” I said… “And I’m a part of it, whether I want to be or not. I’m more a part of it now than ever before: In a few years, when the war is over, they’ll move my body back home to the Soldier’s Cemetery, just as they moved the bodies of soldiers killed before I was born. There will be a brass band and speech making and a beautiful marble shaft with my name chiseled on its base… The mayor will be there also, pointing to my name with his thick, trembling forefinger and shouting meaningless words about glorious deaths and fields of honor… And there will be other little boys in that crowd to listen and believe him, just like I listened and believed!”

Because the soldier doesn’t want to be part of that, he throws his tags and helmet away and rips up his identification so no one can identify his body.

“I’ve beaten the orators and wreath layers at their own game…Nobody will ever use me as a symbol. No-body will ever tell lies over my dead body now!”

My favorite line is at the end though.

“I have broken the chain,” I whispered. “I have defeated the inherent stupidity of life.”

Then he is shot in the head by a German soldier who has sat with him to end his suffering. I remember the story having a deep impact on me. He also sang a song one day called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by Eric Bogle. The lyrics were lovely and sad at the same time. Is is about the battle of Gallipoli (which was pretty much like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan).

This is a version by John Williamson:

There were other things as well. Things I can’t even recall but I know stayed with me. Helped shape the way I see the world. I remember our first period class watching the Twin Towers fall while trying to grasp what was truly happening in the world. He always gave the impression that he truly cared about us individually as people, but more than anything, Mr. Furrow helped me discover my love of history. That passion has stayed with me all these years.

And it is teachers like him that give me hope for public education.

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