Saturday, December 11, 2004

leading the young

So often, I think children are seen as things that need to be reigned in, rather than individuals who have minds that need cultivating.

Parents obviously make a big impact on their children, but so do teachers. The first teacher who had a real hand in shaping how I saw the world was a man named Tom Schaefer. He seemed so foreign to me. Growing up in small-town Oregon, he was the first Jewish person I'd met (not that I thought to differentiate). He would take off strange sounding days like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and his olive skin and hooked nose made him stand out among the pale white backwater stock typical to the area. I remember how he would stand in front of the room, his shoulders slightly stooped and his pot belly protruding from his otherwise sturdy frame. He would perch his reading glasses on top of his head while he was addressing the class, and how he read!

He would spend hours of our class days, forgoing math and science assignments to read to us, creating worlds for our imaginations to get lost in. He got so wrapped up in the words -- laughing sometimes, reading ahead and chortling to the point of tears in a long pause. Or he'd cry, too, choked up by what was in front of him, the words sticking in his throat. Unafraid to show his emotions, he was calm and happy most of the time, but the one or two times he got angry hinted at a deeper sense of passion and conviction of right and wrong.

And he never condescended. He spoke to our little group of 11-year-olds as if we were adults, subverting our innocent minds with humor, taking pleasure in ushering us along to a deeper understanding of life and the world around us. Of course, that choice was ours -- we could go along on the journey or not. Some kids clung to him, others were diffident or nonchalant, resistant even. His was a revolutionary kind of leadership -- rife with optimism and understanding. He truly grasped the struggle of those early adolescent years, realized the beginnings of individual passions in each of us and tried to inspire us in ways that would help us realize them, too.

10 Comments:

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Tom sounds like a primo teacher, and one who realises how much impact a teacher can have on their pupils. Just about anyone you ask can name a specific teacher who either opened the door to the excitement of learning, or made it an experience of terror.

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger Borscht said...

Interesting post.

I was wondering -- Sandra -- whether it would have made a difference if Tom was, say, from Sengal, and was reading to you guys the lovely works of some of the more influential African scribes -- say, I dunno, Ben Okri.

Ben's a very distinct-looking Yoruba man. Flat nose, and because he spends most of his time writing in his studio in London, perhaps he carries something of a paunch.

Hmmm...would you have said the same thing about him then -- to wit:

"A wide flat airstrip of a forehead he had, with a prominent flattened nub of a nose - negroid, for sure. And he had the thinnest chicken legs. I wonder how he might have been able to run -- but seeing as he writes, what the heck -- wouldn't need to..." But (not that I differentiate or anything), he was one of the most astounding storytellers in my young pre-pubescent life.

People are infatuated with the Jews. I wonder why...

 
At 6:46 AM, Blogger Sandra said...

It's strange how words can be perceived.

Tom was (still is) a great man, one of those who makes the world go 'round, so to speak. I doubt the fact that he's Jewish has had anything to do with his quality as a person. Although, that's not to say that his cultural background has not played a roll in shaping his life (because that's true of everybody).

My purpose in pointing his Jewishness in the first place was to point out that I simply had never had so much interaction with someone from such a different culture. Describing him physically was a way for the reader to get a mental picture of him, and in doing so, I remember him quite fondly. To say his skin was dark or he has a paunch, again, is not to provide some sort of negative commentary on him or his culture.

I see your point though, Adam. I suppose there was not much of a need to point out the fact that he was Jewish in the first place. If I'm posting about his leadership capabilities and the impact he had on a few adolescent lives, I probably could have skipped an entire paragraph on his physicality, eh?

Let's see if I can't get more concise...

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger Simon said...

It is indeed strange how words can be interpreted. Sandra, I think you did right to describe Tom to us, so we saw him through your eyes at the time.

"People are infatuated with the Jews", says Adam. I don't think so. I think the fact that it's a culture that has survived and remained distinctly its own has attracted both praise and persecution throughout the ages. And personally, I believe Israel is God's chosen race, a belief I share with many Christians and Jews worldwide. But that's another discussion.

Bringing it back to Leadership, I think you showed artistic leadership, Sandra, for writing the way you did. There will always be people who get you the wrong way around; all you can do is be honest.

Of course, there's a ridiculous side to dealing with - and describing - people of other races. See www.blackpeopleloveus.com ... it's hilarious! (And yes, it is deliberately hilarious). Sandra was describing an individual; the fictional characters on blackpeopleloveus.com are lumping anyone/everyone with dark skin into the same category, giving them all the same characteristics.

In communicating about people, we need to be honest. Political correctness can water down our communication to render it completely useless.

 
At 12:31 AM, Blogger Borscht said...

Granted, Simon -- that what you're suggesting is a welcome balm to our burdensome culture of niceties and shallowness.

I wouldn't ever recommend a course of action for Sandra which entails her becoming taciturn and commentles -- and then perhaps even the "title shot" at spinsterhood.

But if you're going to suggest a course which invites dishing "it" out -- then one must also be prepared to deal with the reaction to "it."

I don't mind honest open discussion. A good kick in the ass, given or taken, is always a good thing indeedy. I am always one for opening up the playing field -- in a big bad way.

The only way we're going to learn about shit is not by sitting in the house reading a book, but rather by going out there and mingling with the locals (take your book with you too -- sometimes it makes for the perfect conversation starter), walking the streets (if it's safe to do so -- Auckland and Toronto are safe, for now -- unfair if we're addressing this to Sandra who lives in the, er, jungle), or by taking (this one's for me and Simon) public transport. Tee hee.

I can see where the "bleeding heart" liberalism comes into play here. Simon. Not your fault, you're from New Zealand. (See what you've spawned with your comment! -- never fearing to deliver the most frank version of our comments, unsantized, as it were).

But somehow I sense the fact when it comes to certain groups of people, "openness" and "frankness" begins to take on a whole new friggin' meaning.

That's where I'm coming from wif it. Dig?

Methinks that Sandra was more correct than all of us combined -- perhaps one entire paragraph might have been best excluded not to the detriment of the whole.

Now, was it really necessary? -- Sandra nailed it on the head -- the physical description was not needed. Totally silly.

Simon -- shame on you! -- doing your own form of "secular exegesis" in order to justify the "we must have it" inclusion of Sandra's paragraph.

We're not speaking about the fundamental proprieties of journalistic integrity and the Fifth Estate, digger, rather, we're talking about the silliness is making such a broad sweeping generalization.

Now where can I find myself some rake-thin Chinese people to feed some rice too...maybe if I have dirty laundry?


-- AM

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger Simon said...

>Now, was it really necessary? -- Sandra nailed it on the head -- the physical description was not needed. Totally silly.

Okay, granted that the physical description wasn't absolutely necessary.

But I found it helpful because it showed me Tom through Sandra's eyes. I could be a New York Jew reading this, and wouldn't relate to the sense of unfamiliarity that Sandra felt. Or I could be a Muslim from Malaysia. Or an atheist from Vanuatu.

As it is, I'm a kiwi from a place where there isn't a strongly visible Jewish community. Whoever I, the reader, am, it helped me understand where Sandra was coming from.

Finally, at the risk of repeating myself:

There's a huge difference between stereotypes and individual descriptions.

'Nuff said. I think immovable object has met unstoppable force and equilibrium has been reached of some sort.

 
At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

| >Now, was it really necessary? -- Sandra nailed it
on the head -- the
| physical description was not needed. Totally silly.
|
| Okay, granted that the physical description wasn't
absolutely necessary.

AM -- Simon, I'm aghast that you're being so glib and
dismissive about it. It's not like Sandra employs
easy-to-relate-to physical descriptions (to wit: "He
was short," or "he was chunky, stocky, and
balding.").

Rather, she employs bold bombastic references about
this professor -- the bitter canards about so-called
"Jewish people" that racists and rabble-rousers
across the European continent have been using to
describe and moreover, villify, Jews for centuries
and centuries. I hate "hooked-nose" -- that's going
to get my goat up all the time. I won't stand for it.
Not one second.
|
| But I found it helpful because it showed me Tom
through Sandra's eyes.
| I could be a New York Jew reading this, and
wouldn't relate to the
| sense of unfamiliarity that Sandra felt.

AM -- You too!!! Why "New York Jew?" What the hell do
you mean by that? There are all kinds of Jews. Some
of them are black than the lead on the tip of your
pencil. Some of them have eyes more Asiatic than
someone from deepest Mongolia. Some of them are
people you know and love from the silver screen. Cut
that out!


Or I could be a Muslim from
| Malaysia. Or an atheist from Vanuatu.

AM -- Or a fundamentalist biggot from the Deep South
of the good ol' US of A? Add that to your shortlist.

|
| As it is, I'm a kiwi from a place where there isn't
a strongly visible
| Jewish community. Whoever I, the reader, am, it
helped me understand
| where Sandra was coming from.

AM -- Disagree. It's all the worse. You're getting
your "first entree" into the world of Judaism from
someone who's contorting the image and the issue. You
might get a glimpse of things from her world, but
that doesn't mean that her world's just, open-minded,
and inclusive. You understand -- perhaps I can
correspond with a Confederate from Mississippi, and
get an idea about his world view as well. But it
doesn't mean that his worldview's balanced. It's such
an insular and detached way of explaining away
Sandra's overarching gaffe. It's very small-world of
you, to be honest.
|
| Finally, at the risk of repeating myself:
|
| There's a huge difference between stereotypes and
individual descriptions.

AM -- Tell me about it. This case isn't indicative of
what you're saying here, though.

|
| 'Nuff said. I think immovable object has met
unstoppable force and
| equilibrium has been reached of some sort.

AM -- That's what you think...! ;-) I'm not done with
this yet.

-- Adam Mezei

 
At 8:00 PM, Blogger Simon said...

So by your logic, we cannot afford to describe anyone physically if it could be considered racist?

Couple more questions:

What if Tom did have a hooked nose? Are we precluded from mentioning it by the fact he resembles a stereotype.

And please take this next one seriously - I don't mean it just to be contentious: Do you really think stereotypes cause persecution?

Another one: do you think getting upset about stereotypes just gives them more power?

 
At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a purely logical response to an
emotionally-charged agenda.

Try this one on for size (in the way of
explanation)...if I were to tell you I thought Jesus
to be a blaspheming black Jew and NOT the Messiah, is
that within reasonable discourse?

It sure is!

But it doesn't mean some zealous Bible-thumper isn't
going to try to whack my poor noggin off at the next
crook in the road.

You see the difference?

I can argue things logically as well, two can play
that game...

My response to you...yes, you can physically describe
anything...

But if some ignoramus has the gumption to call any
Jewish-person "hooked-nosed" and "a shylock," (or
worse, killer of, ahem, "Our Lord") he might find
himself flat on his back, and desperately in need of
a plastic surgeon.

That's all I'm sayin'...

The days when Jews "turn the other cheek" are over a
long time ago, my friend.

-- AM

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger Simon said...

> That is a purely logical response to an
> emotionally-charged agenda.

Which explains everything. Sorry for picking a fight. I guess this is
just one of those things that one has to just accept.

Yeah right. Come on man, your behaviour is childish and stupid. We all
experience emotions; we can't let them drive us, not if we want to
survive in this world.

There will be people who through ignorance or malice say things you
don't like. It happens. Get over it.

Most of all, realise this. If someone's not attacking you, and you act
like they are, a fight starts. Making a mountain out of a molehill
doesn't really solve anything.

By being super-tuned to any possible slight, you are just setting
yourself up to be offended, and become a kinda crazy person no-one
wants to talk to.

> The days when Jews "turn the other cheek" are over a
> long time ago, my friend.

Even when no-one has hit them?

 

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