a tale of three teachers
and a prof who spoke up for the boys
Think for a moment about some of your most influential teachers. The majority of mine were found outside of the public school system. Within the system though, there were some real gems. High School English for example wasn’t bad at all.
In the tenth grade English was not my thing. Penmanship, grammar and spelling - all highly valued by my middle school teachers made me feel like a quadriplegic hurdler. My attempts at good grammar and writing likely looked like Steven Hawking doing the high jump.1
That year, I was in a university track English class. My teacher, Mr Hay - Sandy - he saw something in me that no one had noticed until then. You can’t imagine how shocked I was when he suggest that I enroll in advanced, honours English with the ‘gifted kids’.
You don’t belong here. Take that class. Get away from these thugs. You have a wonderful imagination. You are sensitive and creative. You’ll fit in better there. Sandy was a gay man. I was a cute young man. At the time, I didn’t get a creepy vibe from him. Looking back, I think his experience likely helped him recognize and value creativity and sensitivity in a way the rest of the adults at my school couldn’t.
What’s more, he saw how ruthlessly I was bullied. I imagine, given his life world, he too experienced a great deal of bullying for being different. Being seen for what I had to offer while not being criticized for my obvious deficits was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. For that, I will be forever grateful. Thank you Sandy.
It’s funny though, Sandy sent me out from the frying pan and into the fire. My classmates in the eleventh grade were great. Our teacher though was a steaming hot pile of good intentions and social engineering. Though I’ve forgotten her name, I’ll never forget her. She was the spitting image of Rita McNeil.
Rita, as I always think of this teacher, lacked McNeil’s talent. She likely a lot like me and Sandy - someone who was bullied for how she would stand out in a crowd. That is terrible. What she did with her pain was worse. She inflicted it upon us students for ‘our own good’.
We read essays like Man as a false generic. That was where both my teacher and female classmates began to project their pain on guys like me for… well, I don’t know what? Something I didn’t do? They began to police my language, how I sat in a chair and how often I spoke. I went from one group of bullies to another that was endorsed and supported by the people in charge.
I still refuse to use the term ‘fisher’ when it comes to people who work in the commercial fisheries. I like the words ‘fisherman’. In fact when they refer to the historic losses of ‘fishers’ who worked in the Nova Scotian inshore fishery, I experience resentment and rage. The thousands of men and boys who risked their lives to provide a substance living for their families and the thousands who did not make it home were men. Period. We contribute. Our contributions do not need a gender washing in order to provide some academic a platform to advance their comfy, ivory tower careers.
Rita wanted to mould and change the boys in her class to be more like women. Everything she gave us to read seemed to be part of that bullshit feminist social experiment from the 1980’s that devalued traditional masculinity and attempted to make young men more like women. This disease is still present today - especially in the realm of psychotherapy where the APA has deemed aspects of traditional masculinity to be toxic. What’s worse, they have even added sources of feminine power and influence, attributed them to men and deemed them toxic as well. Curious about this? Post something in the comments and I’ll rant about that tomorrow.
Rita even presented me with a book that nearly cured me of reading. I love my Nanny. Both of my Nannies have been a huge part of my life. Whether it was either Nanny or my widowed great aunts, I have always gone to visit old women at home for tea, at the golf course for french fries or in hospital or older holder2 as a companion and sense of comfort. I love old ladies. My love for and attention to old ladies predated meeting Rita.
Rita though? She needed to teach us all a lesson. She had us read a book that to this day I consider a crime against humanity. If given the chance I would burn every copy of this book and erase it from the public record I hate it so much. A few years ago, I considered that maybe this was because I was too young when I read it. Nope. I still hate The Stone Angel by Margaret Lawerence with every fiber of my being.
Every novel is a romance novel. Romance novels are romance novels. Clive Cussler or the Bourne novels are romance novels for beta men who wish they were alphas. I love romance novels for screw ups - middle age man, slightly marginal, through a series of mis adventures and with the help of a woman fifteen years younger than him stumbles through the adventure, solves the mystery, gets the girl and runs off into the sunset in a rusting pick up that looses its bumper as he and the girl pull away.
The Stone Angel is like the books like David Adams Richards and so many other ‘dark’ and ‘hard hitting’ emotional stories - it’s a romance novel for intellectuals. Their format is simple: Life is miserable. Everyone is terrible. People are shity to each other. Things get worse. Everything ends and the reader is faced with a bleak, nuanced and hopeless vision of the future.
I did not need to read about an old woman with senile dementia to have compassion for old women or their children going through that process. I was living it. It was something I saw. I resent the implication and projection of others, from their point of pain, that the young men in my class had to be taught feminine compassion by this bitter, black-clad-blow-hard.
Luckily, I had my chums. We mocked this teacher. We were without mercy. She came into things believing us dudes to be cruel and callous and in need of some sort of softening. We lived up to her expectations of us. That’s what happens when people who are hurt project their hurt onto the world. The world will not disappoint.
With my own son, I’ve witnessed this sort of teacher. I’ve egged him on to deliver more of the same. When the leadership expects you to be a fuckwit, don’t let them down. Give them what they want, ideally so they quit. The world needs better leaders and schools need better teachers.
My final year of high school was wonderful, transformational really. Katherine Bowlby. Mrs Bowlby let us self organize into groups. In our groups, we read and discovered themes and ideas in Shakespeare that spoke to us. We created and explored poems and periods of literature that intrigued us. She ignited our curiosity, desire to learn and drive to be better people.
She let us read what we were interested in. She offered guidance based on literature she believed many of the students would enjoy. Our group was composed of all young men. All gifted. For our novel study we read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller as we wanted a bawdy, anti war satire. Old Georgie was having his first dance with Saddam and we were deeply anti war. We also loved heavy metal.
She knew that each member of our group had slept overnight to buy tickets to see Metallica. They were in Halifax playing as a warm up for the And Justice For All tour. The ‘hit’ from that album was ‘One’. It had lyrics like this:
Has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell
To the man, we were blown away by this song. She learned that it was based on a novel written after the first world war by Dalton Trumbo. Johnny Get Your Gun opened my eyes to the pain of war. The central character had his arms and legs blown off. He became nothing.
I reread this novel as an adult and I’ve never seen a better metaphor for the impacts of war and real3 PTSD on a human. What’s more, this novel opened a gateway to understanding social class and war while introducing us to some of the most incredible literature I’ve read.
Mrs Bowlby inspired me to learn through her curiosity. She wasn’t preaching. She was searching. Her drive to learn more inspired us to learn. How delighted was I to find her dissertation when I worked for Drake as a cataloguing assistant at the library. She studied us. She wrote about me and my friends and the dynamics of how we learned through our interactions.
She saw that we were like her - good hearted and curious. She also respected how we had different tastes and perspectives than her and allowed us to explore our own path.
There is a crisis in education. Boys achieve less today than ever before. This trend began in the 1980’s. David Booth was a University of Toronto prof that I had the pleasure to encounter a lot. He took a lot of shit by a lot of so called ‘progressives’ when he spoke up for boys literacy. He, long before Richard Reeves began to study the crisis facing boys and men predicted dropping literacy rates and chose to take action.
Even Hockey Players Read is a classic as a guide to understanding how boys learn and what we can do to improve literacy and learning outcomes for boys. It focuses on enhancing literacy among boys, particularly in classroom settings.
The book emphasizes the importance of literacy in the lives of boys and serves as a crucial resource for teachers seeking to foster a love of reading in their students. It offers a variety of techniques for promoting a culture of literacy both in schools and at home.
Even Hockey Players Read is a full overview of the issues and challenges connected to boys and reading. It explores strategies and practical solutions aimed at helping struggling readers. The book addresses the complex role of gender in reading success. It confronts head on issues and prejudices around boys and their approach to reading.
Booth left this world in 2018 at the age of 80. His legacy has impacted how I teach my son. We are a reading house. He explore books and themes that support boys literacy and literature. If you go into a school and find lots of practical, fact based, non fiction books that focus on adventure, hands on skills or overcoming obstacles? You’ve likely seen the impact of David’s career.
David had a lot more to say in his advocacy for supporting the diverse learning challenges faced by boys. He stood up and said unpopular things to a profession dominated by an unawares belief that boys just need to learn to be more like girls.
Solving the crisis faced by boys learning is pretty simple. Another U of T OISE David had a phrase for that - meet them where they are at.
That’s what Sandy did for me. That’s what Mrs. Bowlby did for our group and countless others.
But if you have an agenda, based on your pain to ‘change people’ before even taking into consideration their sensitivity, curiosity or the pain they carry? I hope that those you face act like we did with Rita. If, as an educator, you lead by placing your pain and ‘good intentions’ before your compassion, the wrathful return will be the reapings of what you’ve sewn.
Love the people who love you.
And fuck the fucking fuckers.
Eleven days left in Movember my brothers.
Find a bro to hug and cherish. Our time here is short.
Ignore the critics.
Life is better that way.
tasteless? No. We all can do so many different things and that’s great. Making jokes about how we are different is kinda the basis of humour. Punch up, punch down, just keep punching.
seniors building or some other new woke term that I care not to learn or read about.
Not the generic ‘trauma’ or ‘traumatized’ that millennials use when you use the wrong pronouns with them. There is a big difference between the impacts of real and perceived violence.