Friday, January 21, 2011


Teachers learn with their students, and unfortunately some of those lessons are grim. We learn that some students will not reach proficiency, much less mastery of the lesson, even under the best of classroom conditions. A society may attempt to eliminate social and educational ills that present valid excuses for a student's failure, but inevitably, they are excuses and nothing more.

I have seen many human lives and bits of lives play out on the stage. The events and results of a person's life unfolding can be fascinating and very enlightening. At times, the light is nothing more than a perspective, and conflicting philosophies based on those events may arise. Here is one life played out in front of me to see and to learn from, and it applies to a student's failure.

Years ago I attended an elementary school that had a family of two boys. The older boy was about the age of my older brother and sister, and I heard lots of stories about this older boy who I shall dub, "Fred." Fred was a tall, handsome, popular, high schooler, and all the stories about him were favorable and luscious. Girls fawned and boys admired. Fred was a charmer. Smart. Cool. Handsome.

His younger brother, "Frank," was also tall and handsome but not as smart. The girls liked Frank but no more than any of the other boys because we were only fifth graders and too innocent at the time to base our affections on society's idea of appearances. Girls thought I was as handsome as Frank until they reached the age of eighteen and decided they didn't want to face the possibility of having a red-headed, freckled-faced, short, mesomorphic child.

Frank flunked the fifth grade. No one spoke of it. It was never brought up in conversation. It was hush-hush and taboo to discuss what happened to Frank, but it was a big deal. Frank suddenly became a lowly fifth grader while the rest of us were promoted to the sixth grade. Frank lost his coolness, at least to some of us. Poor Frank. I felt sorry for Frank and thought, "What will become of poor Frank? Thank heavens I make straight A's."

Fast forward about twelve years. I am driving down the freeway in a worn out Chevy Nova, blue smoke billowing out of my rattling tailpipe as drivers behind me frantically change lanes, the car windows are up in summer so the wind pressure inside the car won't blow the rear windshield out because of all the rust, I have eight dollars to my name, my parents aren't happy with me as usual, I am jobless again, I haven't had a date in two years, and the only good thing in my life is that my last thoughts of suicide didn't "pan out," so to speak, and I am still alive to cry in a beer.

On the spur of the moment, I got off the freeway and drove into Bob Robertson Chevrolet, not to shop but to dream and gaze wistfully at the treasures a good life could bring to someone more fortunate than myself. A couple of salesmen approached me, but I told them they were wasting their time. I didn't have a dime to my name, no job, and I was just dreaming.

A third salesman approached and I told him the same story. He replied, "You might be surprised. I can talk to our Sales Manager and maybe we could work out a trade-in. You could apply here for credit with GMAC, and if you qualify, the car of your choice is yours."

"I don't think it's gonna happen, man. My car isn't worth a hundred dollars."

"You might be surprised. We have a new Sales Manager, Fred Julep, and he makes things happen. Let's go talk to him."

I immediately recognized the name. It couldn't be the same Fred. How could he be the Sales Manager at one of the biggest dealerships in Houston, Texas? He was my age, about twenty-three.

"Is this Fred Julep kind of young, like maybe 23 or 24?"

"Yeah, he is. He's a lot younger than me."

"Is he tall with dark hair?"

"Yup. That's him."

I made up some excuse, turned on my heels, and left. I didn't want Fred to see me in that condition.

It turns out that the Sales Manager, Fred, was my old classmate. He was the Sales Manager, drove a Corvette, was married, and had a pregnant wife. He eventually became a regional Sales Manager for the Chevrolet Division of General Motors.

I don't know the rest of his story, and I don't know how his life turned out, but that's the beauty and mystery of life. Our story always reminds me that when a student is failing, the school system and the politicians and the parents and all of our society gets all frazzled and worked up and everyone tries to fix the social ills that caused it to happen so that a child's life is spared the humiliation and poverty that comes with failure.

Inner Peace. That's what we need. A stillness inside us that tells us everything will be fine. Life is not an emergency. Education is not an emergency.

I hope that Fred still prospers, partly because I liked Fred, but also because I want to believe that our frazzled selves do not comprehend life's complexity, and we have no idea how a life story will play out. All we do is fret and worry, cringe and fear.

Fred did just fine, and I pulled out of my dive just before I would have crashed and burned. I drive a wonderful car, and I hope Fred still does, too.

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