Archives for posts with tag: education

When I was in high school, my humanities teachers, now know to me as Helen and Bob, took a group of us on week long trip to New York City, with a one day stop in Boston.  Bob and Helen worked with us for months ahead of time making sure we would know how to use the subways and get around because we were on our own for significant parts of each day. By day, we visited museums and scoped out architecture. We had a journal for each day with tons of questions corresponding to different paintings, buildings, and exhibits. I remember spending about 10 minutes staring at a series of Frank Stella paintings at the Museum of Modern Art before realizing that I was on the wrong floor of the museum and none of the questions in my book were matching up to the exhibit. I remember my excitement with visiting my first Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Guggenheim Museum. There was a large collection of later Picassos on exhibit. One of my friends was totally disgusted. I was so taken with the colors and the abstract forms that I did not notice that most of paintings were of female genitalia. Come on, like Picasso was the first horny artist. The man was a genius and I got to see his original paintings, some from the Blue Period and some from the Lady Bits Period.

We also went to a lot of Broadway shows. We saw Noises Off (meh), Cats (T.S. Elliot and cats dancing on the balcony; awesome), and the very fun Little Shop of Horrors. We skipped Oh, Calcutta, the all nude musical that was playing at the Edison Hotel, where we were staying. I remember I worked long and hard to charm the cranky and rude man who worked at the front desk. He yelled at us every time we asked him politely to get money out of the safe, to which only he had access. By day three he was smiling every time he saw me and calling me, “Darling.”

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. We saw a very famous play. We saw the Death of a Salesman. Dustin Hoffman played Willie Lowman. He was so amazing. I still remember the uproar caused by his not being nominated for a Tony Award that year. He was invited to present at the awards and received a standing ovation. Although my memory of this event seemed so clear, I was recently reminded that John Malkovich played Willie Lowman’s son, Biff, in that production. He was already famous by that time. His voice was as distinctive as it is now. It was amazing.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I almost didn’t go. My parents told me that it was too expensive.  A few days after telling my teachers that I would not be able to go on the trip, Bob took me aside and told me that there had been an anonymous donation for my airfare. That allowed me to go. I remember that it was about $300 and that we flew on Continental Airlines.

For many years, I have suspected that Bob and Helen paid for my airfare out of their own pockets. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But even still, the trip would not have been possible without these two dedicated teachers, giving so much of their time not to mention giving up their spring break every year, to teach kids from Renton, WA about the arts and the big world outside of us.

I have kept in touch with Helen over the years. She reads this blog and sometimes sends me a personal email with her thoughts about a particular post. She retired right after my cancer diagnosis. She is extremely beloved by many former students. There’s even a fan club on Facebook for her!

Helen got pretty ill last summer and last I heard, she was getting stronger each day. Maybe she’s even reading this post along with the rest of you who are reading this right now. Helen, I have enormous gratitude for what you did for me in my teens. You are smart and an outlier. A passionate person who enjoyed her career. You were and are a role model to me about living a life of meaning, humor, and service. Thank you for all that you have done for THOUSANDS of students. Not every teacher gets fan page on social media. And not every teacher agrees to meet with former students, still in their teens who miss their teacher and want to talk to her about books.

I have filled my blog with posts of gratitude and appreciation this week, with an eye on paying-it-forward.  I have had the privilege of an exemplary education and you were among the very best of my teachers during my 25 years of schooling. Your dedication to the welfare and education of youth, helped inspire mine.

Thank you and I wish you the very best in your health and healing.

When I was an advanced graduate student, I helped teach new graduate students how to do standardized testing and write assessment reports. One type of test that clinical psychologists often give is an intelligence test. Now there’s no end all, be all measure of intelligence but they are useful. Often the students would chat excitedly about a child they’d just tested and describe the child as “really bright!”. This was prior to scoring the test and on several occasions, the child ended up with the numbers not matching the student’s assessment. Typically, what they really meant was that the child was sweet, hardworking, and happy. We have a habit of making intelligence equivalent to being “good”. This is a particular issue for  bright and highly educated people.

Also in graduate school, I remember having a heated argument with one of my classmates and her husband. The argument was prompted by my remarking about how damaging and insidious I thought the stereotype that Southerners in the U.S. are less intelligent. To my surprise they responded, “But Southerners ARE stupid!”

People, I’ve met a lot of highly intelligent people in my life. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered. Her husband was smart, too. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of their mouths!

It would still be awful but perhaps slightly more understandable if they’d never met a southerner in their lives. However, we were all going to school in the South. Not to mention the fact that our southern clinical psychology Ph.D. program was and still is one of the very best in the country.

They had explanations. “It’s because southern schools are terrible.” That argument made me crazy because even assuming that it is true, intelligence and education are not the same thing and anyone in a clinical psychology program should know that because it is a basic distinction that is covered in any introductory assessment course.

A number of our classmates were southerners. I said, “Well, what about x, y, and z.” Somehow they didn’t count because they didn’t have southern accents. Well one of our classmates did, Penny, and she was and is a brilliant person. “What about Penny?” The reply was, “She doesn’t count. She’s not a southerner. She’s from Appalachia.”

People, that is a terrible argument. She was also the daughter of a coal miner and the only one from her community to graduate from college. She was from one of the poorest areas in the country.

I could go on and on about the logical inconsistencies but I won’t. They were really smart people who considered themselves to be kind people who were going out of their way to make irrational ridiculous arguments to defend their hateful views. And you know what? In general, they were decent people. Decent people with a major blind spot.

Intelligence is not the same as goodness. It is also not okay to put other people down using one’s intellect. It’s no better than using less educated sounding language to do so. Being clever does not make being unkind, okay. Dorothy Parker was clever. You know what else? She wasn’t very nice.

This has been bothering me a lot lately.  So I am looking inward because that is usually a fruitful thing for me to do. From my professional knowledge, I know that the fact that I am more intelligent than average is not a personal accomplishment. Brains are not the same, starting at birth. I consider myself to be very lucky. Further, not everyone has educational opportunities. I consider my education to have been a wonderful privilege that most do not get a chance to have. In my job, I see many hardworking children who are struggling with school. They are often treated like they are lazy and unintelligent. And by the way,  even if a person is unintelligent, why is it okay to put them down as if it were their own doing?

Okay, I am complaining and this is supposed to be gratitude week. I am grateful for my intelligence and my education. I am grateful for my opportunities and experiences. I am humbled by the chance to help children be as happy and successful as they can be.

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