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  • James A Eichenlaub

The Tao of the Classroom

For me, attending school was a torment, from the first day of attendance in 1957 until I quit school in1969.


Not school, per së, but the people, especially the teachers. Of course, there were also the bullies, the high-society chums that tormented me mentally by ignoring or laughing at me. But more so the teachers, who put a sour, repellent taste for education into my mouth.


Still, there were those few teachers over the years who actually taught their subject and made it interesting and palatable. The majority, however, were there to "make us learn," not to help us learn. When teaching becomes a job, it stops being a profession!


To qualify that statement, one must understand that it comes from my perspective alone. Honestly, I can understand how this could happen given the parents' mentality and the students' attitudes. So then, without the experience of being a teacher, I would surmise that success is measured among those few students a teacher can inspire to "want" to learn more.


Here's how I remember it...Middle School (aka Junior High)


Mr. Charles Manson (not his real name) was a "guidance counselor' who taught math besides beating teens' backsides in the guidance office with a board full of holes, giving a new meaning to bubble-butt because one went home with a bottom covered with white dots surrounded by bruised flesh. But it did teach a lesson, i.e., wear more underwear! He seemed especially fond of the naughty girls!


In class, he would throw a smattering of algebraic numbers and symbols across the chalkboard and then ask, "Any questions?" Meanwhile, there sat I, totally lost while the others around me appeared to be floating along, soaking it all in. As a student, the question was: should I raise my hand and say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Manson, but would you slow down and re-explain everything you just went through in my native language?" When I finally drew the courage to ask for help, he further embarrassed me by assigning a fellow student as a tutor after class. Something she was not happy about and by whom I was labeled 'the class idiot' to her friends and others.


However, the true Tao of learning began in grade school, day one, with my very first teacher.



Webster Grade School c1950
Webster Grade School Building in downtown Altoona. Credit: Courtesy of Jared Frederick

Ms. Grungeworthy (again, obviously not her real name) was a schoolmarm who began teaching in the 1930s' with pigtails curled into a large bun on top of her head, wearing white orthopedic shoes and looked like boats on her one-hundred-year-old feet as she galumphed about the room as if looking for someone to backhand for breathing too hard or to slap with a ruler because they were sitting in an improper posture.


Delivered to the first classroom on the right by my mother hand-in-hand on my first day of FIRST GRADE, she finally talked me into staying with a promise of something nice when I returned home. Having never attended a pre-school or experienced a social setting of any type before this, I had no desire to remain without her.


Ms. Grungeworthy began class by training us on the proper way to sit quietly at our desks; no slouching, our hands folded in front of us, our pencils stowed in that tiny grove at the head of the desk. There, we would sit quietly and await our next assignment.


Next came the distribution of pencils. Not your average TICONDEROGA #2! No sir! These were those big, fat, green logs made especially for tiny little first-grade hands. Ms. Grungeworthy laid each one with care onto that little trough at the forward edge of the desk while warning us not to touch it until told to do so.


Although very much pre-Orwellian, the entire class was commanded to stand and, row-by-row, follow one another as instructed. Attached to the windowsill near the teacher's desk was a hand-cranked pencil sharpener with one of those snatchy-grabby things that gripped the pencil for you and fed it into the sharpener as if by magic. The comely odor of duplicator ink and Crayola filled our Mesmerized little heads as we marched sycophantically toward the pencil mill.


Stepping steadily forward, each child turned the crank to put a majestic-looking point at the tip of our new writing instrument and then returned to our seat to wait, sitting upright, hands folded in front of us on the desk and feet flat on the floor, with our newly sharpened, dark green, Dixon Ticonderoga #308 writing log lain neatly into the trough where it belonged


When the sharpening ended, the class silently sat waiting while the old schoolmarm stumped around the room in her orthopedic clogs, lifting each pencil and examining it as if measuring each tip with her mechanical eye for length, breadth, and degree of sharpness. Ah, but as it turned out, that was not her only motive.


Sometimes, education just hits you right in the face!


As she lifted the pencil from my trough, her hairy eyeball traveled up and down its length, where she spied what she immediately thought to be a toothmark. Instead, she saw the knurled impression left by that little knurly thing inside the snatchy-grabby part of the sharpener that holds and feeds the pencil.


As I sat at attention, wishing I was home playing in our yard, the palm of Grungeworthy's fat, ancient hand crashed into my face, swelling my lip and bloodying my nose. "Don't you ever chew on this pencil again, young man! That is not what the school is providing them for." I cried and tried to leave the room but was forcefully pushed into my chair and commanded not to move. "You will sit still and be quiet if you know what's good for you," she chimed!


At mid-morning, we were recessed and turned out to the playground. Seizing the opportunity, I ran from the playground and returned home crying with my swollen lip and feeling of total abandonment. Mom listened as I told her what happened. She wiped my face with a cool washcloth, and I fell asleep on the living room sofa.


I don't recall exactly when I returned to school after that incident, but I know that mom visited them that afternoon to address what happened. The teacher was shown how the sharpener made those marks, and she was apologetic, but I was put into a different classroom with a teacher that was not quite as insane.


The new teacher was younger and kind, but it did little to change my mind about learning. I would have still rather stayed home and remained ignorant than be forced to learn those things I cared least about, and I did, as often as possible throughout my school years.


Teach what the student can grasp, not what you want the student to learn.


Aircraft Carrier
My first shipboard assignment: USS Intrepid (CVS-11)

In 1969, I swore an oath to the U.S. Government to sacrifice my life, if necessary, to "defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic," as it was put to us in the oath.


Leaving school at the start of my senior year, the government put me through four weeks of study, after which I passed the exam for my General Equivalency Diploma and graduated ahead of my senior class of 1970 before the end of that school year.


Although requesting to be a cook upon enlistment, my test scores were too high. I left boot camp as an E3 (Seaman) to continue training as an avionics technician and entered the fleet as an E5 / Petty Officer 2nd Class working on antisubmarine electronics systems.


Since leaving the military in 1974, I found my niche in communications and retired in 2017 after twenty-five successful years in the cellular communications business. I ended my career with a bachelor's degree in business administration, and a master's degree in information technology management.


Needless to say, my view of the structure of the American educational system is not favorable.


The HEARD MENTALITY of bringing together thirty and forty students of various ilk and levels of intellect without considering or assessing the individual abilities to learn is to condemn more than half of them to a mundane life of servitude, never finding any particular area of expertise.


So as this inept form of government blunders forward blindly, ignoring the need to concentrate on proper training and education of our youth, the neglected component of society continues to degenerate, and the class distinction is ever-widening.


As made evident by the last two presidential and countless sublevel elections, we are only now becoming starkly aware that this DEGENERATED group of neglected, educationally force-fed, and intellectually deficient people are now the majority of our society and are the group who will elect our leaders and decide the future of the world.