Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Alexander!

This last Wednesday, The Onion proposed a brilliant solution to the problems with Congress resolving the current US deficit issues. Send eighth grade civics teachers in to show the partisan chest-pounders how to behave. Pity it was just a joke, because I think eighth grade teachers might have just gotten that group of over-age schoolboys to behave.

That reminded me of my eighth grade Government teacher, Mr. Alexander. Junior High really warped my reality as far as teachers were concerned. Up til then, my teachers were all White, middle aged women.

In seventh grade, I got my first minority and male teachers. The minorities were great. I loved both Mrs. Reynolds for Science and Mrs. Henry for Choir. The males, not so. Our art teacher was seriously creepy. He ended up getting fired before the end of the year because he tried to hit on one of my shyer classmates. The coach I had for History practically tripped over his knuckles walking into class. He carried a custom-made paddle with special air holes designed to increase the pain and suffering of any student he used it on. As he boasted, "It'd make strong boys cry." He'd slap that paddle whenever he got bored with teaching us--which was most of the time.

I admit it, the minute I walked into my Government class, I was more intimidated than I'd ever been with any teacher in my life. I was 5'5" at that time and I about fell over trying to look my Government teacher in the eye. His name was Mr. Alexander and he was the tallest darkest skinned man I'd ever met. I was doing my best not to think about either the Art class creep or the History class sadist at that point.

I took a deep breath and got a front and center seat as usual. Being blind as a bat, I was always stuck up there. Who knows? Maybe it did improve my grades.

"So," Mr. Alexander said after taking roll. "How many of you like government?"

He got a pretty negative response from us. Our generation was being forced to go to war, getting hurt and in student demonstrations. There wasn't a lot of like or trust going on then.

"How many of you like these?" He held up a dollar bill. Our response pretty much took a 180-degree turn.

"Well then, if you like money, you better at least learn about how Government works." Mr. Alexander went on to point out the symbolism of the dollar bill. He added. "The US government prints our money. Through labor laws, they determine how much money you're going to earn and with taxation, they also tell you how much you're going to keep. Your government also effects whether you serve in the military, get a student loan, and a whole lot more."

A whole lot more of us were interested after he got through with that speech. Mr. Alexander managed to do what few of our teachers had done so far, he'd made the subjects we were learning in school relate directly to our every day lives.

I got a lot more comfortable with Mr. Alexander through the year. Mr. Alexander might have looked intimidating because of his height, but he was genuinely a very nice man. He'd sit down at a desk to talk to the shorter class members so we weren't craning our necks.

Yes, to answer the question you are probably wondering about, he went to school on a basketball scholarship and he coached the school team. He was nothing like the coach I'd encountered the year before. He didn't need a paddle in his hand to get order, I'm not sure I ever saw Mr. Alexander with a paddle. He occasionally raised his voice when the class got unruly. Normally, he spoke in a quiet manner, but if he needed to you could hear him all the way down the hall.

And, unlike that History class, I learned a lot in Government. That class is where I wrote my first letter to my GOP Congressman--about the national debt. The letter was Mr. Alexander's idea since I griped about having to live within my allowance when the government did not. No, I never got an answer to that letter from my GOP congressman. I never got an answer to a darn-near identical one I wrote in 1985 when I was first out on my own, newly married and struggling to make ends meet while the government was going further in debt. Most of the time I don't get answers to my letters, but I still write them because as Mr. Alexander told me if we don't speak up, we aren't going to get heard--and maybe if enough of us do speak up, we'll start something.

Mr. Alexander walked us through the Constitution. That's the first time I'd read the document in its entirety. He also told us how the Constitution could be amended. Like I said, he could have told the folks insisting on a Balanced Budget Amendment that they couldn't do that.

He also taught us how laws were made. He omitted the part about posturing and partisanship. I learned that on a Senior Class field trip in Urbanology. Our class's consensus after we saw the Oklahoma City Council behave like grade schoolers was that they'd all be kicked out of the Student Council if they acted like that.

Yeah, it's a pity Congress didn't have a Government teacher like Mr. Alexander or our Student Council sponsor in High School to call the membership down when they acted like children this last week. They might have gotten something done before the stock market dumped $700,000,000,000 worth of value.

I did get the Government Award that year. I may still have the certificate somewhere in my papers. I hope I thanked Mr. Alexander for that. I definitely do thank Mr. Alexander for all he taught us.

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