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Raging Pencils by
Mike "Gimpy" Stanfill
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Best Science Teacher I Never Had.
following is a story garnered from a 1990 edition of Life
magazine. We need more teachers like this one. =mike=
Whitson taught sixth-grade science. On the first day of class,
he gave us a lecture about a creature called the cattywampus,
an ill-adapted nocturnal animal that was wiped out during
the Ice Age. He passed around a skull as he talked. We all
took notes and later had a quiz.
When he returned my paper, I was shocked. There was a big
red X through each of my answers. I had failed. There had
to be some mistake! I had written down exactly what Mr. Whitson
said. Then realized that everyone in the class had failed.
What had happened?
Very simple, Mr. Whitson explained. He had made up all that
stuff about the cattywampus. There had never been such an
animal. The information in our notes was, therefore, incorrect.
Did we expect credit for incorrect answers?
Needless to say, we were outraged. What kind of test was
this? And what kind of teacher?
We should have figured it out, Mr. Whitson said. After all,
at the very moment he was passing around the Cattywampus
skull (in truth, a cat's), hadn't he been telling us that
no trace of the animal remained? He had described its amazing
night vision, the color of its fur and any number of other
facts he couldn't have known. He had given the animal a ridiculous
name, and we still hadn't been suspicious. The zeroes on
our papers would be recorded in his grade book, he said.
And they were.
Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would learn something from this
experience. Teachers and textbooks are not infallible. In
fact, on one is. He told us not to let our minds go to sleep,
and to speak up if we ever thought he or the textbook was
Every class was an adventure with Mr. Whitson. I can still
remember some science periods almost from beginning to end.
One day he told us that his Volkswagen was a living organism.
It took us two full days to put together a refutation he
would accept. He didn't let use off the hook until we had
proved not only that we knew what an organism was but also
that we had the fortitude to stand up for the truth.
We carried our brand-new skepticism into all our classes.
This caused problems for the other teachers, who weren't
used to being challenged. Our history teacher would be lecturing
about something, and then there would be clearings of the
throat and someone would say "Cattywampus."
If I'm ever asked to propose a solution to the crisis in
our schools, it will be Mr. Whitson. I haven't made any great
scientific discoveries, but Mr. Whitson's class gave me and
my classmates something just as important: the courage to
look people in the eye and tell them they are wrong. He also
showed us that you can have fun doing it.
Not everyone sees the value in this. I once told an elementary
school teacher about Mr. Whitson. The teacher was appalled. "He
shouldn't have tricked you like that," he said. I looked
at the teacher right in the eye and told him he was wrong.
Professor Julius Sumner Miller will
Extra Deluxe Fiduciary Bonus Fabulousness
Trust no one.
Raging Pencils salutes the
Mystery Reader of
you are, thanks for
reading my crappy
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