Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I think you'll like this column about teachers Yay! (and Trump Ugh!)

Trump: If You Want to Know Him, Just Listen
Jaime O'Neill's picture
Article Tools
E-mail | Print
Comments (0)
by Jaime O'Neill | May 26, 2020 - 6:36am

When I was in college, I was often really impressed with some of my profs. Some of them seemed to have read just about everything. They were erudite, ready to share an insightful anecdote, a scrap of history, or a spot-on quote in response to most anything that might come up in class, any question raised. Any time a point needed clarifying they seemed to have an illustration or a helpful enlargement to contribute to the discussion or lecture at hand.

I remember one very unimposing little professor of English history, a man who dressed in tailored suits from Saville Row, dapper, but bookish, rather stuffy, and never histrionic. Still, his love of his subject, as dull as It could sometimes be, was contagious. I hung on his every word. Still, it surprised me when he finished the last lecture of the semester and the class broke into spontaneous applause. I hadn't known everyone in that room had been as transfixed as I had been, too focused to notice that they were transfixed, too.

I've lost his name to memory, and don't really remember much about the 18th century parliamentary disputes studied that semester. But I can still draw his image to mind, along with the sure knowledge that I learned a lot that semester, though most of it has been lost.

As I sat in that handful of classes presided over by exceptional teachers, I could only hope to someday be as good as they were. Like most every profession, the percentage of truly gifted people is about equal to the truly bad ones. By my completely unscientific reckoning, I figure 10% of people in most any line of work are truly great at what they do. On the other end of the spectrum, about 10% really suck. Everyone else is somewhere along the scale of acceptable, from not too bad to very, very good. Without undue or false modesty, I'd place myself somewhere closer to the better end of that spectrum. Surely some students wouldn't place me there. 

How we respond to teachers varies, just as there are ways to respond to most anyone else we encounter. Much is subjective. But I've given a lot of thought to this, as old people do as they look back at their lives, and I know I never allowed myself to cheat students, to skimp on the effort, to phone it in, though there were surely days when I wasn't able to bring my best, or to get the best out of them.

But, like so many of those profs I studied to see what kind of teacher I wanted to be, I gradually acquired a storehouse of anecdotes, scraps of info I could make pertinent and apply to discussions, and a whole bunch of quotes--snatches of poetry and profundity I always loved to share, partly because it made me look smarter than I am, but also because that stuff had taught me lessons or ways of seeing I thought might be useful to students, too.

One quote I never completed a semester without repeating is this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote: "With his will, or against his will, a man reveals himself with every word." I think I first encountered that notion when I was trying to learn how to write dialogue in ways that would reveal character, realizing that people often don't say what they really mean, but will show who they are, nonetheless, if we only listen carefully.

That quote came to mind, as it often does, when I read some of Trump's daily tweets sent by the POTUS on Memorial Day or in the days before we were doomed to hit the sorry milestone of 100,000 dead, all lost to the coronavirus, many of them who might not have died but for the criminal negligence of the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Here's a few of the recent bird-brained sentiments he chirped to tout his many personal virtues, aptitudes, or accomplishments, to lie, or to launch yet more puerile insults toward any lesser human beings who have annoyed him. Following a holiday observance for those who died in service to this country, at a time when thousands are dying daily of a very scary virus, I'd suggest you read these tweets in the context of that Emerson quote, then add to Emerson this well-known quote from Maya Angelou: "When people tell you who they are, believe them the first time." How much grief might we have been spared if we'd really listened hard to damn near every utterance Trump has offered with those two cautions in mind.

"Great reviews on our handling of Covid 19," Trump tweeted last weekend. "sometimes referred to as the China Virus. Ventilators, Testing, Medical Supply Distribution, we made a lot of Governors look very good - And got no credit for so doing. Most importantly, we helped a lot of great people!"

He chose the word "reviews," as though it was all a reality show performance. And only 100,000 died. How great is that? We're Number 1. Again.

And he tweeted, defensively, about the criticism he got for golfing on a weekend meant to honor fallen heroes. "Some stories about the fact that in order to get outside and perhaps, even a little exercise," he tweeted, "I played golf over the weekend. The Fake & Totally Corrupt News makes it sound like a mortal sin - I knew this would happen! What they don't say is that it was my first golf in almost…"

He also tweeted this: "Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18 years), rebuilding our military and so much more: Nice!"

Oh, those happy dead.

And he just had to get in a few jabs at a woman who stood against him on the subject of mail-in ballots, and who chastised him for not wearing a face mask when he visited a Detroit auto factory. "Do nothing A.G. of the Great State of Michigan, Dana Nessel, should not be taking her anger and stupidity out on Ford Motor - they might get upset with you and leave the state, like so many other companies have - until I came along and brought business back to Michigan. JOBS!"

Then, unsatisfied and still pissed, he tweeted again:

"The Wacky Do Nothing Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel, is viciously threatening Ford Motor Company for the fact that I inspected a Ventilator plant without a mask. Not their fault, & I did put on a mask. No wonder many auto companies left Michigan, until I came along!"

So, I repeat Emerson's words: "With his will, or against his will, a man reveals himself with every word." Sometimes so much is revealed that we have to look away in disgust.