The Establishment Strikes Back

a writing by Kent Reedy

When I started 11th grade in high school, one of the classes I was most worried about was the early morning class held in one of the windowless rooms next to the library. Something about the name of the class made me think I would probably have to make some speeches, or at least some kind of public presentations there. I don’t remember if it was actually called speech class, or just something similar, but somehow I had the idea that it would require public speaking. That was what I was expecting, and dreading.

During the first class meeting my worries were eased a bit when the teacher started talking. He was a young guy, probably not long out of school himself. I think this may have been his first year teaching. He talked mostly about philosophical things, rather than course requirements. He said that things were often made out to be too complicated, and that the most important things were usually simple, “like E equals MC squared”, he said.

Then he gave us all an in-class reading assignment; I guess we must have had some kind of textbook. While we were reading, he set something up in front of the room and began playing soft music. I think it was some kind of pop rock, something not too distracting but not dull or boring either. He must have had a phonograph or some kind of tape player up there. Since that was way back in the fall of 1970, those were about the only ways available for playing back recorded music. For me, just knowing that this would not be a high stress class was more important than the music.

A few days later he started class by saying that he had gotten some complaints about the noise from the music. So he was going to have to block some of the openings to the adjacent rooms. He gave us another reading assignment, turned the music on very low, and then started carrying stacks of books over to the vents and other small openings along the room’s interior wall. I heard some slightly muffled laughter coming from a few girls in the room as they watched him doing this.

One day not long after that we arrived in class to find a different teacher standing in front of the room. She was about the same age as our regular teacher, or maybe just a little bit older. When it was time for class to start, she told us the principal would be in to talk to us in just a minute. As soon as she had said that, the door opened and the principal came in. He was a middle aged guy with very short hair. He told us his name, and then told us what had happened.

Apparently there had been more complaints about the noise, and requests for our teacher to do something else about it. I don’t remember what specifically was requested. Maybe it was that the music be played even more quietly, or perhaps not at all. Whatever it was, our teacher had thought it was too much. He had resigned rather than comply with what was asked. The principal said that he wouldn’t have quit over something like that, but that was what our teacher had done.

The students weren’t happy with the principal’s explanation. They questioned the reasonableness of the demands, among other things. Even after he left, some complained to the new teacher about what they had just heard. She defended him a little bit, saying that “he never raised his voice” during the whole talk. But it didn’t really matter anyway. It was too late to change anything.

For the rest of the semester, the class had a very casual atmosphere. It almost had to. After the way it had started, any kind of rigid structure would have been met with a lot of opposition. Even though it was not a bad experience overall, something was lost. I can only guess how that class would have turned out to be if our original teacher had been able to stay for the entire semester.

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