“And so man was cast out of the garden and forced to live a mortal life with pain and suffering, and it was only by God’s grace and his sacrifice of his only son that we now have a chance at heaven,” concluded my teacher with a pleasant sigh, as though he was presently feeling the sin washed off his body. Half the class stared at him with mild shock, the other half stared into space with disinterest. This was not a typical Sunday school class.
In fact, it was not a Sunday school class at all. It was a social sciences class at a public high school, and our ultra-conservative Christian teacher happily used his platform to preach rather than teach.
Mr. Harris couldn’t seem to help himself whenever the topic of the Middle East came up. His lecture inevitably veered into the Holy Land — or praise of George W. Bush, who’d saved us from the WMDs. He skipped over the part of our textbook that talked about minority issues, and of course there was absolutely no discussion of The Gays permitted.
I was happy to contribute to the class discussion by bringing up these missing topics. I admit I derived amusement from Mr. Harris’ scowl as he declined to call on me. Fourteen-year-old me gave no f*cks (what happened to her?) and unashamedly left my between-class reading — Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance — on the corner of my desk. He cruised by my desk and picked up the book by its corner with the very tips of his fingers, as though it were a leaking diaper, then placed it back down. He gave me a glare that I’m sure he thought would put me in my place. I audibly snickered as he slunk away.
The best part of the class was the term project. He assigned us a “collage” of news clippings and made the mistake of telling us we could choose any topic as long as they were real news clippings.
I gleefully assembled dozens of articles about corporate environmental destruction, pride parades, corruption in Enron, and GWB’s premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished.” I had so many articles that I had trouble fitting them all, but I managed, leaving about a 1/4 square inch of white space.
My grade? A D-, for “too much white space.”
It brought down my GPA, but it was worth it. I do wish I had complained to the higher-ups, but it wasn’t in my nature at that age. I preferred the rebellion typical of my age group. I’m surprised that no one else brought the issue to the school board. Mr. Harris continued to teach 10th-grade social science for the remainder of my time there.
Perhaps he was guaranteed a platform in a Southern public school, in a class that upheld the same traditional values and institutionalized ideas it asked us to critique, in a culture that still viciously defends mistreatment of stupid millennials in the name of upholding conservative family values and an unwavering allegiance to an abusive state.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps he realized he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Perhaps angry parents finally got the School Board to boot him. Perhaps he adjusted his views and realized that Al Gore was right all along.
But I doubt it.