“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”
If you’re a regular reader and you read closely, you’ve probably pieced together that I’m a country schoolteacher as well as a country preacher. Over the past 20 years, I’ve taught 4th graders and seniors, and just about everybody in between. At the present time, I have a desk job at a vocational-technical high school, and I teach one section of Latin I via closed-circuit television every afternoon.
English teachers are some of the hardest working educators I know. It’s an ugly, thankless job most of the time, but somebody’s got to do it. There are piles and piles of papers to grade. I have first-hand knowledge of this because I used to be an English teacher. My first building principal said English teachers and elementary school teachers should be paid more. I agree.
About ten years ago, I quit being an English teacher. It’s not that I have anything against English teachers. I think they’re great. It’s not that I have anything against the subject of English. I love that, too. But I had to get out —because I think the folks in high places who design the curriculum for literature are making us teach kids the wrong things.
This realization hit me like a ton of bricks one day right after 6th period. That particular year I was teaching four sections of 9th grade English back-to-back. We were studying Romeo and Juliet and were watching the play on television, (which means I was watching “Romeo and Juliet” four times a day, back-to-back.) All went well until it was time for the classes to watch the finale of the movie—you know, the ending where those beautiful kids commit suicide. It was just too much to bear. As the men in my congregation say, “It tore out my clutch.”
Between classes, I walked across the hall to talk to one of my fellow English teachers for a word of encouragement. She wasn’t in her classroom, but I glanced at the posters that she had on her wall. There was Sylvia Plath—who put her head in the oven after her husband left her. There was Ernest Hemingway—who shot-gunned himself, depressed by his alcoholism and a bad head-cold. There was F. Scott Fitzgerald—who died at the young at of 44, after years of alcohol abuse.
It was then and there that I had a profound realization: “They are making us teach the wrong things.” Nobody escapes tragedy in this life, and it’s tragic when people are overcome by their circumstances. However, in the age in which we live, we don’t need to set up as idols these people who tried to escape their problems with drugs and alcohol. We don’t need to elevate the folks who didn’t know where to turn to find strength to go on.
They need to give us another curriculum. We need to teach the stories of people who succeeded—the people who were faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and yet overcame them. We need to have them read the stories of people like Helen Keller, the little girl who was both deaf and blind, but who went on to graduate from college and to become a world-renowned author. We need to have them read the story of Thomas Alva Edison, whose grade-school teacher refused to teach him because she said he was “addled”—but who grew up to be the world’s greatest inventor. We need to teach our students about Dr. George Washington Carver, who though living in poverty and in an era of racial discrimination revolutionized agriculture in the United States—and was the inventor of peanut butter! This list goes on and on.
I love so much the old poem that says, “Two looked out from prison bars; one saw mud—the other, stars.” Dear mamas, remember that you are your baby’s first teacher. Choose your curriculum carefully.
Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad” *Sing that title to the tune of “Secret Agent Man” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and is beginning his third decade of being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. He and his lovely wife, Susan, and his sons, Spencer (age 17) and Seth (age 14) live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the church members share of a lot of happiness—because that’s what they look for). You should write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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