Reputations

June 27, 2012

I started realizing how different my own experience of someone with a sterling reputation can be from the apparent norm, when my older son’s elementary school teacher, who had such a reputation (including for warmth and kindness, intelligence and creativity, dedication to teaching and interest in her students beyond the usual), insisted that he too begin his autobiography at birth and include information about all his “firsts” (words, steps, smile, teeth, etc.) and name and describe those around him during his infancy.  My son, whom we adopted as a toddler, had no idea what to write, since we don’t have that information (we don’t even know when he was born) and much of that time he spent ill and without parents in a hospital and then in an orphanage.

I went to speak to the teacher after school.  We were on friendly terms, she liked Jonas, I expected we would work something out together.  I explained the matter.  She said he should make up the information.  I was puzzled.  Couldn’t he just start the autobiography at whatever point he first had information?  Just include what he and we knew?  Maybe even just start the account at a slightly later point in his life than his birth?

No, he had to include all the information listed in the worksheet and make up what he didn’t know.

I was truly amazed at what she was asking Jonas to do — both asking him to relive something he might not be ready to think about and think about without some sort of support, and also at what I considered dubious ethics of making up something that purports to be fact in an autobiographical account.

Since that episode I have heard worse stories about other teachers and family situations, but for me this one sticks out now not as much for its content as for its lesson about what may lie behind a reputation.

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2 Responses to “Reputations”

  1. Richard Says:

    I was so speechless when I read this that it has taken a while to respond.It is hard to fathom a teacher in this day and age: a.) asking a child to be deceitful and b.)being totally, and I mean totaly insensitive to another persons real life experience. It reminds me of the days when teachers continually talked to students as if each kid lived with both parents, dad worked and mom stayed home and any deviation was sluffed of as non-normal. It alienated many kids, who had literally NO control of how events in their lives had occured to that point.
    Yes, perhaps this would have been a great teaching/learning opportunity to address those issues as difficult as they may be. Outside assistance may be necessary, but the teacher and your son are blessed by a parent who could handle it. There are parents who would want to just throw a blanket on it and move on. I have always been impressed, (though not understood) friends who were adopted and a period of burning desire to find their roots. These obsessions also came at different periods in different persons lives, but they invariably came up. It’s a strong part of the human archytype. WOW
    I’m curious how this turned out, but understand if you don’t want to share. This just seems very powerful to me and a person in authority seems abusive by encouraging inauthenticity. WOW again…

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Not long ago Jonas mentioned this teacher in another context. A current teacher was calling him “Honey” (he’s around 24 by now) and he said it reminded him of this third-grade teacher he had had. The third-grade autobiography thing happened a long time ago, I want to say in 1996. I don’t remember what Jonas ended up writing. I do remember that even when he was quite young, he exhibited a sense of his own grasp of his identity; I remember him saying something about being African American by way of Brazil — it was his way of dealing with how other people perceive him and how he perceives himself.


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