One of the reasons I’ve always liked Governor Mike is that he reminds me of my high school seminary teacher, Brother Pratt, who taught me things that have been instrumental in my pursuit of eternal salvation (the most useful tip he gave us hormonal would-be fornicators was that the only place in Heaven you could have sex was in that exclusive country club called the Celestial Kingdom).
Because of my affection for Governor Mike, I was sorely disappointed in his recent remarks on getting rid of bad teachers. Mike has been taking a beating lately for saying that polygamists are fine fellers, that they are just exercising their religious freedom by scattering their maker’s image throughout Utah’s hinterlands.
I guess it’s just human nature if you’re getting beat up to find someone else to beat up on, and teachers are always convenient scapegoats. When you want to change the subject, find a boogeyman and sound the alarm. Run for your life, the teachers are coming, the teachers are coming! What better boogeypeople than teachers, those harmless drudges whom parents at large expect to transmute their dull-witted darlings into dazzling scholars?
Brother Leavitt picked the best time of the year to pick on teachers. Labor Day and the end of summer bring on for many people the memories of the back-to-school blues. Too soon the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and cookouts and coma, come to an end, and teachers bear the brunt of resentment. Not for nothing is summer vacation sung in with the ditty about No more school, no more books, no more Teacher’s ugly looks.
So that simmering subterranean grudge against all those grade-giving know-it-alls is ready to be exploited, and Governor Mike was eager to find a dead horse to saddle up, mount and whip the daylights out of. Being a governor, unlike being a teacher, means that you can do nothing and still be paid for it. Being a governor means you can blame everyone else for your own incompetence and negligence. Being a governor means hiding under your hairpiece and taking cheap shots at a profession that continues to draw people who teach not for the money (not enough) they make, but for the calling they feel. Teachers can’t hide: they can’t just show up and get through the day. They have to stand up there and do something. It’s hard work, brothers and sisters.
I was ready to let Virtuous Mike get away with his cynical appeal to the bigoted resentments of many of his constituents, his phony feeling for the inner child in all of us who has been traumatized by exposure, as he put it, to bad teachers. I’ve had bad teachers, too, but they were few, far fewer than the incompetents in other fields doctors, lawyers, mayors, Olympic committee presidents, governors. Bad teachers prepare you for bad bosses, bad bureaucrats, bad merchants, and the legion of mediocrities in all walks of life.
I was ready, I say, to shrug off Governor Mike’s disingenuous dumping on teachers. But a few days ago I opened the paper, and as always, turned first of all to the obituaries. I saw that a high school teacher of mine had died. J.D. Nelson, who taught history, went out golfing one morning and then died at home that afternoon of a heart attack. I admired Mr. Nelson because he did his job day in and day out and he didn’t play to the crowd. He was not someone who wanted to be your pal. He was demanding, and I don’t know how many of his students appreciated his preparation, dedication or his wit. I honor the memory of J.D. Nelson by imagining him saying in his distinctive bark, The Governor is a damned idiot!
You’ve no doubt heard George Bernard Shaw’s nasty comment, He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches. Unfortunately, the rest of Shaw’s statement rarely gets quoted: And he who can neither do, nor teach, goes into the insurance business. And if he can’t sell insurance, he gets elected governor, where it doesn’t matter if he does anything or not, as long as he has a boyish grin, a gift for bunkum, and a nearly undetectable hairpiece.