By ice rivers
It was the season of the deactivated, the disconnected, the disinterested, the discouraged, the dissociative and the disagreeable. It was summer school in the seventies. The halls were empty. and everybody present was dealing with failure.
I loved teaching summer school. These were my peeps. I too had been a discouraged and disconnected student. One of the main reasons I went into teaching in the first place (after my typical flirtation with rock drumming) was my resentment for the teachers who failed to even attempt to connect with me. I loved catching kids doing something right and the connection that usually followed. By the seventies I had established a reputation of “being good with those kind of kids”
I was a full time teacher which meant during the summer I taught, I didn’t paint houses.
That summer both Goth and Punk were making their way into the suburbs on their way to mainstream but nowhere near arriving. Styles beginning to strive with the pissed off and alienated while broadcasting that neighborhood to the more stable. Heresy on the way to orthodoxy.
In my class was an intimidating straight edge punk with Doc Marten boots leather jacket over flannel shirt and multiple piercings. His name was Josh. He played bass on a shitty amp which he hoped some day would become a Marshall.
Josh was a mixed metaphor of attitudes. I came to understand that the day before summer school started he had gone “oi” and traded in his Mohawk for a skin head. Skinheads had yet to break into political affiliation. The movement was still apolitical, still about the music and the attitude
During the regular school year, Josh went to class once in awhile if he had nothing better to do. He never did any homework of any kind. He didn’t want to know anything about anything. He believed it when Alice Cooper said “ Don’t ask me about politics. I’m a moron. That’s why I’m a rock star.” If it was good enough for Alice it was good enough for Josh.
Josh was big kid....6 foot three and 250 pounds. He had a beard when he was 15 but lost it recently during the same style shifting urge with which he sheared his Mohawk. With all of his regalia and bulk, Josh looked like a goon.
At the time I was running our in-school radio station WBER so I knew most of the punks in the building. The kids who dug Dead Kennedys, Violent Femmes, Betty Boo, Johnny Rotten, I Hate Myself, Livin in a Box, Buzzcocks, X, Lydia Lunch, Romeo Void, Sisters of Mercy, Roscoe Flamefart, Captain Beefheart and of course the Ramones, Metallica, the Clash and the Pistols. In other words, the only music that mattered played on WBER, the only station that mattered.
I was in the studio one day when one of my deejays played a cover of Paul Simon’s At The Zoo by a local band named Globdammitt that I had never heard before or after. They played the song at triple speed. After it ended I asked Glen, the deejay, what he thought of the song. Glen said “it was great” and he knew a couple of guys in Glob. I said that “it sounded too fast “. Glen said if it sounded too fast than I was “too old.”
A few minutes later I asked Glenn if he knew Josh.
Glenn said he did. He told me that Josh was very good on the bass but he was shy. He was afraid to perform live. He always claimed he had a shitty amp.
I took all of this into consideration as I dealt with Josh.
I thought we’d start with flexible then move towards supportive. This was my chronology of connection before we moved on to step by step and finally to challenging.
One day in the classroom I was trying to explain point of view and using my trash can as an available metaphor. That particular trash can had been one of the constants in my life. Every time I got a new room assignment, I took that trash can with me.
I tried to explain how a trash can might be viewed differently by a romanticist than by a realist. One of my college professors had used this technique and it resonated with me when he said the realist would want to write a description including function, size, volume, circumference and color while the romanticist might want to write a rags to riches/Cinderella/ detective story.
It was pretty good place to start so I did my best. After I had finished, I asked the class if anybody else could come up with a metaphor regarding the trash can. We brainstormed awhile. Josh raised his hand. I was glad to see Josh involved as he had become increasingly less isolated as he began to realize that I might be on his side and wasn’t going to bury him for not doing his homework. Our task that summer was to pass the Regents exam that they had all failed. The grade would be based on the test not on the homework in preparation for the test.
I said “Yeah Josh, whaddaya got”
Other kids had come up to the board and written down their idea so nobody was surprised when Josh got up from his seat in the back and slowly walked to of the front of the classroom. There was always a lot of motioin in my classroom to help the hyperactive kids who couldn't sit down. I handed Josh the chalk. He waved me off.
He went to my waste basket and kicked it against the wall.
Then he looked at me as I tried to get his meaning.
He said “Punk!”.
Of course we were all stunned. It was one of those moments in a classroom where a whole bunch of gears are starting to click together. It’s at moments like this that students look to teachers for interpretation.
Josh put the bucket back in its place and returned to his place while the room was still buzzing.
I knew I had to do something with the moment. Josh got back in his seat. The moment had arrived. What could I teach?
I walked over to the bucket, kicked it against the wall...paused for a moment and then asked “punk?”
Josh hit that question out of the park with his answer which I will never forget and which has guided me through many a matter of taste and question of authenticity
Josh said “Rip off”.
I got it. Everybody got it.
Josh was the teacher.
When we teach we learn. When we learn we connect. When we connect we remember. I kept that garbage can with me throughout my career. To this day, I remember Josh.
Everybody passed the Regents.
Everybody except Josh.
He didn't show up for the test.
He really didn't give a shit
Or maybe he was scared.