The New King

by Retta Fontana

Part three of   Ban the Smoking Gun of Government from Schools

Continued from   It's Good To Be King

With ambivalence, I entered the clay domain of the new teacher. The other students turned to me expectantly as if I was the most likely candidate they had yet seen for “teacher.” (I have to say that I now enjoy the deception, and feel no need to correct them. How pathetic is that?) In my defense, I am a student of human behavior and I find people’s assumptions intriguing when they’re not riddled with potential for my own suffering. It’s not as if I could stop others from making assumptions – we all do it, why not enjoy it? No one asked me directly if I were the new emperor; if they had I’d have admitted I was a “nobody” as I’ve done in the past. We’ve already discussed the conditioning that prevents most people from speaking to anyone else in a college classroom, so my deception usually endured for a while.

However, today I needed to get with the new man to iron out my situation. I spotted my own likely candidate for “teacher” in a young man with hair dyed red and eager eyes, the only two besides my own in a room mostly filled with dead-eyed, former public school prisoners of the government’s war on intelligence and independence. I introduced myself to “Lathe” (with a soft “th” as in “with” rather than think.)

As the other students were taking no chances speaking to one another, they made an eager audience for my exchange with The Man. (They seemed fearfully alert, possibly the most attention they might offer for the semester.) I tried my very best to be diplomatic. I did not want to make an enemy of this fellow on day one by flaunting my utter lack of respect for lesson plans in front of everyone. However, I needed to make clear to him that I only sign up for this class in order to gain access to the studio, watch an occasional demonstration and possibly get some questions answered. This should be a win-win for both of us; I get what I came for and he gets paid for merely having my name on his list. He’d also be getting a mature, helpful hand in navigating day to day operations if he played his cards right.

“You’re ambitious!” was my introductory comment about the blocks of clay he was scooping out and shaping by hand for his students, something Harry would never have considered. “Yes, we’re all going to try to build the tallest structure possible in two hours using fifteen pounds of clay.”

There was no way I was doing that with the next two hours of my life. I thought this was a safe tack: “I come here basically to just do wheel throwing.” “Oh, you’re an advanced student?” That didn’t sit quite right, but it was in the direction of the truth. “Well, yes, but...” “Oh, well I have some exciting things planned for the advanced students too! But for now just pick a spot at one of these tables, and when everyone gets here we’ll all start with this project. You can take some handouts from that table over there.”

I looked at the handouts I’d first seen four years ago. I had now assimilated the information from them into a working part of my little brain. In fact, Harry had once told me that I was a very good hand-builder (as opposed to wheel thrower.)

That was then and this was now, as my Dad would say. Things weren’t going well. “I’ve taken this class lots of times, so I’m not here for a grade.” I realized I had started gesticulating with my hands. “Oh, you’re here to learn!” “Uhh, I’m here to wheel throw. I’ve worked independently for a couple of years now.”

I had spent the last month making drawings of and working out design issues for the projects I intended to create this semester, as independent art students do. If I had to, I knew that I would drop the class if he didn’t let me be. He didn’t seem open to discussion. As I said, a little authority is a heady thing. I stopped talking and set up my things at a potter’s wheel. A couple more non-trads wandered in and followed my example.

Lathe took attendance and then asked everyone to gather round so that he could explain the assignment. I remained seated at my wheel. A young fellow next to me who had also been throwing (working on the potter’s wheel) stood up, but looked hesitant. He turned to me. I told him he didn’t have to participate in the tower building if he didn’t want to. He sat back down. Here’s a fellow who, with a little encouragement, could still make his own choices! Things were looking up!

I struck up a conversation with the young fellow with my favorite icebreaker. I asked Brian where he went to high school. I made a face when he answered. “That must have been awful.” I’ve never yet had a young person tell me how much they enjoyed high school and how much they learned. All I could picture was this thin, quiet, stuttering young man at the mercy of bullies. “It was bad,” he admitted. I had made a friend and we were now safe to speak to one another in the future, provided Lathe could leave me alone to do my work.

Once everyone else, including the other wheel throwers, got to work on the two-hour tower and it was clear that I was not building one, I casually requested the key to the pug mill, a machine that removes air bubbles from the type of clay we use on the wheel. At first I didn’t believe Lathe when he said he didn’t have one. After tracking down the studio assistant I found out he didn’t have a key either. There used to be one in the tool crib, but the fellow who is supposed to man it had not come in that day. Harry apparently took his key with him. The beautiful, new machine that the taxpayers of the county had paid several thousand dollars for was not available for use and no employees were losing any sleep over it.

My old back can take so much hunching over a wheel at one time, so after a while I stretched and headed out to the hall for a little walk. Behind me I heard “hey, professor!” There was no one else in that hall over 25 other than me, so I was once again on deck and prepared for the pitch. I turned and found a young man coming in through the same door I had entered earlier, following my fence-induced adventure.

The young man was indeed addressing me. I raised my eyebrows in response. He asked me how he was supposed to get to the bookstore building when it had a fence surrounding it. In my best professor tone I explained that there was a hallway that connected the administration building with the bookstore building. He interrupted and told me that there was no such hall. I said, “well, there are cars over there, so someone is getting there somehow. Jump the fence.” His mouth fell open in disbelief that a professor would suggest such a thing.

Was he never a little boy? Has his problem-solving ability been completely eradicated by twelve years in government schools? It’s not as if there were any downed power lines, gaping holes or earthmovers on the other side of that fence. “What are they going to do, bust you for wanting to give your money to the bookstore? Just jump the fence.” I made a dismissive gesture as if throwing something away as I turned. “ If anyone hassles you, tell them to come and talk to me.”

Incorrect assumptions aside, someone who didn’t know me had approached me on a college campus. I don’t think I made another new friend, though. A person who thinks for her self is just too dangerous.

The Other New King

Apparently it takes two men to replace Harry. One evening when I was getting in some studio time, I met the other. I was working at a table when a young man walked in and made direct eye contact, which surprised me. I took him for a student (we all make assumptions, don’t we?) As I said, the usual reward for eye contact was a smile. I gave him his and he headed over to me.

He introduced himself and inquired about my project. “Is that your period piece?” (A standard assignment for students.) “Uh, no…actually I’ve been here a while so I work independently.” At this Greg became openly hostile. He said people had no right to just keep paying for classes and clogging them up for real students who want a degree in clay. Only people who are learning should be there. I should have my own studio. He asked, “do you think you have a right to be here?”

Actually I did. I’d paid a lot of taxes for a lot of years to construct the place, so yes I think I have a right to pay tuition and come there like anyone one else. In fact a lot of students don’t even pay tuition, they get a free scholarship ride, so I’m really paying for them too. I let that sink in.

Besides, I am learning. We’re all learning all the time. Mostly I learn from the students more advanced than me. Until then, I hadn’t realized how lucky I was that Harry felt differently about non-trads. I invoked his name.

Greg admitted Harry had his own opinion about it. I gently remarked that Harry had been there for a long time, implying that perhaps Harry’s experience had taught him one or two things Greg didn’t know. I believe the implication was lost.

I had often heard Harry lament the teenage students who had signed up for his classes for an art credit. Their standard line is “I didn’t understand the assignment,” which has since become a standard joke at our house. They often don’t follow directions or even bother to do the work. When they do work, they often don’t clean up after themselves and every semester there were several who just stopped attending, never to be heard from again. Talk about wasting space!

Greg is a petty despot, one of many world improvers with his snout in the public trough, making Lathe look better and better. Greg is one clever fellow - just ask him. His superior vision allows him to clearly see how to divide other people into deserving and undeserving groups and tell them where to go. (Hitler was such a man, as is George W. Bush.) If only academia would make Greg “the decider!” Has the world ever before seen such brilliance in one so young? He’d surely make everything right in short order if only he had the power. Until then, he’s restricted to harassing little old lady artists.

If Greg survives academia, I’m willing to wager that in time his affection for us cloggy non-trads can do nothing but grow. Hopefully he’s there to learn too. If not, he should just go and get his own studio.

 published at Endervidualism on February 24, 2007

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, homeschooler, potter, parenting teacher and a student of Forex. Children are her favorite people. She lives in Metro Detroit.