Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Nobel Lords and the Breaking of Thumbs



When I wrote this piece I really didn’t want to come right out and discuss my students with all their baggage so popularized by made for TV movies and awful hip-hop. I think there are archetypes at work here and did my best to combine some intellectual musings, venting of pent up emotions and humor. I hope you enjoy it.


Nobel Lords and the Breaking of Thumbs

There are students who become legends. They overshadow their high performing peers, and those unfortunate well behaving quiet students in the middle who do everything they are asked and are punished for it.  You had one, or several, at your school. In all likelihood you called them by their full name and their insanity was a source of humor or entertainment for you; a source of stress and exasperation for your teachers. I teach such a student.

Foulcalt in his book Madness and Civilization  probes numerous questions, but one is when we began locking up the insane and contrasting with times when the “mad” were seen as offering a needed perspective on societal life. I think when graduate students and intellectuals read this text they imagine something like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” writing wildly on seven chalk boards and being ostracized by his peers. They don’t imagine a student climbing up into the grating above a classroom door yelling, “Pinocchio!” at one of their colleagues who has been designated by the students as having a “dick nose.”  They don’t further imagine this individual being in their work place disrupting, interrupting and antagonizing them at every move.  They don’t imagine this individual hiding behind a tree as administrators chase him or him stumbling into classrooms through unlocked windows.

We will call the student described above Benjamin Richards III, just to keep thing interesting. Benjamin Richards III is tall, strong, has a large nose, a laugh that can only be labeled psychotic and often spits out his food into trash cans. He has an occasional good day, but when added to the myriad of cacophonous interferences that press on an individual’s cranium in a day, he increases the risk of inducing a psychotic break by fifteen percent. The fortitude required for a regular day displays itself in enduring impromptu assemblies, changing of the bell timing, colorful epitaphs and choral renditions of songs about “ratchet ‘women.’” Look it up.

On the day I would fracture my thumb I stood on duty musing and staring at the floor tiles while I let coffee convince me of sleep’s insignificance. Benjamin Richards III traveled into my classroom and sat  Little Lord Fauntleroy’s seat. 

The two began to argue and I told them to sit somewhere else. When I next looked back one Little Lord had Mr. the Third pressed against the wall shouting in his ear and pushing his hands to the side in a mutated curtsey. The specifics are unclear but as I advanced back toward them they pulled their shirts off and began what the ancients might call “wrassling.” Students in the surrounding classrooms sensed the disruption almost instantly and flooded the doorway and hall enamored with the spectacle. The fight interwoven with punches and headlocks escalated when fifteen desks flipped into two distinct piles. I wish I could say that my concern for Fauntleroy and Richards III’s personal safety is why I hopped into the fray, but as the desks became closer to the terrified group of girls in the corner and my computer it became clear and to myself and, the wild eyed student, The Duke that we should do something. 

This became clear when The Duke, said, “You should probably do something Mr. Stevens. I’ll get Fauntleroy you get Benjamin Richards III.”  As we intercepted my left hand got launched back putting my thumb some six inches in the wrong directions fracturing its base. In a flurry of polo shirts and the Duke with his vast strength lassoed Fauntleroy with his arms and yanked him into the library nook.  Richards eventually submitted and the cavalry arrived (the Oreo crushing security man and the Sherriff) and all parties were subdued and removed. They broke free in the hallway continued their fight on the rainy breezeway (read romantic Byronic castle rampart) and left with the most massive Sheriff's deputies West or East of the Mississippi.

The Sheriff – and every other Mississippi adult native I saw- upon seeing my hand brace a few days later, said, “Guess you learned to leave those fights alone Mr. Stevens.”  And all I could think about was that Richards III has a driver’s license.

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