Thomm Quackenbush, author

Hubble's Flaw | 2010 | Every Silver Lining

05.09.10 9:58 p.m.

Forgiveness is having the courage to take down the walls that we think are there to protect us.  



Adolescents in the Mist

Full of mistrust.

I resent having my Sony Reader stolen from my bag, but am more annoyed that my students were willing to cripple my trust in them to steal something that has no intrinsic value to them. This was not an act of covetousness, none of them were willing to face charges so they could read more (Most of them would gladly face felony charges to never have to read again. Several may one day.). They simply wanted to spite me for daring to come in daily to work with them, something that I gather is rare owing to their collective reputation.

In response to the theft and my sadness, Melanie wrote me a letter that says, in part:

It's bad enough that something was taken from you, but that on top of that, you were betrayed, pretty much makes it as gut-knotting as possible. I guess I never really realized the degree to which you care for these kids... I mean, objectively it would have to be the case that you would like them so much, because you've devoted your life to teaching, but still, it's easy to forget that being in the presence of the same people day after day tends to create bonds of one kind or another, a sort of tacit understanding that only becomes noticeably important if someone shatters it...
In spite of that, I would caution you to not take it *too* hard. In spite of how invested you are in these kids, I can't help but see it as a sort of Jane Goodall situation, where you're working closely with these chimpanzees/adolescents and trying to understand them (in your case, help them) and certainly do them no harm, and instead of having the sort of adult capacity to understand that you're doing them a favor and that you at least deserve to be treated with neutrality, one day one of them decides for whatever unknowable and probably unjustifiable reason that (s)he's going to try to kill you/steal your electronic device, and then all of a sudden everything changes, and the illusion that you're on generally benevolent terms is shattered, and you're left to realize that you really are dealing with chimps/adolescents and not real people. The sad thing is that I remember being that kind of horrifying unpredictable and totally unreasonable teenager who thought everyone on earth was out to get her and probably would have stolen something or destroyed something out of completely imagined spite. I guess what I'm saying is that I know it hurts, but you can't begrudge them their nature. Their brains aren't fully developed, I think it's the cerebellum, right? That deals with that kind of thing? Anyway. You can tell them about morality, but I wouldn't count on getting through to them. Morality, as I've noticed, is something that you either get into really early (in the style of fundamentalist indoctrination at a young age), or is something people develop later on or not at all...

I find Melanie's Goodall analogy just about perfect. I have compassion for these kids, which is why my Wrath of God speech the next day sounds a lot more like, "Listen, that Reader is precious to me and pretty much worthless to anyone else, since all it can do is let you read digital books in black and white. It was my one real gift for Christmas. I am not mad - well, I am at whoever took and whoever is covering for them - just incredibly disappointed. I don't want to get whoever took it suspended, I just want it back. Turn it in to the office, turn it into me, no questions asked."

"This is all your fault," says a student, whose opinion I did not solicit. The implication is that I should not have property where just anyone can steal it from me. I pray he never encounters a rape victim.

One of the things that strikes me about this experience is the abject cowardice of the students, who chant the word "snitch" like a mantra of their yellowness. "You don't snitch on people," they insist, meaning that they would rather allow themselves to be terrorized by the powerless than prove themselves to have any personal fortitude. Day in and day out, these students will cower in front of villains they cannot name, an anonymous "they" who will perform some unnamed harm should someone try to throw off the yoke of fear. It is certain that my students, possibly to a one, know who stole from me but they would rather be accomplices to my growing mistrust than have it be suggested that they might be a snitch. (The fact that they use prison terminology is not lost on me.)

Given how status conscious they are, one would think it would occur to them that cowardice is the least attractive trait one can possess. No one admires the boy pissing himself because he refuses to act with conviction. No one makes movie about people who refuse to act out of fear, unless to showcase the small group who have courage and fight the metaphorical dragons.

I understand that the children are behaving solipsistically, that any act they perpetrate is justified by virtue that no one else in the world matters (or, possibly, exists). They are less people than balls of hormones stewing with an undeveloped morality, so I know I have to begin to forgive them en masse if I am going to continue to call myself a teacher.

In this one act and its echoes, I see so much I hate about the educational system. I see a reiteration of my boarding school experience, where children I cared for nearly twenty-four hours a day stole my cell phone one day (coincidentally, when my then-fiancée was going through an emotional breakdown and needed me the most). These children - whose tears I had dried and whose blood I scrubbed out of the walls - were willing to victimize me for no personal benefit. They, whose parents could have bought them a dozen of my shoddy phones without batting an eye, could not allow me the right to my personal property and the administration cared more about shutting me up than helping.

However much I hate teaching for a few days, I don't lose my hope in the inherent goodness of people. To my social horror but not remotely my surprise, my mother's solution to the theft is to order me a new Reader. I meekly thank her, because I couldn't quite tell her that I didn't want it and am aware how ungrateful it would be to refuse this vast kindness.

A few teachers, some with whom I have exchanged maybe a dozen words all year, take an active interest in the theft, speaking to their classes and spreading the word that this sin will not go unredressed (though they privately admit that it is a lost cause if the administration won't get involved). One teacher even says that she had considered buying me a new Reader, a kindness I would have found my way to refuse. Some students respond with sympathy, ranging from idle pity to offers of free violence, so I find it easier to slowly rebuild my trust. However, having been burned, I now have a combination lock on my bag. I may forgive, but I can't forget.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Ugli Fruit.

last watched: Wonderfalls
reading: Future Shock
listening: Bree Sharp

Hubble's Flaw | 2010 | Every Silver Lining

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush