We've all had them--the teacher whose class you hated to attend: who talks without saying anything or plays favorites or humiliates or any number of abuses of this exalted role in front of the class.
In The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger burns Mr. Spencer into our memory with one of my favorite quotes. Holden's been summoned by Spencer, his history teacher, to his apartment after Spencer learned Holden was being expelled for poor academic performance. Spencer reads to Holden from one of his exams.:
"Dear Mr. Spencer. That is all I know about the Egyptians. I can’t seem to get very interested in them although your lectures are very interesting. It is all right with me if you flunk me though as I am flunking everything else except English anyway. Respectfully yours, Holden Caulfield."
He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn’t’ve read it out loud to him if he’d written it—I really wouldn’t. In the first place, I’d only written that damn note so that he wouldn’t feel too bad about flunking me.
“Do you blame me for flunking you, boy?” he said.
“No, sir! I certainly don’t,’ I said. I wished to hell he’d stop calling me “boy” all the time.
"What would you have done in my place?" he said. "Tell the truth, boy."
Well, you could see he really felt pretty lousy about flunking me. So I shot the bull for a while. I told him I was a real moron, and all that stuff. I told him how I would've done exactly the same thing if I'd been in his place, and how most people didn't appreciate how tough it is being a teacher. That kind of stuff. The old bull.
The funny thing is, though, I was sort of thinking of something else while I shot the bull. I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park Slouth. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondererd if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.
Holden has zoned out. Spencer is clueless about the boy's predicament, the crises he's going through. And all the teacher can think about is covering his ass and soothing his guilt at Holden's expense. He's kicking the boy while he's down instead of trying to understand. Some would call it tough love. I call it stupidity and incompetence.
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