It is hard to believe that such cruelties could have been practiced in a civilized society.
—First Lessons in Georgia History, 1913
Before we left for Christmas break, Lurlene, in a staff meeting, said the parent volunteer association is giving us fifteen hundred dollars to spend in the classrooms around here so what do y’all need? Lurlene said she was thinking that some of us old school types who refused an earlier offer to have a modern technology Smart Board installed in our cozy classrooms that maybe we would want a DVD player and a wide screen TV because you can get them real cheap these days at Best Buy and whatnot. Lurlene also thought the head guy of the school’s Technology department could order them cheap, too, but let her worry about all that she said.
We went around the conference table telling Lurlene, who was politely and professionally writing our answers down, what we wanted, and when it got to me I said I’d like a real good DVD player and a wide screen TV. So did Old Burrell. He wanted all that, too.
So when we got back from Christmas break the player and the TV had come in and yesterday I finally got them set up on top of some shelves in the front corner of The Cozy Room of Learning so nobody would have to move their desk around or twist their neck all up like that girl in The Exorcist when I showed something on the TV. The whole set-up made The Cozy Room of Learning even more like a living room and even Helena came in here this morning and agreed with me about the even greater living room quality of The Cozy Room of Learning.
I told her I also asked Lurlene to have a fireplace built in here but Lurlene won’t do it.
Helena said you can get these space heaters that look like goddang fire places real cheap.
This morning I brought with me a DVD I get from this magazine about the South, Oxford American, and it seems like every year or so they also stick a DVD in there with the music CD and I brought the DVD about southern life with me and it has a whole bunch of snippets of films and cartoons and interviews and short documentaries about the southern way of life. In other words, horrible and embarrassing redneck activity that’s extremely hilarious and inspiring and entertaining to eighth graders and their loyal teacher. The title of the DVD is The Best of The South.
During class they’re all eyeballing that TV up there and I know they can tell something’s up because I had paused the DVD on a part at the beginning that said, WARNING: This program features occasional forays into the Dirty South, a place that’s proudly uncouth, filled with adult language and unseemly situations. Recommended for mature audiences only.
I told them if they were super good today I’d hit Play.
You wouldn’t believe how super good they were. With about fifteen minutes to go in class I hit Play.
After that awesome warning message the first thing that plays is a minute or so of a close up of Elvis Presley giving some sort of sound check for some movie he’s filming in 1968. I saw the date on the Hollywood clapper thing they use before they start the take. For the next minute the camera stays on Elvis in close up without any narration and I’d have to say Elvis and his handsomeness were peaking and his eyes were clear and he seemed to be having fun. Like I said, the camera was on him close. I thought to look over to my left and see who was watching and appreciating what I chose to do with my money from the parent volunteer association. I wish they all paid attention to me like that when I was eminently lecturing, but there was no way—this was Elvis Presley, who might have been the most handsome man in the world when he was handsome. Let me run down what some certain thirteen and fourteen year old girls were doing with their facial expressions …
- Debbie’s jaw had dropped and I think if you showed her a picture of the way she looked she’d be real embarrassed
- Petal looked like she wasn’t impressed at all even though she couldn’t take her eyes off the TV
- Tempest was either in total shock at how cool and handsome Elvis was or she’s got a poker face that’ll melt steel
- All of the girls moaned in extreme disappointment … Awwwwww … when the next segment began
I advanced it a ways to another clip of some real-life footage from the early 70s about a little eleven year old girl named Diane in Tennessee who’s been in a lot of trouble lately. We see her standing before a judge. The judge gets on to her about her misbehaving … even her misbehaving in school. During the entire segment the little girl is crying. It’s unbearable to watch. Everybody in the class is squirming. They really and truly feel sorry for this little girl. The judge orders Diane taken from her home and put in a foster home. Diane’s mother isn’t too upset about it. She seems relieved, actually. But it really is unbearable for us. No narration. Just real black and white life happening in a juvenile courtroom and a case worker’s office with this crying little girl. I looked over at the class again … the girls and the boys. They were being super good and super strong.
But then I hit Stop. I had to.
I think if they had to watch ten more seconds of this gritty portrait of a heartbreaking moment in a broad look at southern culture they all would have started crying, too.
After school let out I watched the whole segment. I started all over again. Hoover was in there with me. He leaves later in the afternoon and wanted to hang out in The Cozy Room of Learning. He says he really likes history. Hoover watched the segment with me. The last few moments don’t get any less unbearable for little Diane or the viewer. It gets worse. I’m thinking … if Hoover thinks teachers goof off after the kids leave I guess he learned something today. He was speechless. I guess he learned we don’t goof around one bit. I guess Hoover learned we’re tough on ourselves, too.
Next Entry ... January 25: The Gettysburg Proposition