I’ve spent 48 years in education at the secondary and college levels.
At various times I was a teacher, coach and administrator. During one stint, I was doing all three at the same time. Often, I was associated with unusual people and odd events.
In a boarding school, where teachers and students are together day and night, each gets to know the other pretty well. One day, I was in a conversation with Lynn and George, two seniors who were in my junior/senior world geography class. They told me about a bull session they had been in on with our school chaplain, who at one time had served as a missionary in Africa.
Somehow, the subject of the pygmies came up. He’d told the group that the leading cause of deaths among these people was from injuries suffered when falling out of trees. It seems they slept in trees to avoid prowling animals. Additionally, he said that the second most prevalent cause of death was from burns suffered when falling into campfires. This loss of balance was caused by smoking cigarettes, which had been introduced to them by Western colonists. Not being used to nicotine, their small bodies could not handle the drug.
Some weeks later, we were doing a unit on Africa in my geography class. Charlie, who was sitting near the front asked, “Coach, is this the area of Africa where the pygmies live?”
I said that it was and I glanced back to Lynn and George, who were sitting in the rear. They began to snicker and punch each other, knowing something was about to happen.
Charlie continued, “I’ll bet I know something about the pygmies you don’t know.”
I replied that he probably did and asked him what it was. He said, “Do you know the main cause of death among the pygmies?”
Lynn and George were laughing out loud by this time. The rest of the class was trying to figure out what was going on.
I scrunched up my face, rubbed my forehead and tried to show that I was thinking really hard. Finally, I said, “Charlie, you have asked a hard question.”
He was really smirking by this time. After a few seconds, I said, “I think it’s from injuries sustained from falling out of trees at night.”
He thrust his arms up in the air and almost shouted, “How in the world did you know that?”
The two boys in the back were in convulsions. I managed to keep a straight face. Charlie pressed on, “Well, do you know their second most common cause of death?”
I had to think on that one. Charlie really thought he had me until I came out with “I believe it’s from falling into campfires from smoking cigarettes.”
Charlie began to beat on his desk and several times shouted, “How could you know that?”
Lynn and George were about to fall out of their seats. The rest of the class, by now, was laughing at the obviously absurd situation. In a couple of minutes, I got things back to normal and we continued our lesson.
After class, Lynn and George told Charlie how I had so much “knowledge” about the pygmies. That incident was over 50 year ago, and the four of us still laugh about it.
One spring at that same boarding school, I was lecturing about World War II in my modern European history class. As I mentioned the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a student raised his hand and said, “Coach, isn’t your birthday Dec. 8?”
When I said that it was, he followed with another question. “Isn’t it rather unusual in history for two international disasters to occur on successive days?”
The class broke up in laughter.
Ed was a good student and we had a good relationship. I knew he was just ribbing me a little. His quick mind had juxtaposed two totally unrelated facts and produced a humorous statement about them.
My response: “Yes, Ed, that would be a valid conclusion about history, except that you have one little flaw there.”
“What is it?” he asked.
“Those two events happened in different years,” I told him.
“My mistake, Coach. I rescind my conclusions,” he answered.
After another round of laughter, we continued discussing the war.
At one point in my career, I served as the secondary supervisor of education for one of the counties in Middle Tennessee for two years. A good bit of my time was spent sitting in class observing high school teachers.
The main high school in the county had hired a young, first-year teacher to teach American history and coach the girls basketball team. I visited his classes from time to time and we had several conversations about history and the teaching of it. He was obviously working hard and, I thought, doing a good job.
But one day in the late winter, a member of the central office staff, who had children at his school, confided to me that he would not last long, that they would get rid of him.
When I asked why, she said that he was playing too many players of the wrong color. I told her I suspected he was playing the girls who could play basketball. As things turned out, the dump-the-coach movement did not succeed. He had a long tenure at that school, developed one of the top programs in the state and won many state championships.
As of this writing, he is the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Middle Tennessee State University. He is, of course, Rick Insell. Sometimes things just work out right.