Sixth Grade Mayhem
When I was in sixth grade, some of the boys in my class were mean, rough and nasty. One of our former teachers said of our class that they were the worst she had ever taught. The boys were disruptive and opportunistic, seeming to find ways to cause trouble without getting caught. The boys cursed at one another and at the girls. Giving the finger was part of their repertoire but well-hidden from teacher’s eyes.
In past years, I had been injured during rough-housing. In third grade, a boy pushed me off a wall, and I chipped my tooth. A year later, I almost lost my eye when boys were taunting us by lifting our dresses up. I bent down to push my dress down and my head went into a pencil in the boy’s pocket. My Mother always warned me to just stay away from them, which was the strategy I tried to practice through grade school.
Our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Boyer, was a great teacher and a sweet person. She seemed to manage the class, often by telling stories of her life or reading to us. She would say, “I’m not sure we have time for Winnie the Pooh today.” The class would immediately go into begging mode, “Please read Winnie the Pooh.” As I looked around the room, I would see even the most hardened boy pleading for a story about the bear. During story time, the class would settle and the students would fold their arms on their desks, listening intently. I remember asking myself how could a story quiet such restless anger.
When Mrs. Boyer read the stories, I could easily visulize the Hundred Acre Wood, and we’d look at the map on the inside cover of the book as if it were a geography lesson. Pooh was the most endearing character, almost the alter ego of the classroom boys. Pooh was never mean-spirited, and he was always kind to his woodland friends.
“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh? asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.
Although the bear supposedly was of “very little brain,” Pooh was hopeful and comforting.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”
“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”
Of course, school is a place where your self worth is constantly on the line with test taking. In contrast to the academic demands of school, Pooh offers an alternate view of cleverness:
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
Good-bye to Elementary School
The next year our elementary school class went off to a large junior high school, and I had little contact with the boys in my class after that. In general I don’t remember that the classroom dynamic in junior high being as hostile as it was back in elementary school. Maybe the boys matured or began concentrating on the grind toward college. I wondered whether in transitioning into junior high, Winnie the Pooh offered emotional support that eventually altered world views, even if slightly.