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Nancy Ahern

is the Executive Editor of the Tocquevillian magazine, and a freelance writer and columnist in Arizona.



    by Nancy Ahern

    August 11, 2003

    Tocq Executive Editor Nancy Ahern,
    awash in a sea of obfuscation

    "I've been a school teacher for thirty years, so I know these things."

    The woman was brash, loud, and pushy. She was also obnoxious in that way that Mrs. Crumbnutter, your third grade study hall monitor was obnoxious.

    "And what do we call this black colored board in front of the class room? Anyone? Anyone? That's right. It's a black board." Mrs. Crumbnutter was a few bricks shy of a full load. I suspect this brash woman may have been Mrs. Crumbnutter's soul mate. Or clone.

    In addition to being a teacher, the woman also claimed to have been diving -- as in SCUBA diving -- for thirty years. I met her while on a dive trip in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

    "See, students today need special treatment compared with when we were children." She grunted as she leaned over to pull the short pink fins over the little white socks she wore. Around me, other divers were putting on the appropriate dive gear, which consisted of long fins to help them conserve energy while propelling through the water, and neoprene "booties" to protect their feet from some of the more noxious items to be found beneath the sea. "They have different sorts of problems, what with divorce so rampant, and so many of them are from foreign cultures. What they need is understanding."

    I nodded. Understanding is good.

    "I had a student who just had issues with anger management. It was understandable, as his father was quite strict. I do believe the man spanked the boy! Can you imagine?" She screwed her face up to indicate her horror at the thought of a parent paddling his child. "He gave me this," she held up her arm, indicating a long scar.

    "The father?"

    "No. The student. He kept a knife in his pocket. This was before they installed the metal detectors, see. He just didn't want to do his exploratory worksheet. I was trying to persuade him that it was in his best interests since his grades were so poor, but he got a little upset with me and had a moment of bad decision-making."

    She stood up and struggled into the buoyancy compensator vest and tank. One of the crew members assisted her. She accepted his help without acknowledging it.

    "What happened to the boy?" I was a bit disconcerted by the way she characterized the boy's knife attack as a "moment of bad decision-making."

    "I have no idea. I called the school psychologist in and that was that. I had 28 other students to worry about! My job, you see, is to ensure that everyone is treated equally. I have to ensure they all feel welcome, and safe. I can't let the antics of one misunderstood child disrupt the class, after all. It is only this way that we can facilitate the children's learning adventure."

    Learning adventure? Facilitate? Provide a welcome environment?

    "What do you teach?"

    "I am the facilitator for a fifth grade exploration team."

    "Okay. But what do you teach?"

    "Well, we don't really consider it teaching. The old days of sitting students down in neat rows and filling their heads with information are gone. We enable students to develop their own quests for information, and provide them the tools they need to reach their goals in a safe, warm, and welcoming environment."

    The conversation was cut short, as the dive master wanted to discuss the conditions of the dive site. I imagine, were he like this progressive teacher, he would have tossed us over the edge of the dive boat, after giving us the buoyancy compensators, tanks, and regulators, and let us "develop our quest for information" on our own.

    Instead, he described the water temperature, visibility, and conditions. He described the sorts of marine life we would encounter, and warned us about the jelly fish and urchins we'd see. He let us know about the surge, and then informed us that there was a cavern in the vicinity, and if surge and currents were right, we'd consider a dive through it.

    The school teacher expressed concern. She was afraid of tunnels and caverns. She wondered if we might skip it.

    The dive master told her it was a short cavern, that we could see the other end of it, that it was broad enough to accommodate divers, and that she was free to stay on the boat and join us on the next dive, and her money would be partially refunded, but unless the rest of the dive party agreed with her, we would be going through the cavern. Furthermore, we must all stay together.

    "But I'm nervous. We should all be sensitive to the special needs of others, you know. If I don't want to go, none of us should go. We're all equals, here."

    After ascertaining that the majority did indeed want to dive the cavern, she reluctantly decided to join us. Sad to say, the combination of the surge, her nerves, and the bare fact that this woman was a lousy diver resulted in the first injury I'd ever sustained diving when she blindly shoved me aside in her haste to escape the cavern.

    When we got back aboard the boat, the dive master applied a topical anesthetic to the minor scrape I'd sustained, and I watched as the school teacher dumped her equipment off for the crew to take care of and pushed her way to the front of the line serving food and beverage. She impatiently took the sandwiches the smiling boat crew had prepared for us, complained that her juice tasted watery, and then went back for seconds before most of us had finished rinsing off our gear.

    I have to feel sorry for the students this woman "facilitates" - she who is supremely unconcerned. Unconcerned about the safety of those around her. Unconcerned about the hard work done on her behalf. Unconcerned about doing what is right. Unconcerned about all but her own comfort. Unconcerned even about what happens to those who are in her care.

    © 2003 Tocqevillian Magazine