|Mr. Brown, a few years later|
Mr. Brown required everyone to read one non-fiction book every six weeks and give an oral book report. For those of us who weren't ready, we always begged Chris H. to go first because he could spin a yarn about his book for at least half the class time. You didn't dare try to fake your way through the book report. It was better to tell Mr. Brown you lacked 100 pages than get caught lying about finishing. Rich learned that one the hard way when Mr. Brown backed him into a corner about why the Nazis only surrounded Dunkirk on three sides during the battle there. The tongue lashing that followed was brutal, but fair, and no one ever attempted that again. By the way, the Nazis couldn't surround Dunkirk on the fourth side "because the Nazis couldn't walk on water!" Turns out Dunkirk was a river town, which Rich would have realized if he'd read the book.
None of us really wanted to read non-fiction, and I didn't want to read anything. I was always a slow reader, so the idea of finishing anything more than a short story terrified me. I explained this to Mr. Brown, and he gave me a book he knew I'd love that was several hundred pages long. He had me read 200 pages per six weeks until I finished it. Subsequently, I lost my fear of pages and found my love of reading.
The late eighties were rife with movies about Vietnam. At least once a decade the sixties come back in style, and we were all intrigued. (That's pretty excited for teenagers.) Mr. Brown wouldn't be teaching us about Vietnam era American history. Since in 1988 was less than 20 years from the end of the war, he said it wasn't history yet. We did talk a bit about that era though, and Mr. Brown introduced us all to Jimi Hendrix. He brought in a record of Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock, and we were mesmerized. We'd never heard anything like it before. I was in love -- again, thanks to Mr. Brown.
We often did experiments in class. They'd be the product of some tangent we'd start. Once he wanted to show that personal space is relative to gender, as well as the individual and the relationship between the two people in each others' space. He started with the boys by taking two guys who were good friends, then he repeated the set up with myself and my best friend. We got progressively closer to each other side to side, back to back, then face to face. The girls had very little personal space and were not uncomfortable being in close proximity to each other. The guys were a little more distant. It was interesting.
Sometimes, our experiments were to make a point. For instance, Mr. Brown once had several of us take turns doing this endurance test. Your back is against the wall with your hips and knees bent at 90 degree angles like you're sitting very straight in a chair. It's only the strength of your legs that keeps you in that position. Then he had us put our arms straight out in front of us, palms up supporting our history book. This is not a comfortable position. He had some random people in class see how long they could go, and then, asked us who we thought could hold out the longest. One of the captains of the football team was in our class, and of course, we all picked him. Then, he asked which girl we thought could hold out the longest, and they picked me. I ended up holding on longer than the captain of the football team. It was only about three and a half minutes, but it was the longest three and a half minutes of my life, thus far. His point? You'll find the greatest strength in the places you don't expect, and endurance is as much mental as it is muscle. How does that relate to history? The projection of strength is often enough to keep others at bay, and never underestimate the little guy with something to fight for.
We were each asked to write an essay on which side we'd have taken in the Revolutionary War. Mr. Brown had been assigning this to students for years, and students were usually split 50/50 on their choices. I was the first person to ever declare themselves Switzerland though. I could see both sides and was convinced there had to be a more diplomatic way to solve the problem. In the end, Mr. Brown explained that by not choosing a side I was the enemy to both sides. It was my first lesson in "if you're not with us, you're against us." Sometimes, you have to pick a side.
I was lucky to have had a number of fantastic teachers who positively impacted my life. Mr. Brown has remained one of my favorites, and the lessons he taught have remained relevant even in my adult life.