Miss Carter – From the Confident 1950’s to the Incoherent 2020’s.

Introductory note: I wrote this homage to a beloved teacher, Miss Carter, some time ago and set it aside. I came across it yesterday and reread it. I found a burning need to reset its context in light of current events. It thus reaches an inflection point and takes a sharp, negative turn, like our failing nation. 

It was the era when erasers had to be clapped and blackboards washed. First thing every morning we recited the Lord’s Prayer and read a Psalm. It was the 1955-56 academic year at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I was in 7th grade. We had a class quaintly called “unified studies.” All I remember, though, is that we learned English. Our teacher that year was Miss Carter. She had gray hair and was older than my parents, so she qualified in my book as old – probably mid 50’s. She was what we called an “old maid” and she lived with Miss Neff a fellow maiden teacher. We and the times were sufficiently innocent back then that I do not recall any speculation whatever as to their sexual orientation; in those days there were only two sexes. They were both respected, indeed beloved teachers; strict disciplinarians, to boot.

Although I never suspected it at the time, I wound up more grateful to Miss Carter than to any teacher I ever had. You see, throughout the entire school year, every Tuesday and Thursday – awaiting the class on the blackboard upon arrival in the classroom. – was a carefully and legibly written poem. The class dutifully copied down the poem immediately upon arrival on those class days. I even remember where I sat. Our standing homework assignment was to type up each poem and to be able to write it from memory the next day in class. In addition, we had to cut out and mount a picture from a magazine which related to a line or the title of the poem. The poems and pictures were accumulated in a personalized folder which each of us made in art class. Mine had my initials in large letters running from top to bottom, on thick shiny orange folder paper. Although I lacked artistic talent, I was quite proud of it. My pride in the content grew incrementally with the thickness of the folio as the year progressed.

It is apt to say that I learned these poems by heart, rather than memorized them. “Memorization” connotes a cold, mechanistic process. Rather, these poems coursed through the chambers of my heart, got into my blood and percolated down to marrow and sinew. Even as an early teen, some  actually stirred my soul. Others even proved to have a time-release quality: they improved and became more meaningful as I became older, like, “There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away…” or “Once in Persia reigned a king, who, upon his signet ring, Grav’d a maxim true and wise, Which if held before his eyes, Gave him wisdom at a glance, Fit for any change or chance. Helpful words and these are they – ‘Even this shall pass away.’”

From time to time, fragments, titles, authors or entireties come randomly to mind, accompanied by a quiet delight; shibboleths which grant me entry to enduring virtual chapels inhabited by the better angels of our human nature:

“Whose woods these are I think I know…”

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner…”

“One ship drives east, another west…”

“Once there was a spider, when I was born a fly…”

“Let me but do my work from day to day…”

“There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood…”

Emily Dickinson,

William Blake,

Edna St. Vincent Millay,

Bliss Carman

Robert Frost,

Vachel Lindsay,

Walt Whitman,

Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

W.B. Yeats,

and many more.

“He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him.

He who knows not and knows that he knows not, is a child. Teach him.

He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him.

He who knows and knows that he knows is wise. Follow him.”

I do not recall Miss Carter’s first name. I’m sure I knew it at one time. I do remember a joke she told about a woman who signed a bank check, ‘A. Wind’. Turns out the woman’s first name was Augusta. Augusta Wind. Over the course of the year, a chapter at a time, she read aloud to us the entire book, “Tom Sawyer.” I remember how enjoyable it was to be read to like that. Comforting, entertaining, low-tech, real, warm, caring – all the things which are so scarce nowadays, after so much so-called progress – particularly educational “progress”. Somehow, we all learned well with a blasphemous class size of 30 pupils.

As is often the case with me, I find the gratitude I feel – to Miss Carter in this case – laced with grief. She must be long dead. She had no children, no family to remember her. She must have been in her 50’s when I was 12. That was 64 years ago and I can’t help but wonder if I am the last human being who will ever remember Miss Carter. Perhaps other former surviving students feel the same way and warmly conjure her memory…

This story has a sad coda as well. I kept that folio of poems with several other treasured childhood mementos under the spare bed in the bedroom of my childhood home.This is something I would have very much liked to have passed on to my children as a family heirloom. No material possession has ever been more precious to me. These treasures were all contained in a big flat cardboard box which had originally held a monopoly game. Among other prized possessions, I had Joe Dimaggio’s autograph and a 35mm film can filled with infield dirt from Yankee stadium in that box, too; there was a 75 foot long roll of 35mm movie film (with no images on it) – a souvenir of a trip to Hollywood. I had actually found it lying in the street at the curb. I puzzled over why it would ever be there, neatly rolled up and resting in the gutter. Maybe it condensed from the Hollywood aether and fell randomly to Earth.

Those items represented consolidated memories of my childhood. At age 18, I went to college and never again lived in that home, other than a few summers. But I left my things in what I thought was safekeeping. It turned out that my parents had a nasty divorce a few years later and the house was sold. While I was away at school, my mother – without ever warning or asking me – emptied the house and simply threw away all my things. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that the absence of emotional safety which pervaded my childhood home extended to the safety of my material possessions as well. Fortunately for me, after many years and personal difficulties, I was able to forgive my mother for her shortcomings as a parent. Had I not been able to do that, I might have continued to believe that I was unloved because I was somehow defective and unlovable. So, in a way, the fact that my mother disposed of these precious markers of Miss Carter’s gifts without a second thought, taught me that I had not been a defective kid after all. I realized mother had no reserves of care for anyone else – even her son – as it took all she had to simply not drown in her own problems.

I wish I had those poems. There are only a few I can still partially recite by heart. I wish I could give Miss Carter a fond hug of appreciation. We didn’t hug teachers in those days because we were too reserved. Now, of course, we don’t hug teachers either, since we are too suspicious of the inner child molester present in all but the most exhibitionistic progressive zealots (as a physician, I must be fingerprinted by the FBI every 5 years to rebut the presumption that I am by default a sexual predator [never mind that I have no contact with children in my practice] {however, caution is in order as the upper limit of ‘child’ is highly variable; for state purposes, it may be as high as 26 years of age}]). Parenthetically, again, I must say, the necessity for parentheses within parentheses is merely another emblem of the absurd levels of complexity forced upon the lives of those citizens subjects who attempt to conduct their lives according to the metastasizing nigh-on-impossible-to-follow rules; even more bizarre is the fact that there are large swaths of those residing in the US (I think the NYT new rules require capitalization of the initials ‘US’ only 13% of the time; this is an ancillary result of its new rule that reference to ‘Black’ people  [not ‘white’] must be capitalized) make no attempt to follow any rules and those groups are not only not penalized or stigmatized in any way; they are usually paid government stipends to enable them to continue to do so with full stomachs and possess Obamaphones to conveniently score the next hit. This represents more educational and cultural “progress” I suppose. Nowadays, parents (to the limited extent two of them are even involved with their offspring) and schools – at the behest of the omniscient state – engage in a rolling accusatory duel as to whose fault it is that children can no longer read, write, do ‘rithmetic or think. To ameliorate this conflict about educational results, school systems and parents have decided to stop testing the children’s proficiency. Problem solved! Though I no longer find myself quoting George Will, in better days he used to say schools had replaced the three R’s with reproduction, recycling and racism. That pretty much sums up the ‘progress’ of the american (sic [does the 13% rule of capitalization apply as well to the word ‘american/American? educational system?]).

If I seem angry and cynical, it is because I am. The promise of our nation as Founded and as exemplified by teachers like Miss Carter has been betrayed. My overriding feeling is a sense of betrayal of great promise. As I have tried to make clear, we are living though an execrable revolution – for the moment, at least, it is a cultural revolution. As exemplified by my educational experience under the gentle, enlightened, self-confident tutelage of Miss Carter, our national ethos was one of self-confidence, congruent with Miss Carter’s and based upon understanding our common history, which has been up until now, at least, a clear story of evolving justice, the progress of a decent, though flawed nation, an optimistic one which engaged in continuous self-examination and incremental improvement. Taken for granted was the bedrock knowledge that to be good a nation need not be perfect. 

Now, three generations have been ‘schooled’ to parrot slogans rather than think critically. They have been propagandized such that knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States have been intentionally misrepresented. Although they lack even the words to articulate what they believe, today’s ‘youth’, “full of passionate intensity”, act on the tenets of nihilism, lust for power over others for its own sake and the astoundingly arrogant and stupid belief that no society is legitimate unless it was an instant utopia from the moment of its founding. That is the incoherent belief now destroying the nation which was – not very long ago – humanity’s last and best hope. “Lacking all conviction”, it seems, the majority are, for the moment at least, alive to witness the downfall of that nation and the extirpation of Enlightenment values for whose existence millions of individuals, over centuries, literally gave or lost their lives. Where is the outcry from those of us who recognize these are the same evils – in the form of Antifa and BLM – which led to so much suffering and death throughout history? Do elites and the MSM not recognize the ouroboros? Do they not see that the head of the snake they ride today will promptly turn to consume them in due course? 

No Miss Carters are likely to arise in the coming dark age (‘dark age’ undoubtedly has a short half-life as it is overdue to be deemed racist and obliterated, like much language and thought). Unless everything I understand about human nature is wrong, also in short supply will be the bourgeois values which generated and compounded the unprecedented wealth which literally raised the standard living of the entire planet. The ‘green new deal’ will be self-executing. No legislation or regulation will be needed to implement it because few will be tempted to work or produce much of anything. Protest marches will also improve in tenor, as nothing worth looting will be left

Maybe, possibly, after the Marxists, Maoists and neo-Jacobins (but don’t worry, they emphatically scream in our faces they are anti-fascist) have satisfied their blood lust and millions have led short, brutal, empty lives dedicated to simply surviving (and other millions have starved), some glimmer of residual human nature will find the impulse and courage to begin to re-discover what was so hard-learned and well known in the decades prior to 1776. There will, of course, be impediments to re-discovering written evidence of such values. The fact that such thoughts were written by dead white males will ensure that such search results (if indeed computers still exist) will have been long demoted unto digital oblivion. The old books will have been ritually incinerated, de rigueur. For the sake of our progeny, we can only hope this future Renaissance II happens less than a thousand years from now.

14+
avataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravataravatar

Author: civil westman

Driven to achieve outward and visible things, I became a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. Eventually, I noticed the world had still not beat a path to my door with raves. Now, as a septuagenarian I still work anesthesia part-time, fly my flight simulator to keep my brain sparking and try to elude that nagging, intrusive reminder that my clock is running out. Before it does, I am trying, earnestly, to find a theory of everything - to have even a brief "God's-eye" view of it all before the "peace which passeth all understanding."

22 thoughts on “Miss Carter – From the Confident 1950’s to the Incoherent 2020’s.”

  1. I think you are a good “son” of Miss Carter.

    I remember Mrs Armstrong reading to us in the fourth grade. We would put our heads on our desks. I never thanked her when I saw her later in life. This post makes me wish I had.

    4+
    avataravataravataravatar
  2. facial-recognition-is-wrong-96-of-the-time/
    … An amorphous incessant hegemonic demand for “MORE” by babies with razor blades, “revolutionaries” (thieves), and outright idiots  “We demand a larger allowance, flashy sneakers,  keys to the car, and no curfew!”

    You won’t get it.

    3+
    avataravataravatar
  3. 10 Cents:
    How long were the poems? This is such a great way to train one’s mind and soul. I might try this. Low tech has its advantages.

    Most were two to three verses of 4 -6 lines each. Occasionally they were two or three times that long.

    6+
    avataravataravataravataravataravatar
  4. civil westman:

    10 Cents:
    How long were the poems? This is such a great way to train one’s mind and soul. I might try this. Low tech has its advantages.

    Most were two to three verses of 4 -6 lines each. Occasionally they were two or three times that long.

    Would you make a list of those you remember and I will try to memorize those? I want to Carterize the “bleeding”.

    4+
    avataravataravataravatar
  5. I listed all I could remember in the post – some by title, others by first line. I was actually looking some up between watching comments. I actually have a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye for want of remembering more of them. Here is one by Emma Wheeler Wilcox:
    “One ship drives east and another drives west
    With the selfsame winds that blow.
    Tis the set of the sails
    And not the gales
    Which tells us the way to go.
    Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
    As we voyage along through the life:
    Tis the set of a soul
    That decides its goal,
    And not the calm or the strife. ”

    6+
    avataravataravataravataravataravatar
  6. We could have been on Mars by 1985.  The plans were in place; the infrastructure and most of the technology existed; and the annual budget to do it was no larger than NASA’s in 1965.  More importantly, by 1985 we could have had the first generation of solar power satellites providing base load power to the grid 24/7/365–6 with no fuel cost, no carbon emission, and no dependence upon petro-kleptocracies.  By 2000, building out the solar power satellite infrastructure there would have been around 500,000 people working and living in Earth orbit and on the Moon (where 99% of the raw materials for solar power satellites are just sitting there, already outside the Earth’s deep gravity well).  With abundant energy available almost for free, energy-intensive industries would have begun migrating from Earth to the High Frontier.

    We threw it all away because we were stupid.  We didn’t understand the first principle of investment: when you have something that works, with great inherent leverage, a small investment now will pay off handsomely in the future.

    The good news is that this future is as available to us now as it was then.  But it may not be forever.  As the Dumb Wave and the Avalanche of Ignorance rolls over what is left of the Enlightenment, in a few years there may be too few to achieve it, and all of the capital accumulated over centuries will have been squandered on current consumption or hypothecated to despots.

    Confession: I’m an engineer—I’ve never gotten poetry, except perhaps for the odd Kipling.  I see these fancy words arranged on the page with the rhythm and rhyme and my eyes glaze over.  In high school they made us memorise passages from Shakespeare.  I have never used that information and considered it, then and now, a waste of my time, which could be much better spent reading the plays and understanding their message.

    7+
    avataravataravataravataravataravataravatar
  7. civil westman:
    One ship drives east and another drives west With the selfsame winds that blow. Tis the set of the sails And not the gales Which tells us the way to go. Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate, As we voyage along through the life: Tis the set of a soul That decides its goal, And not the calm or the strife. ”

    Love this!
    I have my homework. I have heard this idea stated in different ways.
    In life it is not only tact but tack that gets one through things. Maybe tact is a form of tacking.

    6+
    avataravataravataravataravataravatar
  8. Thank you, Mr. Westman.  Great piece.  Both your reminiscences about Miss Carter and your ruminations about what has happened to society since remind me of my own English teacher, Miss Short.

    There were about 30 of us in the class on the first day of term, 16-17 years old, boys & girls, chatting away while thinking about the only topic on the mind of post-pubescent teenagers.  This was the Advanced English class, and we knew our teacher was to be a Miss Short.

    The door of the classroom swung open, and in stepped a very short middle-aged woman.  One glance at the look on her face was enough to ensure that no-one laughed because Miss Short was so short.  In retrospect, I have never again seen such an excellent demonstration of the assertion of control.

    She stood in the doorway silent, with her arms folded, glaring and slowly scanning the class.  The teenage hubbub died down, and the room became completely silent.  After waiting for exactly the right length of time, Miss Short spoke, with heavy scorn in her voice:

    You people!  You think you are the cream, because you are in the top class.  Well, let me remind you — The scum floats too!

    Having established dominance over a group of teenagers who out-numbered her and out-sized her, she turned out to be a wonderful teacher.

    Perhaps the point of all this is that those of us fortunate enough to have been born in Western countries after WWII found ourselves in the top class.  We thought we were the cream, even though we had got there without a whole lot of efforts on our own part, and we failed to recognize early enough that “The scum floats too”.

    8+
    avataravataravataravataravataravataravataravatar
  9. Thanks for this wonderful remembrance, CW. I wish it could have ended just with your praise of Miss Carter, and I hold out hope that there are still some old school educators that teach poetry for the pictures they paint and the lessons they tell so eloquently.

    2+
    avataravatar
  10. Ella Wheeler Wilcox was a wildly popular poet.  And I guarantee you, we all know one line of hers:

    ”Laugh, and the world laughs with you;/Weep, and you weep alone.”

    (Not tonight you don’t, Ella, my sister.   CW, you’ve made me cry—again.)

    5+
    avataravataravataravataravatar
  11. Pencilvania:
    Thanks for this wonderful remembrance, CW. I wish it could have ended just with your praise of Miss Carter, and I hold out hope that there are still some old school educators that teach poetry for the pictures they paint and the lessons they tell so eloquently.

    I remember clapping erasers and blackboards. (Can I say blackboards or is it chalk oppression zones? Does anyone remember fat chalk?)

    2+
    avataravatar
  12.  Memorized poems are money in the (mental) bank. My grandmother when over 100 in the nursing home said she passed the time reciting memorized poems to herself. Somebody in 1895 or so probably made her learn them, and she drew on them in 1990.

    I don’t waste much time on regrets about my failures as a mother since the kids are ok, but I wish we had read and memorized more poems.  The one I did try was funny but not at all inspiring- Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Who Would Not Take the Garbage Out.) It’s a terrible choice for memorizing because it is mostly lists (of garbage.)

    4+
    avataravataravataravatar
  13. Jojo:
     Memorized poems are money in the (mental) bank. My grandmother when over 100 in the nursing home said she passed the time reciting memorized poems to herself. Somebody in 1895 or so probably made her learn them, and she drew on them in 1990.

    I don’t waste much time on regrets about my failures as a mother since the kids are ok, but I wish we had read and memorized more poems.  The one I did try was funny but not at all inspiring- Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Who Would Not Take the Garbage Out.) It’s a terrible choice for memorizing because it is mostly lists (of garbage.)

    Hey, we don’t subtract for humor here, Jojo.

    It is tough looking back on mental things one could have invested in. 

    4+
    avataravataravataravatar
  14. Just in case it will impress CW, whose writing I admire so much, I will report that I have a tremendous amount of poetry memorized. ( But not from school at any level, this was/is a labor of love.)   Shakespeare,  Marvel, Yeats, Browning, Auden, Frost, Coleridge, MacLeish , Aiken, Millay,  Kipling…those are just the names that come to mind.  No brag just fact.

    And I think there’s a reason why many poems, like other “canonical” literature, have survived: people like  them.  Yes, they really do, if they are in a setting where it’s ok to like them, and if  the poems are recited so as to bring out and emphasize the meaning. I believe that with my whole heart and soul.  I have never seen anybody react with embarrassment when I’ve been asked to recite.  Several people usually ask me for details about the poem.

    When we went to Ireland two years ago, we visitedYeats’ ’ home, Thoor Ballylee.    It was a small group of artists interested in Celtic magical themes.  Everybody  knew I had my Yeats book with me: I touched it to the plaque on the wall containing  Yeats’ poem of dedication for his tower.  I was asked to read a poem.  “Read“, ha!  I recited Sailing To Byzantium,  and, as requested,  two shorter poems.
    This was probably my apotheosis as a poetry lover: there I am, at Yeats’ beloved home (he once said Thoor Ballylee is so beautiful that “to go elsewhere is to leave Beauty behind”) in his footsteps literally, reciting his poetry.

    Think only this of me!

    5+
    avataravataravataravataravatar
  15. 10 Cents:

    Jojo:
     Memorized poems are money in the (mental) bank. My grandmother when over 100 in the nursing home said she passed the time reciting memorized poems to herself. Somebody in 1895 or so probably made her learn them, and she drew on them in 1990.

    I don’t waste much time on regrets about my failures as a mother since the kids are ok, but I wish we had read and memorized more poems.  The one I did try was funny but not at all inspiring- Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Who Would Not Take the Garbage Out.) It’s a terrible choice for memorizing because it is mostly lists (of garbage.)

    Hey, we don’t subtract for humor here, Jojo.

    It is tough looking back on mental things one could have invested in. 

    It’s not too late!  Do it now! 

    1+
    avatar
  16. Hypatia, I’ve noticed [and then looked up] many of your poetry quotes here & I admire your memory & application of them! It often shows how words written hundreds of years ago reflect the same human condition we experience now – binds us to history, as it were.

    2+
    avataravatar
  17. Hypatia:
    Just in case it will impress CW, whose writing I admire so much, I will report that I have a tremendous amount of poetry memorized. ( But not from school at any level, this was/is a labor of love.)   Shakespeare,  Marvel, Yeats, Browning, Auden, Frost, Coleridge, MacLeish , Aiken, Millay,  Kipling…those are just the names that come to mind.  No brag just fact.

    What at an abundance of riches! I have only a few stored up but treasure what I have. I will recite The Walrus and the Carpenter with little or no encouragement from my audience. It was a favorite of my father’s so I absorbed a lot of it by osmosis. My family runs to silly poems apparently.

    I keep trying to memorize  Ozymandias  but it won’t quite stick even though it seems short and manageable. The old brain won’t take a new impression.

    You are a great advocate for poetry, a successor to Miss Carter in your own way, and what a lovely way to light a candle in the darkness.

    3+
    avataravataravatar
  18. Jojo:

    Hypatia:
    Just in case it will impress CW, whose writing I admire so much, I will report that I have a tremendous amount of poetry memorized. ( But not from school at any level, this was/is a labor of love.)   Shakespeare,  Marvel, Yeats, Browning, Auden, Frost, Coleridge, MacLeish , Aiken, Millay,  Kipling…those are just the names that come to mind.  No brag just fact.

    What at an abundance of riches! I have only a few stored up but treasure what I have. I will recite The Walrus and the Carpenter with little or no encouragement from my audience. It was a favorite of my father’s so I absorbed a lot of it by osmosis. My family runs to silly poems apparently.

    I keep trying to memorize  Ozymandias  but it won’t quite stick even though it seems short and manageable. The old brain won’t take a new impression.

    [Yes it will.  A  way to do it is first just look at, and Understand and remember the story or idea the poem is telling.  Tell yourself the story or theme in your own words. Then that’s a frame you can hang the verses on.
    if you really want to memorize this poem, just read it every day; I’ll bet you’ll wake up one morning and find you know it!]

     

    You are a great advocate for poetry, a successor to Miss Carter in your own way, and what a lovely way to light a candle in the darkness.

    1+
    avatar
  19. Hypatia:

    Jojo:

    I keep trying to memorize Ozymandias  but it won’t quite stick even though it seems short and manageable. The old brain won’t take a new impression.

    [Yes it will.  A  way to do it is first just look at, and Understand and remember the story or idea the poem is telling.  Tell yourself the story or theme in your own words. Then that’s a frame you can hang the verses on.
    if you really want to memorize this poem, just read it every day; I’ll bet you’ll wake up one morning and find you know it!]

    Civil westman, you have brought the spirit of Miss Carter back to life!  Thanks, Hypatia, I will do that.

    2+
    avataravatar
  20. I remember my sixth grade teacher Miss Ferguson who was an absolute terror and on whom I still blame my insomnia. 🙂

    She was challenging, provocative and expected her students to keep abreast not only of their studies but current events as well. My favorite story that still lives in my mind decades later was her “civics” commentary during a presidential election year.

    Question: “If you could vote, for whom would you vote and why? And don’t regurgitate what your parents think; give me your specific opinions and why.”

    Can you imagine a teacher challenging her grade school students in such a manner? She insisted her students research, analyze and think for themselves. She did not influence us whatsoever or proselytize her own opinions but made us defend ours. If we didn’t have the facts or legitimate background material, she made our classroom experience a miserable one.

    They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

    4+
    avataravataravataravatar
  21. Those who have done and enjoyed some form of computer programming and also appreciate literature should consider reading the book
    “If Hemingway Wrote JavaScript” by Angus Croll

    The author first describes what is a Fibonacci sequence. Then there are a series of actual small programs to generate Fibonacci sequence written in the style of several authors, playwrights, and poets. In each case there is small note on features that mark the style of that particular author. Includes Shakespeare, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, JK Rowling, Virginia Woolf, Chaucer, Jane Austen, James Joyce and more.

    6+
    avataravataravataravataravataravatar

Leave a Reply