The Nail That Sticks Up

Danny O'Brien alerted me to this article by David Patten.

I'm a former student of Patten's (7th-8th grade, early 1990s). Patten was and remains sui generis among my K-12 teachers: no one was as boldly unorthodox as he, nor as effective.

Upon meeting our class that first August, Patten asked if we students wished to be treated as adults, thus entering a contract of mutual expectations (toward the end of that school year, my misbehaving class regrettably defaulted). Then he issued us each a curriculum-advised history book; to be returned in June, never purposefully opened. Finally, he handed out the beginning of a torrent of his own, hand-typed, meticulous, all-caps outlines.

It was from these stapled Xeroxes that my classmates and I learned the events, locations, actors and concepts deciding American history. We took tests, of course — but they were to affirm receiving the knowledge impossible to have been prepared by someone other than the whip-smart man in the three-piece suits.

My only regret is that I was, despite "advanced" academic standing, too young to fully appreciate the course — that I daydreamed so much. Where else can an early adolescent be invited to study Colonial precepts for revolution so as to argue — and win — against them in a debate? Or have historical trivia slowly revealed as the latticework of a people and nation? Surely not under the centripetal dictates of
"proficiency testing."

On occasion Patten courteously referenced "Firing Line," the political-discussion television program hosted by the late William F. Buckley, Jr. Of teaching, Buckley once wrote, "The trouble with the search for quality is that if you discover it, at the same time you discover that which is not it." Would that American education had tried to make a hundred-thousand Pattens, but Patten and the few others like him are exceptional, perfecting their craft in spite of convention — and that isn't how top-down works.