Lessons

I had two great lessons for teaching but the greatest came to me as a ‘gotcha’. Like all teachers, I had extensive course work in teaching methods. I took in-service classes and advanced courses to keep current in the latest techniques and processes.

I had excellent high school teachers; well, all but the one who kicked me out of class. She was probably a good teacher but her standards were from a generation or so before mine. I broke one of her classroom standards; but I didn’t know it was a standard. It was a never explained expectation. Sort of like the ‘you understood’ when she said, “Go to the principal’s office!”

OK, there was another teacher I really didn’t like. However, in retrospect, she taught me a great lesson.

I’ll give up my generation to reveal theirs. I was graduated from high school in 1955. My graduation should have been 1954 but that’s another story and has nothing to do with teachers.

My great lesson came when I was a high school freshman but I didn’t apply it until I became a teacher 25 years later.

I was at least one level below poor in spelling. Science report grades we were lowered for spelling errors so about mid-semester I decided to improve my spelling grades, thus my science grades. I worked very hard and memorized the twenty-five words for that week in English class.

The day of the weekly test, a Thursday as I remember, we listened to the teacher recite the words and wrote them on a special spelling pad. I knew we would pass our papers forward or backward to another student for correction so to ensure the corrector could read my words I did them in the forbidden printing. Teacher spelled each word, we checked and the papers were passed back. Teacher read our names and we responded with our score.

Each of the others with whom I had studied scored well and I announced the first 100% on a spelling test I could remember. She asked me to stand. In my naiveté, I expected her to congratulate me. Instead she said, “I don’t know how you did it Benson but I’m sure you must have cheated. Be here after school for a retake!”

After school, I tried to explain that I had studied with several others who scored high or 100%. She didn’t accept my explanation. She read the words in a different order and I printed. She chided me for not using cursive on the original and the retake. I skipped school that Friday and got my paper back on Monday. I scored 25 of 25 again but she had marked it, “74% – maximum score on retake!” In those days, 74 was a “D” grade.

I should have studied hard and proved her wrong on the next test; however, I speculated the same treatment. I skipped her class several times that semester and never put in the same effort for a spelling test even with another teacher the next semester. It was a great lesson; when I became a teacher, I vowed to never humiliate a student.

What I consider my greatest lesson came to me when I was a first year shop teacher.

A freshman student who could not be held after school had been absent for several required quizzes so I assigned a five-page report on a technology topic of his choice.

He asked, “What kind of paper?”

I told him, “Lined notebook paper, one side only, one space between writing, standard English class heading.”

“Is spiral notebook paper OK?”

I told him that would be fine as long as he trimmed off the rough edges after removing them from his notebook.

The next morning, as I was taking role, he handed me his report. His name and report title were in the standard format and the rough edges from being torn out of the spiral binding were neatly trimmed.

The report was a full five pages from a 3 x 5-inch spiral notebook. I couldn’t say a thing – he knew I didn’t specify the size of the paper. I was tested and my prior great lesson came into play. He scored a gotcha and there were no repercussions.

I’m sure the student whose name I don’t remember remembers the gotcha as well as I do. Acceptance of well-timed and appropriate humor became a standard part of my teaching.

Message Image

Remember Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage? Many who became educators in the 1960s might.

I wondered about what I would be reading when it was assigned in one of my college educational media classes. I and perhaps others thought, “What does massage have to do with educational media?” The title was supposed to have read “The Medium is the Message” What happened is explained at the McLuhan site.

My classmates and I had no choice; the reading was assigned and grade impacting quizzes would be given. How many of us would have glanced at the title and picked it off the shelf had it not been part of our professor’s mandatory reading list?
If asked a contextual question today, I’d probably give only a random guess in response.
However, I think about it when someone comments on dress, medium or other presentation issues. Things like, he should be in a suit – how can he preach dressed so casually or he went to Sturgis on a Harley – how can he be trusted to advise on our investments.

I know a hiring manager who would only give a prospective engineer a minute if the job seeker showed up in casual dress. A job seeker I know never got an interview from a paper resume. When the seeker started using the internet to submit personal and training data the seeker’s qualifications were noticed. Same data – different medium – different message (qualifications) perceived.

Unfortunately, some never get past the title or artwork on the cover of an author’s work. And sometimes similar titles get confused, for example: Girl from the Train and Girl on the Train. One of the title characters is not a girl by common definition. However, the ‘on’ book got better marketing than the ‘from’. In fact, when I was telling about my reading ‘from the train’ I got the comment from several, “You mean on the train, don’t you?”

So now I know the marketing program for The Medium Is the Massage was far more important than the title to its sales and influence of its content.

Dry Spell

The PNW has been in a dry spell most of the summer, but that’s not unusual.
I’ve had a writing dry spell too.
Or have I?
There has been little progress on what I’ve set as my primary project – the story of two men who suffered retrograde amnesia from separate Vietnam experiences.

I also set a goal of tuning up and adding to my 2012 published novel An Odyssey of Illusions. Many readers said it needed a sequel. I thought that too but again it was voice. I found the voice; the boy Odyssey simply transitions to his teen years and the story continues. That work is nearly ready for an outside review.

Other writers in a group to which I belong encouraged me to submit a short piece they reviewed for me. I took their encouragement, made a few changes to meet publisher requirements and submitted it. I’ve received payment for first rights. I was also encouraged to submit another of my short stories; the publisher’s staff notified me that it was sent to the next level for a second reading. I did some minor revisions to another short story and submitted it – no word back on that.

Some time ago, with new found voice, I opened the Vietnam amnesia story to do some serious work; nothing was happening. I did the same for several started short stories. The new idea part of my brain didn’t seem to be working either. I stumbled on something I had started in the 1990s (and had thought it was nearly finished). Renewed interest was kindled. That flame was reduced to an ember without enough fuel to continue within a few days. Again, the problem appeared to be voice.

I read three nonfiction books (see my most previous post). I did some HTML processing on what will be a former web site, and learned how to use some aps on my new i-phone. My work space got a complete cleaning and rearrangement. Yesterday, I applied a new format to this site, added a contact page and posted a bio page.

Now I need to mow the yard before the day gets too hot.

Just Read

Bill Lascher’s Eve of a Hundred Midnights is far – far more than the love story of war correspondents Melville and Annalee Jacoby during the first year of WWII. It was a one sitting read but Lascher’s intricately researched history makes it worthy of a second read to sort and reabsorb the details. Mel Jacoby had a love and passion writing and reporting how things really were in China just before and during the Japanese occupation.

Anna was already very successful in her own right but took on Mel’s passion and joined him in China. They carried out their reporting and were married just a week before having to escape from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

Many of the world leaders and influential people in the lives of Mel and Anna were familiar to me from having recently read James Bradley’s China Mirage. None of those powerful people could have changed the life outcomes for Mel and Anna.

To expand my understanding of the time and place I believe my next book will be Thunder out of China by Theodore H. White and Anna Jacoby. Lascher’s Eve of a Hundred Midnights gives me the feeling of knowing Anne Jacoby and her ability to tell it how it was.

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I just finished Thunder out of China by Theodore H. White and Anna Jacoby. The cost of the book was more than I wanted to pay so I got an inter-library loan.
Bellingham (WA) Public Library sent a first edition from its reserved stacks to Ft. Vancouver (WA) Regional Library for me.

I was right in guessing the ability of Jacoby and White to tell it like it is (was). The 1946 published book also confirmed the accuracy of Lascher’s and Bradley’s research.
Any student of China and the WWII Far East history should read all three.

Case Closed

The FBI announced on July 12, 2016, it was closing the D.B. Cooper case. The unsolved investigation of the 1971 hijacking of a Seattle-bound airliner and the disappearance of the suspect is now one for the history books.
It had been an annual routine for reporters to look for more details in order to do stories on the anniversary of the November 24, 1971, hijacking. In early August of 2011, TV reporter Joe English was looking for local color at one of Cooper’s alleged possible landing places near Lake Merwin, WA.
His queries lead to a conversation with an adult friend of my grandchildren. As a result of that conversation he called me and said that he had interviewed a woman who said something about my being the man who had driven Cooper to the airport (PDX) in Portland,OR, before the hijacking. My grandkids knew the story but apparently something got lost in the translation when it was shared with their friends.
I had never written anything about the incident but after a call from a second reporter, my wife encouraged me to write it up and submit it to the newspaper to clarify what had been misinterpreted. Vancouver’s The Columbian “Everyone has a Story” forum seemed to be a good choice for the story. It was published in the on August 21, 2011 as: “Carjacking still has media asking about Cooper.”

Carjacked
In 1971, I was a married student with three children and at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA. On the evening of November 23, I was leaving our Student Village housing for a Boy Scout leader meeting when I was approached by a young man, in his early 20s by appearance, who asked for a ride to the bus station.
It was not an unusual request; it was the eve of Thanksgiving break at the university and hitching an in-town ride was a common student-to-student request any time of the year. I just assumed him to be a fellow student. Neither was it unusual that he wore brown cotton gloves and combat boots. November is cold in central Washington and web upper, military surplus combat boots were common footwear even for war protesters on and off campus.
I was already tired from working a graveyard shift as a shelf stocker and checker at an Ellensburg grocery store, and attending classes most of the day. The Greyhound station was only a little out of the way for me and taking him there would make me only a few minutes late for my meeting.
As we neared the traffic light controlled intersection near the station in my Chevy Nova, he asked me to turn left. I told him that the station was straight ahead. He displayed a pistol.
My military and other weapons experience helped me recognize it as a .22 automatic, perhaps a Ruger. I followed his directions to State Highway 821 South, locally known as ‘canyon road’ because it follows the Yakama River between basalt cliffs in the Umtanum Ridge Water Gap.
I glanced at him to get a complete description of him in my mind as I drove. Each time I looked, he told me to keep my eyes on the road. When we got to Yakama, I plotted an escape and told him that I was nearly out of gas. That was true, but I thought I could get to a well-lighted place with witnesses or help. He told me to keep going south on US-97 to Union Gap and stop at the cash station.
I didn’t know the location. He directed me there. I hadn’t seen one before, but as I remember it was a new concept being tested. The pumps were set up to take fives or ones and dispense gas after the deposit. I immediately planned to make a break for it if I saw an attendant, but there was none and his pistol was displayed the entire time I was outside the car. I thought he was going to take the car after I put gas in the tank, but he didn’t.
He directed me back onto US-97 and I continued driving south on the road I had not driven before. We approached the toll bridge crossing the Columbia River to Biggs Junction, OR, and I made a quick plan to jump out and get help from the attendant. As we neared the booth and I slowed my car, my unwelcome passenger hid the pistol under the military field jacket he wore.
The man at the booth was what I considered elderly and there were no other cars stopped to pay the toll. I thought, for whatever reason, it would not make sense to endanger him too. In retrospect, if his intent was to get rid of me, it would have been done on the isolated road we had already traveled.
He directed me onto Interstate-84 towards Portland. I developed another plan; I would speed and get stopped by the Oregon State Patrol. But as I gradually increased my speed, I was told to keep it at the limit.
I had never been in downtown Portland but his directions were explicit. It was not difficult by that time for me to realize that he knew exactly where he wanted to go and how to get there. I’ll not forget where he got out of my car – Fourth and Jackson.
I found a phone booth on the next block and called the Portland Police. A marked patrol car responded to my location within minutes.
I related my situation to the officer and gave a description of my abductor. The officer said it fit many young men they commonly see in that area. I didn’t know I was just a few blocks from Portland State University. Within a few minutes of his broadcasting a description on the radio, another patrol car brought someone for me to identify. Not him! Only the young man’s outer clothing matched. We left my Nova on the street and went into the station so I could call my wife in Ellensburg and make a written statement. They brought another young man into the station. Again, only the clothing matched.
I was told I needed to make another report in Ellensburg since the incident started there, and that the FBI would be contacted. When they took me back to my car, it wouldn’t start – dead battery. They gave me a jump start and gave me directions to I-84.
I arrived back in Ellensburg in the early morning of the 24th, Thanksgiving Eve, before I was officially a missing person. I made a report at the Ellensburg Police Department later that day and they put together a composite picture for publication in the Ellensburg Daily Record.
An FBI agent contacted me that evening. He asked, actually insisted, that we talk in his car because he wanted to keep apprised of another situation being broadcast on his scanner. My telling him about the previous hours was frequently interrupted by radio updates about a passenger aircraft commandeered by a man calling himself Dan Cooper after leaving Portland.
There were a few similarities to the description of the hijacker and the person who had taken me to Portland. However, the dissimilarities were enough to discount the person to whom I had given a ride as a possible suspect.
My being carjacked the day before the mystery man hijacked the Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 on that Thanksgiving eve is only another contribution to the multiple myths and speculations about the real story.

I’m sure the myths and speculations will continue and I’ll still be thankful that my coincidence was only as it was.