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@ K. 1995
Baked Goods: Discounted
This episode happened to me alone but is nevertheless symptomatic of what can happen to anyone where power is unequally assigned.
I’m in like the fourth grade. Some kid brings cookies to class. He passes them around. The teacher is profuse in her approval. I tell my mother I want to bring cookies to class. Will she teach me how to make them?
My family broke up when I was around five. My mother let my father come back for a while, then threw him out again. Sometimes my father was there; mostly he wasn’t. I can’t say exactly when was when: only that my sister and I had to be able to straighten things up and feed ourselves from pretty young ages onward. Perhaps that’s why I never developed much of the normal male-gender disdain for distaff chores. I can’t remember when I couldn’t sew or darn, wash, or iron. I do clearly remember the following requested cooking lesson, though I can’t say whether I already made good pancakes and properly fried eggs or whether that came later. I’m certain that I had never baked. My sister had, and I’d been there, absorbing some of it. But this was to be my solo performance, however much tutored.
I am forever grateful to my mother for each of the parts of her instruction:
Read the recipe directions carefully
Assemble everything you’ll need
Follow the recipe exactly, measuring carefully
& mixing thoroughly
Preheat the oven
& check the thermometer as well as the oven setting.
That was it. She found a recipe and located the flour and other dry goods. I knew where the milk, butter, bowls, and utensils were. She went and sat a discrete distance apart.
I blended the butter and sugar till my arm ached, and ached some more. I can still feel the mixture’s resistance to the fork in my hand these fifty-some years later. My mouth watered as I added the chocolate chips, but I resisted sampling the batter: these cookies were for my school mates. I greased the pan as carefully as I would one day shave. (Was that the time I lost my eyebrows lighting the stove?) Once in the oven, I too sat, but watched the clock down to the movements of the minute hand so my timing would be exact.
My mother boxed them nicely and the next day I carried them to school and handed them to the teacher. “I baked cookies for the class.” She promised to hand them out at the end of the day.
Three PM finally arrived. “Dismissed,” she announces. “But … my cookies …” I stammered. “Oh, yes …” she projected her voice — some of the kids were already out the door. “Paul brought cookies.”
Bodies reappeared in the room. Macy’s never saw anything to beat how that box was attacked. Kids were shoving cookie in their mouths as they once again bolted. “Wow,” at least one kid said. The box was attacked afresh. The teacher was herself demurely munching on one.
The other kid had been thanked. But then the teacher had given the cookies prior to dismissal. I stood in the room with the teacher and a box with crumbs in it. I hadn’t gotten any. I tasted the crumbs. Wow, was right. But my face must have remained fallen.
“Paul,” the teacher said in a tone I didn’t understand. “Please thank your mother for those delicious cookies.”
Now I got at least part of it. “I baked those cookies,” I protested.
“Paul?” Her tone was as severe as I’d ever heard. She fixed me with her eye. “Paul,
Do you think that’s why I’ve never baked again? I cook perfect rice, boil perfect eggs, make a French omlette that puffs up light. I’ve put three hours into an onion soup for two. Few Chinese restaurants can offer dishes that I’d compare favorably to my own. But I’ve never tasted bread baked by my own hand.
Or do you suppose I should have been grateful to the teacher for foreshadowing so perfectly how the rest of my life’s gifts would be received?
Actually, the publishers who return my stories don’t accuse me of plagiarism. On the contrary, they praise them. The public may have stood there with its hands in its pockets, perhaps thinking that I could fund FLEX [see post above] for them as well as create and administer it: but they certainly seemed to support the idea.
Monoculture banishes all ideas not the idea being promoted, weeds all plants not the plant planted. My teacher was trying to weed facts, banish experience, substitute faith for knowledge.
In her mind, the kitchen, food preparation, was the province of the female, mother’s bailiwick. Therefore, boys shouldn’t cook. Therefore, boys can’t cook. Therefore, I didn’t, couldn’t possibly have, baked the cookies. Secular religion was palmed as “education.” State authorized, state supervised: that is to say, improperly supervised.
I just recalled another incident from around the same period. It’s not nearly so bad, but is related. Since this next one is also kind of cute, I think I’ll tell it. My mother taught me a poem:
Of all the fishes in the seas
I like the stripe’d bass.
He climbs up on the rocks and trees
And slides down on his hands and knees.
Some of us know some party songs that set up a raunchy rhyme, then substitute something innocuous. All of us know cleaned up versions which could be played on the radio: “There once was a farmer who took a young Miss …” Or: “She’s got freckles on her
she is nice, she is nice …” Did I know that my mother’s poem was one of those? I didn’t know they existed, and it was another couple of years before I “got” the one just quoted. I laughed my head off anyway: the idea of a fish having hands and knees!: giggle.
Did my mother expect me to hear the implied rhyme? I have no idea. I don’t know if she heard it. How many naive girls have you heard tell jokes that they don’t understand? They know they’re supposed to be funny; they want to tell something funny; they tell an inappropriate joke. If my mother did “get” it, did she expect me to “get” it?
I’m in the third grade or thereabouts. The teacher asks if any of us know a poem. “I do,” I volunteer. I stand. I recite. I get to the “and slides down on his …” and I hear the teacher gasp. Loud! I see her face turn crimson. But I’m in the rhythm: “hands and knees,” I finish. The class burst into laughter.
The teacher gave me a look. As I aged I came to understand that look. But I certainly didn’t at the time.
Did the kids hear the implied rhyme? I doubt it. Could any, could all of them, have been more sophisticated than I? Possibly. I still doubt it. As I say, I don’t know how “sophisticated” my own mother was at that time.
How many kids have a clue what it means “to pledge allegiance”? “to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors?” (that’s right: I was confirmed in the Presbyterian Church) “To be or not to be”? “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ admit impediments”? How many adults?
Shouldn’t “teachers” have some acquaintance with their captives? their audience? their “students”?
(Do I? Hello? Is anyone out there? Are the messages in my bottles forever floated out forever in vain?)
That time, I never did receive any direct flack. Maybe she too figured it out. Maybe she figured it out in a few seconds. It took me years.
The fundamental purpose of education, in college as in the high-school and so on down to the kindergarten, is to set the young mind upon a track, and keep it running there in all decorum. The task of a pedagogue, in other words, is not to turn out anarchists, but to turn out correct and respectable citizens.
And boys shouldn’t bake!
Though this one turned out to be an anarchist after all: maybe because of her!
In 1995 my home page featured my personal academic Bestiary. The preceding Baked Goods Discounted story was the first chronologically, but the center of the zoo was my account of my Ph.D. orals committee interrupting my answers, including an answer which was a precis of my thesis on Shakespeare! They’d been interrupting and misunderstanding and misrepresenting far too much of what I said and wrote for a decade. I’d already reacted by founding FLEX, “inventing the internet” as it were. My still being in graduate school was a silly formality, a mere wish not to abandon a meaningless project. That story comes next: then the rest of the chronology.
Anarchist: One way a regime maintains itself is to misrepresent its critics. Once upon a time, A Roman would have a hard time learning what Christians meant by “Christian.” Throughout this century Americans have been thwarted from accurate thinking about “communism.” And throughout the past century and a half, world wide, few words, few views, have been more maligned than “anarchist” and “anarchism.” Wilson and Shaw’s Illuminatus is good on the subject, and in fact, stars an anarchist. I don’t mean a bomb thrower. I don’t mean a mass murderer. I mean someone who wants powerful institutions to mind their own business: which, strictly examined, usually turns out to be no business at all!
And speaking of anarchism (the peaceful kind, the American kind (following Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner (as well as Tolstoy, Illich, etc.))), see what my son has done at BlackCrayon.com! It’s a shame that no one but I gets the macroinformation most fundamental to that site: the main information is the information left out: I’m not there at all! No ideas, no actions, just genes.
I duplicate the above (from last year) while I gird myself to continue reposting my schools stories that got censored as a side catastrophe to the censoring of my AgainstHierarchy.org.
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