|Image Source: Unapologetically American|
To my fellow veterans: happy Veteran's Day. I salute your Giri (Japanese): duty, obligation, honor to this nation.
Van Bullock (R.I.P.) was my ninth grade Social Studies Teacher. He was a short, stocky man with an impressive bearing and presence, white-haired mop hairdo kind of like Moe Howard of the Three Stooges in wire progressive lenses. It was 1976, our country's Bicentennial year, 8 years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as the country tried mightily to build bridges in the place of previous De Jure and De Facto walls. Mr. Bullock's teaching technique was using stenciled notes he passed out to all of us, particularly me and Ve Pauling and lecturing with the fire of a camp meeting preacher. (Ve is my fraternity brother in Kappa Alpha Psi; he and I realized at A&T's homecoming - GHOE last month that we've known each other since the fifth grade, attending middle school, high school and college together.) It was pre-Cable Service; pre-24-hour entertainment and news; pre-Internet. It was three years before the first rap song - King Tim the III, Personality Jock, and the first rap album - The Sugar Hill Gang burst on the scene my junior year. Fashion for me centered around acne, Afros and Bell Bottoms. The distractions in class might have been an unannounced fart, a pretty girl next to you or a view outside the classroom window.
Van Bullock would lecture and captivate a crowd of 25 fourteen-year-old teens from view and girls that HAD the notes in front of us: we still took notes in the margins, on the back of each stenciled page. Tests were open book, open note and challenging: he expected great detail and essay answers. The name of the class was Social Studies, but what he was teaching was lessons of citizenship: Civics.
Civics (n): the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works. Meridian-Webster online
Mr. Bullock was teaching Civics because he had the freedom to do so. He was not held to the standard of preparing students for a high-stakes standardized test because no such machination existed from the testing industrial complex. He did not have the pressure of "teaching to the test" with the wink-and-nod from Principal and Superintendent stating the party line that you were not to, knowing full well your end-of-year evaluation depended on how a teenager who's frontal lobe could misfire on the very DAY of that high-stakes exam, put his head down and take a nap...>_<
Van Bullock was teaching all of us, in a forced-bused integrated class in East Winston the rudimentary fundamentals of citizenship. Though forced, it exposed us beyond our cultures and expanded our tolerance, friendships and spheres of influence. We were learning - side-by-side - together. We looked different, we lived on different sides of town and if we attended worship centers probably had different perspectives on that as well. We could all agree that learning those building blocks to take on the responsibilities of the adulthood and the world we were all growing up into was important. We had classroom debates; mock elections: history came alive in that man's room! We learned (hopefully putting a few at ease), to make, change or ABOLISH a Constitutional Amendment it takes a 2/3 majority in both houses of congress (67 senators; 292 house members) and 3/4 of the states - 38 in our case - to ratify it in their legislatures. I tried to capture and emulate that magic every time I taught physics and math at Manor High School. Sometimes I was successful; sometimes I wasn't.
I assumed wrongly that this would always be the focus of our nation's education enterprise, preparing citizens for ownership of our federal republic.
I am sadly aware Mr. Bullock, quite clearly that it is not.