Some classes stay with you, some just don't

Some classes stay with you, some just don't

So I had a choice: driver’s ed or speech class.

The guidance counselor offered this bit of advice.

“I know you’ll get an A in one of them,” he said, closing my file with an auditory snap. “I think you know that too.”

“OK, I get it,” I said, “but I’d like to be able to drive to the prom.”

He shook his head, rather sadly I thought.

“Look,” he said, “we could get into a whole debate about your skills — or lack thereof — when it comes to dating, but let’s not.”

“You know I’d out-argue you,” I said, not without a bit of pride.

“Which is why you’ll be taking speech class,” he said. “Agreed?”

As faithful readers may recall, I had a rather dicey relationship with some of my high school teachers, some of whom seemed to take a personal dislike to me, even before they got to know me.

Could have been the length of my hair or the old Army coat I wore.

Could have been my tendency to bend the rules, if not ignore them.

Could have been that one time when, seeking to curry favor with a coterie of classmates, I “found” a copy of an economics test and made sure everyone I knew had a good look at it before class.

As I’m sure you’ll remember, high school was a minefield filled with tripwires and subsoil ordinance, the kind of obstacle course that rewarded forward thinking even as it penalized innocence.

It’s why I skipped most cafeteria lunches, opting to brown bag it.

That reminds me of a friend of mine who had a sharp sense of humor, the guy who tagged high school pizza with the “elephant scab” nickname, a tasty moniker I found particularly satisfying.

And that’s the way it was back then. You arrived with certain expectations, and by the time you were halfway through your senior year, you realized the whole thing was still a mystery.

Oh, sure, you learned how to study, sort of, but you pretty much knew how to do that after elementary school, especially if you came up through the parochial system in which failure was sinful.

No, high school education was more about the side dishes than the entrees, which made an elective like speech class quite appetizing.

For one thing there was no textbook, at least one I can recall.

The entire curriculum was a free-form exercise in self-expression, which, when you consider this was the early '70s, made sense.

Students were encouraged to write about what mattered to them and then, when they felt like it, share their thoughts with the others.

Occasionally, there was a bit of homework that involved, for instance, creating a 10-minute radio broadcast, one that had to include not only news, weather and sports reports, but also music.

I can still recall the positive reaction when I tracked King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” as part of my presentation.

Feel free to sing along:

“Everybody here is out of sight, they don’t bark and they don’t bite.

They keep things loose, they keep things light.”

Which, I thought as I was working on my broadcast, captured the essence of speech class, a place with little or no proper structure.

And then the teacher dropped the D bomb, as in D for debate.

Are you familiar with “Robert’s Rules of Order?” The way I understood it back then, it was a rigidly codified set of procedures that dated back to the days when battles were fought with archers firing arrows at their foes who could, at any moment, lay down their arms, with the knowledge they’d be treated equitably.

This was not my idea of winning anything, let alone an argument.

I grew up competing in games mostly outside the strictures of fair play, the kind of contest in which, when you had the chance, you just stepped on your opponent’s spine until he begged for mercy.

This was not the correct attitude to bring to a civilized debate, wherein it was assumed elbows to the chin and knees to the groin would not be tolerated, literally or figuratively. But like almost anything else, once I got the hang of it, winning was fun.

Not that it was easy. Speech class wasn’t the guaranteed A my guidance counselor had prophesied; in fact, when I think back on it, I did more work for it than I did for either algebra II or physics, neither of which I was able to pass without help from, well, others.

“Resolved,” the debate would begin, all stately like something in England’s House of Commons, “the draft should be abolished.” Then the opposing sides would take turns making their cases, with time allowed for intense cross-questioning, all the while trying to convince the rest of the class (the jury) and the teacher (the judge).

We may not have changed the world, but at least we gave it a shot.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where everyone dances in the moonlight.