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Mr. Stutzman

This past Tuesday was the last day of school for Ontario students. I happened to be driving through my neighbourhood at about the time the kids got out, and I could see the spring in their step and could feel their glee.

Truth is, I didn’t like school very much when I was a kid. For all the writing I do about the group of people I went to school with from Kindergarten through high school, you would think that I approached school attendance with an unmatched level of exuberance. That was simply not the case. I just didn’t enjoy being in the classroom.

Most of the time, I was bored. I didn’t find the material very interesting. Sometimes today when I see a really good program on the Discovery channel, I get a little envious of the kids today. Certainly, in my day, elementary school science was pretty much about rocks, isopods and creating maps where you were graded for how well you coloured within the lines. About the most interesting thing I remember was making a balloon blow up with a 7-up bottle, some vinegar and baking soda. Whoopee. Given this virtual vacuum of the first 13 years of my education, how I ever ended up in academia later in life is a grand mystery to me.

I was driving up to Brampton this afternoon, and I had on my XM radio. There I heard a song I haven’t heard in a long time, Buy For Me The Rain by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

To my knowledge, I have known only one person in my whole life who was a serious Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fan, and that was my 7th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Stutzman. They’re a bit of an acquired taste. Thinking about the glee of the kids and Mr. Stutzman has made me think about what it takes to “reach” me, and perhaps others of you who read this blog.

I loved Mr. Stutzman. He was C-O-O-L, in a sort of 1970’s crumpled hippy sort of way. To say that he would arrive in the classroom most days looking like he had just gotten out of bed would be an understatement. His hair was an unkempt mess. His clothes were virtually always wrinkled and sometimes his socks didn’t match. His classroom was full of junk. He was extraordinarily disorganized. To the dismay of the parents, I think he drove a truck, or worse, a motorcycle to work.

In addition to social studies, Mr. Stutzman was my homeroom teacher. I can guarantee our class was the one who never got any homework done during homeroom. Because of Mr. Stutzman, however, I can say with a straight face that 7th grade was a very good year for learning about life, even if my grades at that point were deplorable.

Mr. Stutzman did a great job of making me think. He understood the value of putting everything in context. He did a better job of bringing to life what existed beyond the boundaries of Clarence Olson School and West Judd Street. He wove things on television, things at the arcade, and things on the radio in with things in the textbooks. We once had a thoroughly engaging discussion as to why Welcome Back Kotter was so popular on television. He taught lessons using lyrics from The Wall.

We played a lot of games in social studies class. To drive home how easily people can fall victim to communism he conducted a sort of classroom experiment that I will never forget. Let’s just say the experiment started with the right to chew gum in class. He spent a lot of time preaching the value of humanity and humility. He was the Democrat in a Republican outpost—an odd duck who could reach a group of disinterested kids.

Now, Mr. Stutzman’s love of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and never quite rubbed off on me, but his ability to help me develop an appreciation for an eclectic mix of parts of culture did.

Mr. Stutzman, if you’re out there, if wanted to know if you ever reached your goal of reaching one student, you were successful. This blog proves it.

Comments

  1. great article Bonni! i loved having him as well. He had his own way of teaching. a way that we could relate to as 7th graders. as i was reading your article i thought about the Animal Farm experience. i believe that is the best experience i have ever had in school.

    Great man, great teacher!

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