This is how I remember it Episode 23


Years ago the state of Michigan passed a law that said public schools could not begin until after Labor day.  I always thought it had something to do with tourism.  The folks in Northern Michigan (area code 906) wanted one more chance to have ‘Trolls’ and their money visit before it got real cold.

With a brand new business and all of the hustle/bustle of moving and taking care of Grandma, not to mention Van getting married,  the Flanders’ would learn that vacations were a long shot for a long time. So, my mind was somewhere else than thinking about going to a new school in a new town.

Second THS

Back in Ann Arbor Junior High was grades 7, 8 and 9.  Therefore I was of the mindset that I had another year of Junior High.  Alas, this new town had 9th grade as Freshmen in High school.  Instead of being the top dogs, ninth graders were low man on the proverbial totmem pole.

GF 8th grade I wasn’t  scared or worried about school, I thought of it like everything that got in the way of being at Flanders Music, it was annoying and a crappy inconvience.  I had nothing in mind that school could give me.  I wasn’t interested in connections like friend or romance.

My poor attitude was complete.  The teachers and staff had nothing to offer me.  I wanted to be able to write songs like Keith and Mick.  These people were not fans, they were the Stones’ morticians.  (I took this attitude into my senior year when in the middle of a Civics class I stood up and confronted a teacher about something he said about Rock-N-Roll.  I really let him have it, but alas more on that in a latter episode.)

And the other kids, to quote Garrison Keilor, ‘the students were a race of dullards without a single amazing and original thought.’  All of this gave me the arrogance I was looking for.  I admit and confess this is how I approached my first day at Tecumseh High School right after Labor Day in 1965.  At this point I could not understand how grateful I would be for these kids and this town for giving me 8 solid years of Flanders Music.  But not today, no siree Bob.

A new school

Back at Forsythe Junior High in the west side of Ann Arbor the school board in it’s infinite wisdom decided to help out the University of Michigan Education Department by testing out a new approach to math.  It was different and for some odd reason, I completely ‘got it’.  All of a sudden math became my speciality.  My grades shot up.  Everything was easy.

When the administrators at Tecumseh looked at my math book from Ann Arbor they kept turning it around and around. and thought it had come from Mars.  Therefore in their infinite wisdom, they said…um I dunno, put him in Algebra II.  I sat in Algebra II for a couple of weeks and wondered ‘what in the hell are these people talking about?’

The teacher was a guy who had been teaching at THS for many years.  I took an immediate disliking to him.  He was condescending and almost as arrogant as me.  He had a habit of calling on kids to come up in front and solve a problem on the blackboard then allow others to critique how the kid did.  When everyone was stumped he would start in on the next kid.

Soon it was my name I heard him call.  “Well, lets have our new student, our person from the advanced math capital Ann Arbor, come up and demonstrate some of that new U of M math.  Mr. Flanders, solve the problem on the board, enlighten us all with your syphering wizardry.”  I stumbled up the aisle and stared at the scribbling on the board.  I had no clue what it was about.  He finally gave me a pardon saying, “You can sit down now Mr. Flanders, I guess that new math isn’t all that fancy.”

As I slunk back to my seat, I glanced at the teacher and it was like looking into the eye of Satan’s butthole.  I wasn’t mad or angry, I was humiliated.  I’ve had teachers upset or mad at me for being a jerky kid, but I had not been humiliated.  It came to me then that from the very beginning, the systems we operate in either support us or tear us down.  From that day on, I hated math, any type of math.  I almost flunked Statistics in college because I could not stand math.  Interestinly, decades Later I would have a Masters in Education.

It took one day for the math teacher to inform the office that ‘the Flanders kid shouldn’t be in Algebra 2’. In a rare act of mercy, he told them not to put me in General Math, but to try Algebra 1. Of course he was the teacher for Algebra 1, which did not improve my attitude.

Midway through the semester I did impress him.  I didn’t mean to, I just did.  I had noticed a kid around the halls who was in a wheelchair.  He was always smiling but not talking to a lot of kids.  One day a secretary from the office awkwardly pushed him into the Algebra 1 classroom.She was having a hard time because the kid’s Dad had made a kind of tray that was as wide as a desk.  This means Alan had a work surface to do his school work on.

Alan moved spastically sitting in his chair. It was difficult for him to move his arms to handle a pencil. He would be in class for a couple of days then be gone for a week.  When he would appear that same secretary would struggle to get him through the door and push him over to the spot in the front where we would have the same smile seeming like he loved being here.

Alan was a math genius.  He knew the answer to everything.  He was also a rolling encyclopedia of baseball statistics.  The math teacher would ask him every day he was there:, “Alan, what is Al Kaline’s batting average today?”  Alan would get a huge grin and tell him exactly how Kaline was doing based on the game last night.

One day the teacher announced, “Alan will be back next Tuesday, is there anyone who would meet him in front by the office and bring him back to our room for class?”  The entire room looked down at their shoes and there was defeaning silence.  I waited three seconds and raised my hand, “I’ll do it.”

Wheel chair alan

Thus began my friendship with my buddy, Alan.  He would still be gone for long periods of time, and then the math teacher would say, “Gary, can you pick up Alan tomorrow?”  “Sure”, was always my response.  One day after I had picked him up from the office and was rolling down a hallway, his desk tray was not hooked correctly so the whole thing collapsed sending books everywhere.  But worse, Alan slumped forward and since he had no working muscles, he could not right himself.

I was horrified, not only had I wrecked his desk, I might have serioulsy injured Alan.  The first thing out of my mouth was a loud, “Shit!” I hurried around in front of the wreckage and looked at Alan…He was giggling! This went into a full on belly laugh.  He kept saying, “Gary, it’s ok, this happens all of the time.”  “My Mom didn’t hook the desk right when she dropped me off.”

I was able to help Alan a few more weeks before he left school for two years. After I graduated in 1968, I heard he did graduate and even rolled across the stage to get his diploma.  He died shortly after his graduation  

Alan began my discovery that there is no ‘dis’ in disability.  My life was richer for meeting a person like Alan  

One response to “This is how I remember it Episode 23”

  1. I missed this one. Very Nice!



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