O Captain

Of course I loved Robin Williams. From the moment he popped out of the lamp, I loved him, and so did the rest of my generation. We loved him when he was a painfully rapping fruit bat, we loved him when he lit his fake bosoms on fire. We loved him when he followed up Hamlet with Jack and Good Will Hunting with Flubber. He was a perfect standard bearer for us: manic, scared, desperate for attention, and willing and able to do anything that was asked of him. We reveled in his triumphs, and we forgave him a lot, probably more than any other generation of his audience ever did. Hell, I really like Bicentennial Man. But there’s one thing he did that, now, as we look back on such a varied and incredible career, that I cannot forgive him for.

You see, I grew up pretty poor: I was out to lunch with some well-to-do folks last weekend and they were chatting about how many presents they used to buy for Christmas and how they would get all sorts of wrapping paper and turn the paper into a game (whose presents would have which paper and so on) and I didn’t have the heart to tell them the story of that one Christmas where all our presents were wrapped in brown grocery bags and, like all stupid children when we asked why, I remember my parents saying that Santa had asked Mom and Dad to wrap the presents because he was in a hurry, and they just hadn’t had any other paper around.

But what we did have was an IGA, a Kwik Trip, and a VCR.

We rented movies like crazy: some good, some bad, and some I spent the majority peering over the back of the couch because of some questionable material. To this day I still don’t know what happened in that scene of Rising Sun. Still, we watched an awful lot of movies on the weekend in the house I grew up in, and I because I had three older siblings and parents who didn’t believe in talking down to their children, I often sat in front of the old Zenith and I saw a lot of movies that were challenging to an eight year old… like Dead Poets’ Society.

This is what I will never be able to forgive you for, Robin. You gave me hope. You made me think that this is what teachers do, and this is what I can do if I want to be a teacher. You didn’t tell me that no one would be able to help me, no matter how many districts I sub in, and how many people tell me I’m a fantastic teacher. You didn’t tell me that the mewling little milksops that butter up their professors get cushy jobs. You didn’t tell me that some meathead who doesn’t know “Islam” and “Muslim” are effectively the same would get a job as a Social Studies teacher over me because he knows how to football really good. You told me that a good teacher will stand out and get his opportunity to inspire and create something wonderful. In that scene, you ask “what will your verse be?” and as I look down yet another failure to add to my long list of going nowhere job prospects, the only verse that comes to mind is this one from John Dryden:

“Oh that my Pow’r to Saving were confin’d:
Why am I forc’d, like Heav’n, against my mind,
To make Examples of another Kind?
Must I at length the Sword of Justice draw?
Oh curst Effects of necessary Law!
How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan,
Beware the Fury of a Patient Man.”

Robin Williams played John Keating in Dead Poets’ Society. Robin Williams is dead, and John Keating died with him. The next great teacher is now flipping burgers or part-timing at three to four different places because he foolishly focused on being a good teacher, no glad-handing his way into good graces or making sure he knew the difference between a down-block and a pulling guard. Our best teachers will never be teachers, because not only have we as a society put less importance on education, but because we have also put less importance on thinking and learning as a life’s passion. We don’t care if Ebola ravages a continent far away, we only care that the new iPhone is on its way. We’re too selfish to realize that the next generations are doomed, and we’re too scared to reach out to a neighbor to try to make this world a better place. The unselfish, the ungreedy, the incorruptible people like John Keating are the ones bagging your groceries, and you have made them this way. You are killing them with your avarice and your indolence, and if you know what those words, then please thank the teacher who taught you them.

And yet, in these terrible times of frustration and desperation, where my Millennial Generation is abused over and over by those who demand we take menial jobs that can’t even pay off our student loans, and to thank Providence that we have even that; when we’re told we’re not working hard enough, that we didn’t do enough, and that we are the reason we can’t find good employment… at least there’s still Uncle Robin to get us through the day and tell us…

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