66. Requirements

Most things are optional. Death and taxes have been rumored to be the only requirements, but, in fact, even taxes can be waived, and often are. But before most people realize how free they are, they go to school. There have been times when I’ve been able to get a budding rebel to acquiesce by saying, with a sympathetic look on my face, “You have to.” It was a strategic lie, and I always rationalized it, thinking, “This child will thank me later.” I’ve been thanked often, but rarely for that.
But the worksheet got done, and the “requirement” had been successfully transferred from me to the child. I had become resigned to “having to” use the worksheet, and now the child had
become resigned to “having to” do it. All the arguments, “This is boring,” “I already know this stuff,” etc., had been temporarily laid to rest.
Most of what we call “requirements” are actually prerequisites: if you want to do B, you have to do A first. And not all of the prerequisites necessarily make sense. Often, they are only there to help the teacher stay organized. It is possible, often preferable, and often more sensible, to learn multiplication before learning subtraction; multiplication is just a special kind of addition, while subtraction can be disorienting at first for some children. But that’s not the way it’s usually done because…because…just because. Because I’m the teacher, that’s why.
In March of 1969, I petitioned my college to waive one requirement (my third science course – space/time physics) so that I could take an extra unrequired education course. My reasoning was that I was going to be a high school English teacher, not a physicist. My request was denied. The letter of denial said, in effect, “Three science courses are required.” I started a petition to demand that the academic policy committee be required to respond more substantially to people’s petitions. Lots of students signed the petition. We won! Now they had to respond more substantially! In August of 1969, I was offerred my first teaching job. Before I graduated and started my job, I had to finish that course in space/time physics. But at least I’d gotten a substantial response. I don’t remember what it was.

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