Issue 182, Fall 2007
Conventional wisdom holds that people, particularly women, become schoolteachers because they enjoy the company of children. Let me state, for the record, that I do not subscribe to this point of view, and if more elementary educators viewed the profession as I do, our nation would not be faced with the kind of intractable problems it must grapple with today.
It is not, I am afraid, the job of a schoolteacher to like children. Children are not meant to be liked or disliked, except perhaps by one another. One’s attitude to a child should be neutral, for a child is not a fully formed being, and showing any favoritism or irrational disdain may irrevocably warp a child’s development. Many children and adults in our town have long believed, without the slightest shred of evidence, that I dislike children, that in fact I am a mean, vicious person. Quite the opposite. My attitude toward children is good and proper. I am not indifferent, merely rational, and my superb record of shepherding local children toward lives of happiness, efficiency, and success should be sufficient grounds for praising, not criticizing, my methods.
I cannot speak of love. I have no children of my own. I recognize that parents must love their children, but it is foolish to expect teachers to do the same. Indeed, this is why teachers are necessary. One cannot judge with honesty that which one loves, and those teachers who claim to love their pupils—and there is an increasing number, it seems, of such persons—do not serve them well.
As for the case of Billy Fuller, I do not deny what I did. My actions were accurately described in court. It is simply that I see them in a different light.
Billy. Billy. I asked his mother, Is he a William, properly? No, the woman replied. No, he’s just Billy. What did it say on his birth certificate? I wondered. It said, simply, Billy. I did not tell her that Billy was a nickname, that no Billy would ever amount to anything. A child needed dignity. I called the boy William. Perhaps this confused him. I don’t know.
I will admit, the boy put my indifference to the test. He was not a normal child, and the temptation to dislike him, as one might an adult, was strong. He spoke when others were speaking. He created disturbances with his books and crayons, dropping them onto the floor. He made with his mouth the sounds of belching and breaking wind, and he referred frequently to his genitals and bottom when speaking. He stabbed a little girl with a pencil while looking me directly in the eye, and several times he wet himself intentionally.
My meeting with his parents went poorly. There was no father—in fact, his mother admitted that she did not know who the father was. I took her to task for the boy’s lack of discipline, and instead of reacting with anger, which might have been of some use, she broke down in tears.
It was clear that I would have to take matters into my own hands. When Billy misbehaved, I sent him to the back of the room, and eventually to the coat closet. But his disruptions there—tearing, or urinating upon, others’ garments—left me no choice but to keep him where I could see him. At first I merely tied his shoelaces to the legs of the Penalty Desk, but when that failed to calm him, I tied his hands as well.
Yes, it sounds cruel in description. But I tied him with handkerchiefs, not rope. He was not harmed. Or wouldn’t have been. His efforts to escape were sufficiently violent so as to dislocate his shoulder.
It’s true that I lied to the school nurse. I claimed that it happened on the playground. But there was no reason to involve others in what had clearly become a battle for dominion between the boy and me. When he returned to school a few days later, I expected that he might be prepared to accept my authority. But I was mistaken. He had found a packet of matches—doubtless these were easy to procure, as his mother smelled strongly of cigarette smoke—and used them, when my back was turned, to set fire to the papers on my desk.
I maintain that my response was appropriate and justified, and I will continue to do so for the duration of my incarceration. For is it not true that a child must learn the consequences of his actions? Is it not true that the most effective punishments are those which fit the crime? Perhaps it was cruel to burn him as I did, but I had arrived at a place where cruelty was the only reasonable response. The hours of pain William Fuller doubtless endured during his recovery are equivalent, I think, to the hours of frustration I spent redoing the work his mischief destroyed.
Despite all that has happened, I do not hate William Fuller. I do not, as I have said, even dislike him. It seems likely that there will be much to dislike about him when he has grown into a man, but, in accordance with my long-held policy, I shall retain my indifference to him as a person until that day arrives. Perhaps there is hope for him. Perhaps his mother will recover her senses, or the school for wayward boys he now attends will be of some use. I do believe I would have broken him, in time—but we shall never know that, now.
Do I have any regrets? I do not. Three years in prison is a small price to pay for the privilege of upholding one’s convictions. Not enough Americans are willing to say the same, I’m afraid. Our nation is weak, and shows signs of growing weaker. And when at long last we fall, do not look to me for compassion. I have done my part, and have been forsaken.