Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cry, cry.

Jonnie Comet 
Can you hear the mother cry; 
Cry, cry, mother; 
Baby on her back doth lie 
With some man or another. 
Baby take what mother give,                                                                       5 
Calling it initiative; 
‘Mamá, this is how I live; 
‘Bye-bye, Mother.’ 
A sixmonth: sixteen; what’s amiss? 
Fore the mirror weeping;                                                                           10 
No swimsuit will flatter this
Nature’s way is keeping. 
Rush from school to clinic free: 
‘R-U-4-8-6 for me!’ 
Doctor says, ‘Too late, you see:                                                               15   
‘Midnight, come a-creeping.’ 
Oh! –all agony, no pride, 
Heels in stirrups snaring; 
Motherhood thus nullified 
With medical paring.                                                                                   20 
Fair trade? –for but three weeks’ pain 
To avoid the peers’ disdain, 
And to wear swimsuits again 
With the boys all staring? 
Can you hear the baby coo?                                                                      25 
Cry, cry, mother; 
No; that joy’s denied, for you 
Cast away that bother. 
Now all babies’ bliss a knell 
Not of heav’n, but closer Hell;                                                                  30 
In your Purgatory dwell: 
Fie, fie, ‘Mother’! 
  * * *  

l. 14  - RU-486  - in former days, a ‘morning-after’ contraceptive pill whose  role as an inducer of abortion has been debated.  The narrator’s request for it at this point shows her lack of sense about the issue 


A roster of suggested improvements, for the American early-secondary school.

Between a rock and a hard place...

Jonnie Comet  
August 2001 
  Having spent what sometimes feels like an eon in and out of comprehensive schools in America in one capacity or another, I have discerned several distinct problems with the way they are run– especially in what is known as middle school, that for ages 11 to 14.  This most precious age has been subjected to some of the most short-sighted and illogical educational notions ever to come along in the whole time of man; and in my humble estimation very little of it has been any good.  What children of this age need most is consistency; and yet in the myriad of changes that face them, not only in their own society which is constantly and inevitably mutating, but in the realm of their educational environment which they ought to be able to trust as reliable, it’s no surprise that their lives should appear as topsy-turvy as they do to the rest of us.  And then too many educators and parents blame this all on ‘hormones’, or ‘the way it is’, without ever speculating that their own contributions to the lives of these poor innocents could be improved dramatically and to the children’s infinite betterment.  It doesn’t take an idiot to see that however goes the life of the young shall go the quality of the future.  So why do we continue to treat our children like guinea pigs labouring under our own foolish and selfish schemes? 
  The following suggestions are offered in the interests of remedying what has become the norm for comprehensive middle school.  An openminded educator truly interested in restoring quality education to the masses will recognise that any one of these suggestions, if implemented alone, would be a vast improvement on the average school of the American Northeast.  All of them together could become an educational Utopia.  The ideas have basis in psychology and scientific study, but are influenced by objective observation and reason just as much.  They are not concerned with existing legal or financial issues.  They do not come from long years in the ‘trenches’ of comprehensive-school education, and they pay no attention to needs or perceptions of teachers’ organisations or school administrations.  Rather, in the spirit of Absolutism, they are intended to represent what ought to be– the ideal

1. Stop making up cute names for everything. 

  When a class of people in public service tend to name every policy and process with cute acronyms or nicknames not understandable to the public (their employers) they appear as an elite group distancing themselves from the very people they are supposed to be enlightening.  It is only the sincere, student-minded educator communicating in the common language of the people he serves who can ever be truly successful.  In all my pædagogical studies I never really learned what all that terminology used by professional educators really meant.  I still don’t know and now I care even less.  There will be no reliance on esoteric ‘educator-speak’ jargon in this article. 

2. Require parents to be responsible for their children’s education in a consistent and meaningful way.

  School is not a day-care centre for busy adults to simply drop off children and leave all the educating stuff to ‘the professionals’.  A family needs to expect that homework will be important, and optimistic standards of achievement need to be clearly understood.  In all cases the blame for any child’s failure will rest primarily on his parents’ shoulders.  If a student’s home environment is not conducive to his adequate achievement and behaviour in school, that family is jeopardising the child’s welfare.  In fact a very good legal case might be made that a lack of appropriate involvement in a child’s success in school should be considered child abandonment or neglect. 

3. Homogenise classes by ability. 

  This was always the way of schools in the past; yet for political reasons over the last 35 years the reverse policy has been applied, and the record shows it has failed.  It is immeasurably more efficient for the teacher to reach all students in the class when the learning level of the students is essentially homogeneous– whether of high or low ability is immaterial.  When the class is of mixed learning abilities teachers and students become frustrated and far less learning actually takes place at both ends of the scale.  A policy of homogeneous grouping might also serve to deter schools and parents, and ultimately students, from seeking serendipitous ‘classification’ of students based on symptoms and behaviour. 

4. Stop using ‘ADD’ as an educational or behavioural classification. 

  Far too many students of all ability levels have been classified as ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ when probably most of them are just rude or undisciplined.  Classifying as ‘ADD’ does nothing to actually help the child in the long run; it only adds negative stigma to his self-esteem.  What can be expected of an adult whose formative years were spent under the perception that he cannot control his own behaviour without drugs or special care?  Career teachers will agree that such demonstrated learning troubles are far more likely the effect of a detrimental home environment than of an actual clinical condition.  Firmer, more attentive parenting will render much of this issue inconsequential. 

5. Sponsor more upper-level lesson plans, learning activities, enrichment programmes and even whole classes of students. 

  It is glaringly obvious that there’s been a void at the upper strata of academic ability for too long.  Comprehensive schools spend far more of their time, effort and budget on modifying even the most basic lessons to keep the lowest-level achievers out of the failure ranks than they do promoting achievement among those with the most potential for success.  Not only do bona-fide enrichment programmes for the bona-fide high achievers benefit the learners, they also benefit the schools themselves since the academic reputation of these students will ultimately become that of the whole school. 

6. Segregate classes by gender through the middle-school years. 

  Only the naïve and the narrowminded deny the plain scientific fact that girls and boys of this age learn different things at different rates.  More often than not ‘high-technology’ and ‘real-world-relevant’ subjects are taught enthusiastically at the boys’ level, thus perpetuating the idea of girls being a lesser caste.  In reality, girls outperform boys in other areas in which the boys’ ability has not yet reached that of the girls.  From a human-rights view it is only fair to educate each sex on its own terms, giving them identical material but at appropriate rates and in appropriate sequence.  With the distraction of the opposite sex set aside for a few years, attention to wardrobe, fashion, and flirting is decreased whilst gender identity and healthy self-esteem are enhanced.  Both sexes gain more respect for the other when they come together only in structured, mixed functions.  And there need be no major adjustment to budget or scheduling.  Remember that the scope of the US Constitution does not enforce coeducational comprehensive schooling– it only requires that education be conducted responsibly and without discrimination.  So, in light of the facts, it is very likely we are being discriminatory by indiscriminately subjecting all students to an inflexible curriculum without regard to the immutable characteristic of sex. 

7. Refrain from considering ‘block scheduling’ (the doubling of class period time) in the middle school. 

  You are facing an age group whose short attention span and susceptibility to distractions are legendary.  These students will do far better in shorter, discrete class times for specific subjects, so that the student is aware before the bell rings just what the objectives of the class and his responsibilities for meeting them will be.  The goal must be to wean them from the all-in-one-class environment of primary school towards the more open scheduling of upper school and university; and concretely delineating lessons and meeting times reinforces this. 

8. Quash the dated and failed notion of ‘whole-language’ in lieu of discrete grammar and literature classes. 

  Students of this age may never again have the opportunity to fully learn the basic principles of grammar, conjugation of verbs, parts of speech, and rules and terms of rhetoric.  Too many schools intermingle grammar and reading in the interests of providing class time for computers or Spanish when the students are still functionally illiterate in English.  They will not get more of this in most high schools; so however they are at the end of 8th year will be their highest level of proficiency– and in most cases it’s not good enough.  Further, reading needs to be emphasised as the most crucial of all subjects, fundamental to all the student’s future studies anywhere, no matter what the genre.  Yet middle schools are often content to have elementary-certified teachers in maths and science ‘take over’ reading instruction as their fifth class assignment, rather than using bona-fide reading educators who are capable of appropriate techniques and more likely to teach more thoroughly and impose higher standards. 

9. Abolish ‘teaming’ (the forming of exclusive subsets of a large student body based on arbitrary or random criteria). 

  Ironically it is the big, impersonal regional school districts which tout the sacred goals of American comprehensive schools, ‘inclusion’ and ‘globalism’, who have promoted teaming as a way to establish smaller, more intimate ‘neighbourhoods’.  Teaming is nothing more than the arbitrary structuring of student cliques.  It perpetuates the provincial immaturity of primary school, babying students too often babied by everyone else.  Ultimately the awakening will be rude indeed if they’ve never had the experience of finding themselves in a class full of strangers, as in high school, which usually assigns students only according to time, subject, learning level and space criteria.  And teaming is hardly analogous to the real world in which many occupations assign associates to many different groups in different areas.  The real reason for teaming is to allow teachers of the same core 100 students to meet regularly– an issue solved by simply providing them more time to meet with colleagues about curriculum.  Benefits to teachers should never be balanced against detriments to student environments. 

10. Do not rely on money to solve fundamental problems. 

  It always seems that the worst-performing schools are the ones most loudly clamoring for more money and complaining when they don’t get enough.  Does no-one else recognise the reverse correlation here?  Any school administration with such a focus on raising funds from the outside are obviously not focused on education.  American public education began with one woman in one room teaching twelve children with no money.  Projects were cut out of paper and books were cherished as the priceless opportunity for enlightenment they really were.  Lunch was a bowl of soup off the fire and science objectives were achieved with walks through the garden.  There were no computers or security systems.  School status was determined by students’ performance.  The basic underlying principle was that of care for children.  This is still valid today.  Poorer schools doing things like the above can and do work, through the commitment of teachers and with the help of concerned parents.  Air-conditioning, carpeting, and computers in every classroom are not guarantees of success in the important areas of a school’s mission.  Though a school may not be at the height of fashion for the given time, if its purpose is clear and those involved are dedicated to it, they may achieve far and above what those posh schools with their so-called ‘amenities’ are doing. 

11. Bring back ‘industrial arts’. 

  Only the out-of-touch will insist that every middle-school student has an equal chance at a lucrative liberal-arts university education.  And all benefit from even basic knowledge of engine repair, electrical circuitry, woodworking, metallurgy, sewing, cooking, and health service.  Draughtsmanship, starting with pencil and paper, is invaluable in teaching the principles of proportion and perspective, concepts inextricably tied to maths and physics yet too often alien to designers who have never designed anything without a computer mouse.  Instead of blithely skipping over ‘trades’ training which many claim is ‘beneath’ them or their children, we ought to be fostering education in all fields of study, handiworks included.  Otherwise the hot-shot ‘dot-com’ entrepreneur has no right to argue that TV repairmen and carpenters are overcharging him for work he does not understand and making such a good living at it too.   

12. Don’t put so much emphasis on computer education in the curriculum. 

  It is a plain waste of time to devote a full class period every day (or even every week) to computer training when these students are going to get that information on their own, one way or the other, sooner or later.  If industry requires a computer education, let industry provide it; but this is not the job of the publicly-sponsored school.  Besides computing has got so easy that any idiot can master nearly any widely-used business programme in about two weeks on the job; and best of all he will have learnt it the way the business wants him to and not on the waning equipment of a comprehensive school scrambling to upgrade their systems on the backs of the taxpayers (including those industry owners). 

13. Reinforce standards in penmanship and require handwritten papers. 

  This will never be an entirely paperless society and the writing abilities of many so-called educated Americans are bad enough as it is.  It might be beneficial to use copies of handwritten memos by haughty industry executives and ‘dot-com’ entrepreneurs in the classroom as pertinent (and entertaining) examples of functional illiteracy.  If a purpose of comprehensive schools is to make each succeeding generation more knowledgeable and better skilled than the last, this is one area which if applied, even alone, cannot help but be successful in that goal. 

14. Teach and enforce standard English grammar and rhetoric more assertively. 

  Testing standards in literacy need to be progressively raised year by year, ad infinitum.  In this growing world clear, concise communication is increasingly crucial.  The differences between casual expression, including slang, idiom, and jargon, and formal speech and writing appropriate for larger audiences must be emphasised and consistently demonstrated.  This is particularly important in those ‘other’ realms of language arts, listening and speaking.  Many media materials preferred by teachers, such as popular films on video, serve only as negative illustrations.  Verbal instructions with no written back-up on the chalkboard need to be given more frequently and for increasingly important assignments.  Students’ speech needs to be more closely monitored, both in the span of class time and elsewhere in the school domain, as their independent application of standard English is analogous to their proficiency in it.  Both these examples are directly pertinent to the real world, in which verbal directions may be given only once and one’s oral adequacy may be instrumental in being preferred for a job or promotion. 

15. Resurrect abstinence as a principal theme in all ‘health’ or ‘sex education’ curricula. 

  Both the simplest and the wisest of us know that the only way to completely avoid sexually-transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, and loss of adults’ respect is to not risk it in the first place.  It may be only because today’s young teenagers are being raised by the sexually-liberated children of the 60s and 70s; but somewhere the whole notion of safety and decency in relations with the opposite sex went out the window.  Modern schools are more likely to pass out condoms, thus encouraging children to enjoy themselves in ignorance and with a false sense of security, than they are to promote a healthy self-image and the idea of a good reputation.  So long as man is an animal there will be hormones; but the part that makes us human is our ability to make rational decisions; and surely even the arrogant and the puerile will agree that for the 11- to 14-year-old, the correct choice is to say no

16. Teach, demonstrate, require and enforce etiquette and respect, especially amongst students and towards staff. 

  Throughout the last 200 years American educators and politicians have been so focussed on removing class barriers and on endowing everyone with equal rights that the politically-incorrect idea of ‘social superiors’ has become an alien concept.  It is simply reasonable that just by virtue of his position a schoolteacher ought to expect some degree of respect from his students, especially within the classroom or school walls.  There can be no tolerance for a student who will not comply with that.  A student does not have the inalienable right to address the teacher in the casual disdainful manner he would use with a teenaged peer, over trivial points of only personal relevance, and in the open classroom.  Defiance and disrespect are taught by conditioning, both by school policies and the greater social sphere; and the only response to that must be counter-conditioning.  The school which teaches and enforces manners and respect, even to the point of invoking disciplinary sanctions against those out of line, will always be efficient at conveying meaningful education from elders to children. And any body of students who treat each other and their superiors with insufficient respect will always appear as a failure, to the students, the faculty, the public and especially to the taxpayers’ purses. 

  However archaic some of these ideas may seem, they address the intrinsic problems manifest in American middle schools for over three decades.  Of course points like these are raised whenever the issue of ‘reform’ comes up; but in the end politics, emotion and perceptions about money cause them to be swept under the carpet.  The worst factor is that of fear on the part of educators– fear that some arrogant dissenter somewhere is going to call foul, fear that some sensibility of some amoral atheist is going to be offended, fear that a lawyer may show someone’s civil liberties are being compromised.  In reality none of the improvements here proposed should appear anything but sound to the most responsible members of a community.  Yet American comprehensive education often seems incongruously devoid of a policy of effort towards expectations, behaviour with consequences, and responsibility to something greater than self and comfort.  Only when this most fundamental oversight is corrected can the true reform begin.  As an Absolutist, and parent, I can only hope, and pray, that no further damage is done to the children’s generation whilst the educators and parents and communities continue to bicker over their own concerns. 
      * * *

Descartes’ sadly misunderstood conundrum.

Blind leading the blind...

Jonnie Comet
22 April 2001

  If I were to tell you that all your life experience is not really as you have perceived it at all, but that you are actually a guinea-pig taking a test in a clinic in which we have sealed you in a virtual-reality dome and provided you with every sensation you’ve ever perceived, could you prove me wrong? 
  The answer will depend on how you determine reality.  Do you rely upon senses or thinking?
  Rene Descartes and the other absolutists of his time accepted the axiom that the cardinal nature of Man is to reason.  The faculty of Reason is, after all, what sets Man apart from lesser beasts.  This is all well, especially when we read or hear Descartes’ oft-repeated adage, ‘I think; therefore I am’.  It is so easy to assume that this idea proposes that since we can think, or reason, we can determine reality.  But in this modern and relevance-related world Descartes’ statement is highly misunderstood.  Too many people, throughout all ages, but especially now, tend to equate what they perceive with what is true.  These are the same people who will claim that any opinion is valid, and then rely so heavily upon their own assessments of people and issues and events that they unknowingly erect a smoke-screen of subjective ‘data’ entirely irrespective of the real facts.  Sadly these people will be the last to ever accept that their own application of reason may be inherently flawed. 
  When Descartes says, ‘I think; therefore I am’, he does not mean, as the typical modern American relativist may claim, that perception determines reality.  Subscribing to this misconception, it is all too easy to indulge the common logical fallacy of assuming, ‘Since I think such-and-such about this, it must therefore be true’.  For example, if an individual feels cold, he may believe that in fact it is cold– meaning that the ambient temperature is less than it usually is– in spite of the equal likelihood that he may simply have a fever and be unaware that his temperature-sensing ability is compromised, and thus his awareness about the weather today.  To debate this with him– hopefully without agitating his illness! –will result in his frustrated declaration of ‘Well it’s cold to me!  What else is there?’ 
  The first thing our misguided, suffering friend must realise is that the philosophical axiom ‘I think; therefore I am’ is an absolutist one to start with.  And it does not defend any reliance on personal relevance at all but does quite the opposite.  It condemns the concept of a subjective reality, suggesting instead that there is only one thing anyone can be sure of: that he can be sure that is the only thing he can be sure of.  In other words, I know I am thinking, since to merely question whether or not I am thinking already proves that I am thinking.  And Descartes’ point is that since that is entirely internal, as if conceived in a vacuum, not affected by outside circumstances, it can be considered logically pure, and therefore can be accepted as true by virtue of being purely reasonable.  It is only when I begin to involve perceptions of outside circumstances in my thought processes that the determination of what is or is not true becomes problematic.  
  Truth may or may not be hid from an individual, but surely he will not be able to tell it by his physical senses, nor sometimes even by his intellectual ones.  Though Jefferson has it that truths will be self-evident, by definition easily perceived as true, it does not automatically imply the reverse, that the obvious must therefore be true.  For example, I might perceive that the sky is pink, since all round I see pink; but I may not know whether or not I am wearing pink glasses.  If it is true that I am wearing pink glasses, it fundamentally alters the validity of my claim that the sky is in fact pink.  If in fact I am not wearing those glasses, then perhaps the sky is pink after all; but notice that it all depends on my awareness of some greater reality which may have been kept from me, without my knowledge that such a fact could even be possible.  Therefore any claim to reality I might make before I fully investigate the existence and status of all the truth is therefore incomplete and probably invalid.  The truly logical thinker will allow for the possibility that he may not know all the facts, but allow too that absolute truth does exist, however it may be beyond his perception for the moment or for ever.  
  Now this may seem like an inane argument, because how often might it be that I would be wearing pink glasses?  But take it a step further and consider how such a misunderstanding can influence larger issues.  The archetypical misapplication of the Descartes idea is for one to use a personally-perceived relevance as proof of a universal truth.  A relativist politician may feel that a certain plan for economy seems risky, but he measures risk by how it would affect his own personal finances and so votes against it, claiming that it is truly bad even though millions of others, about whose finances he knows nothing, may actually benefit from it.  A relativist fairgoer might say that since a Ferris-wheel appears dangerous to him, it must therefore actually be a material threat to life and limb.  Yet his understanding of the physics of Ferris-wheels, or the modern materials used in their construction, or the safety ordinances governing amusement rides, or the fact that the Ferris-wheel in question has just been thoroughly rebuilt and inspected, may be partly or entirely incomplete or just plain false, and so his report that the Ferris-wheel is unsafe may be precisely counter to fact.   
  And so far these examples might be attributed to mere idiocy on the parts of the politician and the fairgoer, and easily dealt with or overlooked, but consider how such an uninformed concept of reality can affect one’s whole lookout on the rest of life.  For example, a certain butcher might perceive that his shop is being boycotted by ethnic Semetarians.  He has not seen a Semetarian come in for five or six days, and whenever he rings up some of his regular and satisfied customers who are Semetarians he gets their answering machines.  What this butcher may not know– perhaps because he never bothered to think about it– is that this week is a Semetarian religious observance, and there may be mores for Semetarians about fasting and attendance at prayer services, for the term of the holy week but not beyond.  But based on what he perceives, he concludes that Semetarians no longer wish to buy meats from him; and since it seems that only Semetarians are doing this he forms an opinion about the Semetarians’ buying habits and how they feel about non-Semetarian butchers.  His resentment towards Semetarians appears justified to him based on what he perceives where he is at the time. In other words, his personal perception, not his logical reasoning, determines his working concept of reality.
  The reality this butcher does not recognise, but easily could, is that his conclusions came from incomplete or even invalid information.  He may never consider that his competitors are also missing their regular Semetarian customers.  It may be that the Semetarians will return after their fast and buy twice as much meat as on other weeks.  Others might have come through the shop this week and just not mentioned to him that they were Semetarian.  But if this butcher is unwilling to grasp a reality that transcends any one butchery in town, any one week in time, or any one group of people, his immediate, relevant, and personal perception may fix for him that the Semetarians are deliberately choosing to avoid his shop in particular.  Not understanding why, nor even comprehending that there may be a reason which has nothing to do with any subjective assessment of him or his shop, his reliance on personal perception alone can lead to an irrational resentment which could of course grow into something more socially reprehensible– and perhaps bad for his business, which would only exacerbate his resentment. 
  Of course it is entirely possible to prolong such a debate over perceived reality and absolute truth to the point where the minutest points about the concepts are bandied back and forth ad nauseum.  The focussed, most applicable reality is that thinking Man must accept that he might not have complete awareness of all realities affecting his existence at all times.  Rather than to accept as truth only what he can perceive and to act upon that assumption– for I cannot refer to it in any better terms– it is his duty to seek more data, especially that which his personal judgements may deem distasteful or disconcerting, before deciding what is and is not reality in the given case.  In the absence or unavailability of such definitive data, his only logical recourse is to accept that he simply cannot know for sure, no matter how discomforting that may be for him to admit.  It is when a man allows his own comfort, whether physical or intellectual, to shield him from acceptance of true reality that he casts off the one divinely-granted attribute which makes him Man in the first place.  Without the deliberate exercise of that marvellous Reason in situations which call for it, he is no better than a brute. 
  The secondary ignorance which results from modern Man’s utter dependence on his own personal perception would have irritated and incensed Descartes himself. To show even the barest modicum of respect to his idea, the least we can do is to stop misunderstanding or at least misapplying him– for our insistence that we understand only proclaims to the better enlightened that we certainly do not understand after all. As a certain more famous absolutist has said, 
  ‘If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but that ye say, ‘‘We see”, therefore your sin remaineth.’ –John 9: 41
   * * *

The ballad of Bonnie Good.

Jonnie Comet
August 2000

from Pamela; or: Virtue Reclaimed

When I was just a bonny lass
A-dandled on my mother’s knee,
She wept and gave these words to me:
‘Your papa’s gone, gone by the war.’

Alone, forlorn, she brought a son                                                               5
His father’s likeness, fine & free;
But one day wept and said to me,
‘Your brother’s gone, gone by the war.’

Thence married me to cobbler Good,
Who took his duty, o’er the sea                                                               10
Till sergeant knocked and said to me,
‘Your husband’s gone, gone by the war.’

Thus father, brother, husband gone;
My son a man, their mirror be;
Came he unto me, reverently:                                                                    15
‘Mamá, I must go for the war!’

I held my heart, stood firm, and cried:
  ‘No child of mine, thy father’s pride;
  Thy uncle’s, grandpa’s dream beside,
  Thy mother’s only hope and joy,                                                             20
  So bold a man, so young a boy,
  Shall will thy mother’s fears annoy;
  Thus take no musket, pistol, blade,
  In futile hope or fusillade:
  No more, no more, the proud cockade:                                                    25
  I’ll see no more mine gone by war.’

* * *

All the young tarts.

There but for the Grace of God...

Jonnie Comet
17 July 2000

  So you’ve got yourself to middle school now, and you’re unlucky enough to go to a coeducational school, where the guys are.  And you’d hoped to find that they all really like you, because it’d make your life easier, since you’d love to know that at least one of them likes you in particular, because after all that’s what we’re all supposed to want, right?  But so far here’s how they’ve been treating you:

  Your shoe’s untied and you stop and bend over to tie it and some guys walk by and one of them says something about your tush or the angle you’re on or how the level of your head is ‘just right’.  Or you’re reaching up to shove the books into your locker and one of the guys says something about how high your top rides up or what size you must be now or what a ‘nice handful’ one or two things might make.  Or maybe you hit the jackpot and get an actual one-to-one with one of them, and after a few minor words he says something about ‘getting together’ and starts asking you about your dating experience, and what you’ve done and what you haven’t, and whether you’d try this or that if only you had the right guy– indicating himself of course– and you feel profoundly embarrassed because you haven’t the faintest clue about what he’s saying except that you know other people are talking about it too and, after all, you’re smart enough to figure it out, but you’re not sure you need to know about it like he’s suggesting you should, and you feel like an idiot until he really starts driving at you with the questions and you get the urge to just run away like a scared rabbit, punch him or at least hurl one good solid verbal insult back at him, and all those other guys too, something with a wonderfully nasty-looking wince on your face and one or two choice obscenities thrown in to let him know you don’t indulge in his kind of slime, the miserable scumball that he is, but you know that when you do he’ll just seem to like it more and keep at it and, worse, he’ll tell everyone else too, so you can get known like that.

  Have I got any of this right so far?

  This seems to happen all the time, with every guy that’s even remotely interesting.  And the only thing you can think by now is that you must really be a total tart.  You didn’t used to be; but everything about your life is totally different than it was three years ago.  Well, first, you’ve got a body now– you didn’t have that three years ago.  Everyone seems to be paying attention to you– men and women both.  You’ve got a shape other women love to hate you for, and you dress like you don’t care– or worse, like you do, and they hate you for it either way.  The men– well, you know what the men are thinking, and if you don’t you will in another year or so.  Every guy from 12 to 100 stares at you; and the awful part is, there’s a good-sized bit of you that actually likes it, and, even worse, there’s a little bit of you that actually wouldn’t mind doing whatever it is they’ve got in mind.  Oh, Lord! –what a tart you must be.
  Now the Darwinists will say that all of this is perfectly natural, that the strange attraction you feel towards that kind of scumball is normal and you ought to be brave enough, or intelligent enough, to just admit it and accept it.  But there’s a problem with believing this.  It suggests our basest feelings represent our true selves, that we are nothing higher than naked apes and it’s the way of all flesh.  That’s a pretty sad way to think.  If we were put on this earth with all the marvellous faculties and abilities we have for no other reason than to do as all other warm-blooded creatures do, then what’s the point of being here?  All our logic and faith tells us this can’t be the case.  Man, as an animal, is an admirable piece of work... ‘how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.’  It’s a crying shame to simply toss all that out and deny that we are ever called towards more than birth, sex, nursing a few infants, and death.
  But people who accept the Darwin argument are never going to be truly valuable in society– they only think they are because there’s so many of them; and the reason there are so many of them is because it’s an intellectually lazy way to think.  And men in particular are particularly lazy intellectually.  When a guy comes on to you with the attitude that ‘You’re a girl; I’m a guy– hey, let’s get together’, remind yourself that he probably follows an ideology suggesting he is directly descended from smelly apes who poop on each other, and the resemblance at the time ought to be crystal-clear to you.
  The truth is that there are only two things keeping you from being the tart you have been dreading you’ve already become.  The first is the love of God.  I’m not saying the will of God– no, not His will, powerful as that may be.  No, I mean the love of God– that true love, unconditional, unchanging, never-ending.  This is the love of a good father, who cares for you and teaches you and protects you from hazardous situations, and then takes you back in with open arms and repairs the damage when you’ve gone wrong anyway.  So you always have somewhere to turn whenever you are in doubt of what to do or how to act.  No child of God will ever be unwelcome in His house, because He chooses to love us all.  So you are never lost, bad as you think your situation might be.
  The other thing is your will.  God grant you a will like His own, so that you would have the ability to choose between His way and any other way.  Certainly God is not interested in seeing you become a tart.  But all His efforts at trying to prove to you that He exists and that you ought to follow Him will amount to nothing if you choose to turn your pretty head and ignore what He’s trying to say.  You have to remember that at any given time, you can say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.  You can decide what you will be– tart or virtuous woman, the choice is all yours and you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
  Only those who choose to believe in God and accept His love and His rules for good living ever realise this.  They are saved even before they have doubts, because they know there is always an alternative to sin, and that is to follow God, live under His roof, abide by His house rules, have His protection, receive His love.  God is your best friend and your most powerful ally.  He can bear any confidence and intercede in any problem you have.  –‘If God is with us, who can be against us?’
  Now the next time some guy makes a lewd comment, it would be unchristian to reduce yourself to his level and respond in kind.  Don’t play his game at all.  When he looks at you with sinful thoughts on his mind you play right into his hand by replying sinfully.  No; the correct thing to do is to smother him with virtue.  Act as though you don’t understand what he said– never mind that it makes you blush.  Say, ‘Pardon me?’  First of all, just saying that in a respectful tone will throw him off.  Guys don’t know how to deal with a young lady using real manners.  Oh; he’ll try again in some other way, if he’s really persistent.  But you’ll respond again like before. –‘I’m sorry; do I know you?’ –or, ‘I’m sorry; did you want to talk with me?’ –or something to indicate you were not aware you were supposed to value what he’s just said, as though you’re too nice to have got it at all.
  The main thing is to do it with absolutely the best manners and most ladylike– let’s even call it ‘prissy’ –tone that you can.  A scumball can’t handle that.  He’ll immediately brand you a prude and go off in search of someone who gives him less trouble; and what should you care if he calls you a prude? –for the opinion of a scumball isn’t worth anything and sooner or later everyone figures that out.
  You may wonder now why simply insulting him isn’t easier to be rid of him faster.  Well, you’re thinking; and at least you do want to be rid of him.  The reason insults won’t work is because deep down inside this kind of guy believes that he really is a scumball.  See; it’s the Darwin idea at work.  When you insult him, it meshes with that– he doesn’t even know it well enough to admit it, but you’ve just validated his deepest beliefs.  It’s easy for him then.  He doesn’t have to try to be anything more than a scumball, because the woman he’s attracted to already accepts him that way.  He’ll continue to insult and degrade you until he’s certain he’s brought you down to his level, where he feels most secure– where he is in charge, in his scumball world.  The single worst thing a woman can ever do is to allow a man to believe that being nothing more than a scumball is acceptable.
  Ultimately, countering with politeness will do exactly the opposite.  It doesn’t change the fact that the guy is interested in girls.  It won’t change the fact that he still may believe some of them are available tarts.  What’s different is how he will change after attempting to insult you.  You let him know that acting like a scumball is unacceptable, that if he wants your attention he’s going to have to earn it, and that he’ll have to try being more gentlemanly and polite to do it.
  Now there are two kinds of guys who’ll insult you and they’ll each handle this differently.  The true scumball doesn’t want to change from being a scumball; and, since you obviously want him to change, he’s not going to go there.  He’s lazy.  He’ll decide that you’re not worth his effort and just go after a real tart who doesn’t ask him to be anything but a scumball.  The sooner he realises this, the sooner he’ll give up on you.  You don’t need this guy anyway; so my advice is to be quick about it and spare both yourself and him a lot of aggravation.
  The other guy is the one who acts like a scumball because he thinks it’s expected of him because so many other guys seem to be scumballs; but he has a great potential for being a gentleman.  This guy will at least try to rise to the challenge you give him.  He’ll immediately apologise and possibly go away and approach you later with a better comment.  Be wary– but sound him and see how well he does.  It might be amusing.  It might even lead to something good.  After all, by trying to look like less of a scumball he’s making an effort to earn you.  But don’t let your guard down.  Don’t even meet him halfway.  Let him know in no uncertain terms that it’s going to take everything he’s got.  If he’s worth it, he’ll meet the challenge.  If he’s really just a scumball after all, he’ll give up and you won’t have lost anything anyway.
  Of course a guy who’s already a gentleman would not have made the lewd comment in the first place.  He’s probably been gazing at you from afar and, I assure you, though he is not stupid his thoughts are anything but lewd.  One day you will meet eyes with him, and he will say shyly, ‘Hi.’  It might take another few weeks for him to say more than that.  This is the way he sounds you out.  The best way to encourage him is by keeping your guard up and keeping your standards high, because that’s what’s attracting him to you.  Don’t worry about losing him– if he’s really good enough he’ll pass every test, and you won’t end up with a scumball.  This is how confident girls with less than goddess-like looks are able to get attention.  They attract it by sheer force of goodness.  Lesser people can’t handle that.  You see, it’s got nothing to do with your looks.  It’s got everything to do with your virtue.
  The deep-down secret which every guy will ultimately confess is that he just wants a nice, sweet, innocent, virtuous girl to fall head-over-heels in love with no-one but him.  Note, I said every guy.  Most of them know what’s required.  The best of them already try to do it.  The scumballs are just either stupid or lazy– probably both.  There’s simply no reason to accept a scumball; and you should never give up as so many modern women do and say, ‘All guys are scumballs’.  If that appears true it’s only because there are so many lazy or stupid women out there who accept them that way.  Most guys are essentially lazy– they won’t change if they don’t have to.  The best ones are hard workers and they’ll accept any challenge if the reward is appropriate.
  This is where you come in.  You see, you are the reward.  We all know you don’t get something for nothing– everything has its price.  And... ‘the price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies.’

* * *

A delicate affair.

Jonnie Comet
15 July 2000

Tis an old maxim in the Schools,
That Flattery’s the food of Fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.

  In block-heeled shoes too heavy for her frame she traipses up to the house, having slyly bade her mother leave her at the kerb.  Ringing the bell she is greeted by the housemaid who comments on how lovely she looks.  It’s an oft-heard comment and fairly given; yet she blushes more today that ordinarily.  She’s attired herself most presentably this afternoon in the maturest of her party-going wardrobe, though it is hardly the first time she’s made the effort.  In fact this is hardly the first time she’s been here. Familiarity doth breed contempt in all but the most virtuous of maidens; in their case it doth breed quite the opposite.
  When the housemaid conveys to her that the girls are off on a hike and not likely to be back before dinner, she responds, ‘Oh!’ –only shallowly feigning disappointment.  For she had suspected, or hoped, that her own sister and the motherless young mistress of the house who are close friends would be busy in girlish pursuits elsewhere.  Asking after the master of the house she is shown below stairs to where he is mixing some passage of digital video in the studio.
  He is surprised but obviously not displeased to see her, for the moment withholding the comments that might have been appropriate about her pretty dress and the tinge of makeup which her sweet young face scarcely wants.  ‘I brought the paper you said you would help me with,’ she says carefully, tentatively lowering the school bag to the floor.  ‘If... you have time.’
  He nods.  ‘This may take a while.’  He thinks better of that.  ‘How long are you able to stay?’
  That question! –she gathers her composure and remembers her station, saying carefully, ‘As long as my sister can.’
  It is agreed without words: she is staying for dinner.  Demurely she sits beside him at the console, studying the screen intently, and, as usual, they are at once teacher-and-student and co-learners together.  She listens to his side comments about piano tuning and visits to Europe and the origin of some Shakespeare quote, fascinated, amused, receptive.  Her eager mind and willingness to demonstrate its fruits make her an efficient co-worker; and over the next hour the video is satisfactorily mixed down onto tape for later broadcast in the sitting room.  She receives a credit in the end-title sequence as ‘Assistant to the Producer’, which she regards much less whimsically than does the one who dared call himself ‘Producer’ on the homemade basement production of his child’s acting.  It is an accolade for her, a memory of the afternoon she spent in company one-to-one with him, working not merely as coworkers but as friends, even– and she dares only carefully to contemplate the word– as peers.
  Up in the house the children return and find this twosome sitting at the library table, he pouring earnestly over her writing assignment whilst she poises herself as close beside him as her decorously crossed knees in the skirt will allow.  Of course he has criticisms for her, and she will bear them well; but he pronounces it a solid piece of work ‘for a first draught’ –and then, with the audacity only a former schoolteacher can muster, directs her to sit there at the table and rewrite the whole thing.  He even provides her with the proper lined paper from a drawer.  And then she is alone, but only in the room; his comments scribbled in the margins and the knowledge of his genuine interest in her achievements, however sophomoric they truly are, abide genially in her head and her heart.
  Anyone else who heard, ‘Nice effort– now change all of this and rewrite it,’ might have balked at once, cursed the accuser, and tossed the only draught upon the fire.  Perhaps if anyone else had told her so, she herself might have done the same.  But now, in the intimate, greying light of the library, she scrawls away, striving to include all his suggestions in the context intended whilst deliberately maintaining her most delicate, feminine hand, beautiful in its adolescent elegance, the odd misspelling and misplaced modifier notwithstanding.  It is the handwriting she would use for a love letter; though she has never written one– that is, before now.
  Dinner, typically sedate for father and daughter alone, becomes something to anticipate tonight with two young guests to table.  Still there is a solemnity to entering the candlelit dining room, deep red and bright white, with the expanse of mahogany table spread out before them, its islands of white lace and bone china seeming leagues apart.  The young mistress of the house takes her place three metres from her father and her confidante to her right, so that the place of honour is left to the second eldest of the party, across from her sister and at the right hand of the host.  As he seats her in the way he might have seated any other guest she blushes, knowing no boy in her class would ever have made the effort.
  Indeed she must scavenge up every scrap of etiquette learnt from her mother and grandmother from the depths of a will too often diluted by what passes for protocol among teenagers.  But she knows the occasion calls for it; and having been so genteelly treated today she will not disappoint.  The linen napkin is spread open in her lap, draping over her legs farther than is covered by her own skirts.  She breaks her bread to butter it, sips from the spoon with nary a sound, and compliments the soup.  Her host initiates a lively discussion of the video and she cheerfully participates, true to her age in owning a little too much of the production credit for herself.  But in the next quiet moment she effects a more elegant air, much too transparent to everyone but herself, and remarks sincerely that dinner by candlelight is so charmingly old-fashioned.  Her host smiles, pleased that any young person in this day and age would admit such an anachronistic sensibility.  ‘I could eat like this every night,’ she says offhandedly; and, whilst genuine, it is also a thinly-veiled invitation to be invited back.  For those at the table there is no doubt that she will be.
  The big television set makes a rare appearance, switched on solely for the purpose of airing the video mixed down this afternoon.  The two younger girls cheer and gloat over their own performances, teasing each other and begging to have parts played back again and again.  The best friend’s sister is reluctantly caught up in their humour; she is drawn out by the host’s jokes and participation in the fun but only guardedly. For this evening she is a young lady in a short skirt and makeup who will not compromise her dignity for childish antics.
  Her essay, ostensively her reason for coming today, is read again and pronounced a success.  It will never be perfect; yet both principal players have different reasons for believing why not.  One is too much a perfectionist about writing; the other too passionate about making personal positions known.  Neither has entirely succeeded in the self-assigned missions of the day; yet neither will pronounce it a failure.
  At eight her mother comes to collect them; and her sister makes some foolishly immature attempt to hide and prolong the visit by such means as she can, abetted of course by the mistress of the house herself.  But the senior dinner guest levels her chin and rises to her full height in the block-heeled shoes, extending her hand to her host and complimenting him on the hospitality.  ‘Thank you for inviting me,’ she says graciously.  They both know she had more invited herself; but both too are convinced she always be welcome in future.
  Her mother waves from the car, grateful for a family friend who will gladly deign to entertain and chaperon her children on the long summer days of school vacation.  He says it is no bother; he enjoys their company.  How much of an understatement this is may be anyone’s guess– he surely will never confess it aloud.
  But why should our wearied old friend not claim some satisfaction from the attentions of such a delightful young companion?  To be sure, she is everything lovely, beyond merely young; she is affable, intelligent, fair, generous, virtuous, eager to learn, and respectful and admiring of his experience and opinions.  She might draw many kinds of attention from many kinds of males– and surely does– yet she chooses to dwell on him alone, considering what he is to be worthy of her time and efforts to impress.  It is impossible to overlook– in all her efforts to appear casual, she is gravely serious; in trying to appear artless, she is shamelessly cunning; in her ladylike aloofness she is single-minded even to the point of entertaining implausible fantasies.  To be the object of this is high favour indeed; and our friend must tread a tightrope between the healthiest limits of encouragement, to keep her in his care, and restraint, to keep her at a safe distance.
  On one hand his young admirer is fragile– the wrong sort of response would ruin her, his child’s friendship with her sister, his friendship with her parents.  The love innate in all these relationships is what has earned the unwavering trust.  But on the other hand she is more than just a friend, a child’s friend, a friend’s child.  Her brave attention to him is validation of everything he means to be for all young people to behold– a kind of model for them all of what ought to be a man in this world.  She is all teenaged girls everywhere, who are precious in what they are and stand for, at once both engagingly nubile and yet blithely naïve.
  This is what young people are about; and their emotional or physical desecration at the hands of one who knows better is itself the demise of a Christian society.  The mission of every adult must be to nurture them towards responsible, virtuous, Godly adulthood, demonstrating what appropriate relationships are in all their stages and guises.  If she, tabla rasa, has invested in him her impressionable innocence, it is his moral duty to uphold that trust, taking care to impart to her those lessons which only an honourable man who is not her father can ever teach her without ever going past the demarcation of propriety.
  It is a delicate balance; but as she honours him he must in turn honour her by being the very best he can be, demanding of himself attributes which only the most carefully cultured, educated, ethical man can put into proper perspective.  Fortunately, this is our friend’s God-given forte.  His affinity for the company of young people is well known.  His reputation for being appropriate and more fatherly than friendly with them is above reproach.  His faith that the closest of his friends know this is unwavering.  His sense of obligation to them is sacrosanct.  The trust they place in him so often for the best welfare of their children is his greatest honour.  To acknowledge some small degree of satisfaction from an afternoon and evening so innocently and respectably passed is therefore to him the height of ecstasy.  After all she is by now a dear friend of his own; he welcomes, entertains, teases, teaches, values her in the ways that he ought to.  They will never be lovers; but she shall be cherished in his heart forever.
  His young admirer may not understand the half of it.  What her innocent heart knows is that he is a man, one of the best of the species, entertaining, warm, caring, noble and virtuous.  He is a safe object for her interest– he seeks to educate and entertain, not debase her nor demand anything onerous from her.  What she does not know is that for her this is only a practice before the real thing, that, one day when this all seems like silly schoolgirl stuff, she will have seen enough of the world to regard him as a role model by which she might gauge adult men in general, to help her determine the one she will wish to spend her eternity with.  No fourteen-year-old boy will ever be able to fill that role for her.  One can only hope that some day, inspired by the standards of a young lady sure of what she wants and resolute about what she is willing to do for it, some former fourteen-year-old shall.
  It can be considered an admission of either the basest pride or the sublimest satisfaction for a mentor to delight in the success of a pupil.  Our friend will readily acknowledge that he has taught only what was always good, and that his young charge has chosen to follow the good path and done well in it only of her own volition.  That she has become so universally charming is only proof of her own predisposition towards virtue; and he is only the more honourable to acknowledge it without shame.  After all it is natural that a young lady should investigate men, and the more she seeks him, the more good he can do for her.  Through her burgeoning interest she tests her own identity and, receiving the right sort of attention, learns what she is and what a man ought to be as well.  In the hands of the right sort of idol she will be respected, valued, taught and bettered for it and, in due time, come to value herself more for having known him– and that is the greatest joy he can derive from having known her.
  So, cynics, call him a flattered fool who condescends to delusions that he might be striking enough to be sought by a young charge.  Question his pride, that he might think himself worthy of her heart’s attention and responsible for her mind’s education.  Accuse him of indulging his own special fantasies; suspect that they might be improper.  Yet the irreproachable will accept the truth, that as an Idealist, humble and honourable, his most earnest fancy will always be that the whole world might be as innocent of guile as his young admirer’s interest and as true to virtue as his response to it has been.  For the fact shall ever remain– that only a true gentleman deserves to inspire a true lady.

* * *

epigram  - Tis an old...  take a bit  - Swift; Cadenus & Vanessa; 1713