PROFILES IN TEACHING #2: MR. CRAVENS: FIGHT THE KING!

The year was 1990, and I found myself sitting in Mr. Cravens 8th grade American History class. Mr. Cravens was a tall and fit, 6’4″. He had salt and pepper hair, styled in classic Caesar, with wire rimmed glasses dangling from the bridge of his nose. He was the best dressed teacher on campus. Everyday he wore stylish mock turtle necks and khakis. His soft spoken voice barely carried over the humming motor from the overhead projector, as he would lecture for 20 minutes (seemed like hours) and dictate notes in red vis-a-vis pens. After every statement he would repeat, “Do you follow? Do you follow?” The remainder of class consisted of reading chapters and answering questions from a textbook so old, John Smith himself wrote the introduction. 

I enjoyed history! I had always been fascinated by how people in the past lived. Mr. Cravens teaching technique was less than desirable, however, I had the highest grade in the class. He would announce every one’s overall averages in class. F.E.R.P.A. VIOLATION! It may have also helped that the curvaceous, and doe eyed subject of my day dreams, would stare back at me and smile whenever it was announced that I was Top Gun. Cassandra Easton! The dream weaver of my middle school, hormone soaked, years. She was right up there with Alyssa Milano!  I have never been a fan of book work,  not even as a teacher, but I got it done quickly enough so that I could stare longingly at the firm, and voluptuous…

“Psst.” I heard coming from somewhere.

“Mr. S.”

I looked up. Mr. Cravens quietly motioned to the conferencing chair with his eyes. He was cool like that. No gregarious gesture or bravado. Just a look into the direction he wanted you to go. I liked that about him. But what did he want? The man barely said three words to me all month. Did he catch me crushing on Cassie!? Embarrassed, I walked up to his chair and sat down. He wheeled his chair around to face me. He leaned his arms on his knees and stared at me for a moment. Sizing me up I thought. Then he leaned back in his chair, slowly removed his glasses and placed them on his lips.

“In the beginning, there were kings. These kings could do whatever they wanted. They had what they called divine right. Till one day, men created a document that took away that divine right. It was called the…”

“Magna Carta.” I said.

“That’s right.” he said. He went on for 25 minutes talking to me about how people took away the power of government and took it for themselves. How the king was forced to sign a document giving up his ultimate power. When it was over, he simply stared at me with the most intense eyes. The kind that would make even the most secure of individuals feel uncomfortable, let alone an 8th grader. Then he discussed why this was important to learn. “We the people, not we the business, not we the school board, but we the people….give government its power. We can also take it away!  “Fight the king, my son! Fight the king! Do you follow?” I said yes just so I could get away from him. He then sent me back to my desk. I had know idea what the hell he was talking about, but I could not stop thinking about it and what he told me.

The next day the same thing happened. Then again the following day, and the next day. I wondered if he was lonely and had no one else to talk too. He would call me to his desk almost every day of the week  discuss politics, government, and history. I called it my one-on-one tutoring! He would mostly ask questions and I would try to answer them. “I should be able to burn the American flag, shouldn’t I?”

I would reply,”No! That’s wrong!”

He would ask, “But do we not have freedom of speech?”

“Yes, but…that’s different, that’s disrespectful, ” I told him.

“Ahhh, so free speech only exists when all approve?” He stared at me with those unnerving eyes.

“Well…no, not really.” I said.

“Hmm…can you now see what the founders were thinking? Just because not everyone agrees with something doesn’t mean the government can stop you from speaking about it.  Fight the King, my son…fight the king!”

It wouldn’t be until later in my life that I could ever truly appreciate my conversations Mr. Cravens. At that time, no one took  an interest in talking to me about the world I lived in, but Mr. Cravens.  Mr. Cravens would brag about me in the teachers lounge. He would tell them what a tremendously talented and smart young man I was.  Most teachers would sneer or spit their taco salad out their nose at the mere mention of my name. Being the kid I know I was back then, I can’t blame them.  Mr. Cravens didn’t do that. He took an interest in me that no other teacher ever did.  He saw in me, not the smart mouthed, attention seeking, insecure, class clown, that I portrayed so well in other classrooms. He treated me as someone to be taken seriously. Someone that would be bold and confident enough to fight the king.

Those who know of my theater background often wonder why I don’t teach theater. I usually say something about stage moms! Truth be told, Mr. Cravens is why I love history! Its not just events of the past, but how those events have culminated to mold our future. Here’s to you Mr. Cravens…wherever you are, I continue to fight the king. Because of you, every time I teach the founding principles of our government, I begin with…”In the beginning, there were Kings!”

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