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Parshat Naso: The Apology…50 Years Later

I didn’t like my fifth grade teacher. It was the first time I had such negative feelings about any of my teachers at Wilmington Public school in Toronto in the late 60’s.

Well, not really for there was the incident with Miss Graham in kindergarten who had me, Alan Wolfman and Brian Horowitz stand back to back to back, triangle shape, in the middle of the class circle while she berated us in front of the rest of the five-year-olds. I am not totally certain but I think it was for throwing around the decorative balls that adorned the Christmas tree in the classroom. I am not sure if it’s memory revision or if it was truly the case, but in the event of the latter, I was obviously fighting for religious freedom at the age of five. And besides, what was a Christmas tree doing in a public school where 85% of the kids were Jewish anyway?

Anyhow, I think I giggled during that medieval exercise which was akin to a public flogging. At which point she grabbed my head and Alan’s and bumped them quite hard together. I was upset to say the least and my next memory of this affair is hysterically bouncing around the plastic-protected gold couch in our living room, declaring to my parents that I am never going back to school.

I somehow recovered from that episode and graduated to Miss Stot’s Grade 1 class where there were no such violent incidents. I had a bit of a kiddie crush on my Grade 2 teacher, Miss McKay. Mrs. Canton in third grade was the sweetest old lady who was like a grandmother to everyone. Mrs. Weiser of the following year was kinda’ hip, young, cool and Jewish.

And then I had Mr. Robinson in Grade 5. I hated Mr. Robinson. He was short, wore glasses, thought he was cool because he drove a motorcycle and did something I thought was completely unforgivable at the time. He favoured the girls. Yes, you heard right, he favoured the girls! He was so much nicer to them than us boys. I cannot even remember why I felt this way but I am sure it was true.

So I decided to rebel. I became the ring leader of the class and got the other kids to do anything and everything to show him my, I mean our, displeasure.

I recall making mini-hockey scenes on my desk with goalie nets made from cardboard, and sticks from wrapping masking tape to form a blade on the end of pencils. We would play with our make-shift desk-top hockey games instead of listening to the lesson. Now I know this sounds quite innocent by today’s standards – after all we weren’t walking around with our shorts so low that you could see the tushy crack like they do nowadays. But Larry Swimmer did tell me a number of years later that they almost flunked him that year because he was doing so poorly in school, being a follower of my distracting antics instead of studying. Sorry Larry.

I hadn’t given much thought of Mr. Robinson until someone posted our class picture on Facebook. And there he was, all small and nerdy standing off to the right.

But then I noticed something else in the class photo that I had never paid much attention to before, nor had given any thought to. Take a good look at the photo below and you might notice a bit of an anomaly.

Yeah, there were so many more boys in that class than girls. Do a count and you will see that there were 20 boys and just 10 girls. 

And then it dawned on me – that is why he showed so much more favouritism and attention to the girls; there were so few of them. Here you had a bunch of goofy pain-in-the-behind boys like me at a 2:1 ratio compared with the sweet likes of Rosalyn Shaeffer and Fay Druckmiller. He was probably doing whatever he could to make sure they were in a comfortable and safe environment given the circumstance of their small representation. Let’s face it, little boys are generally a lot more boisterous and rowdy than little girls, and he was probably bending over backwards so they wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle and get the proper attention they deserved.

And it made me think: How many other times in life have we concluded something with such certainty only to be so whole-heartedly wrong once new factors, information and perspectives are made known? How many other occasions have we failed to look beyond our juvenile blinders to see what someone might be trying to do for the benefit of another group, class or individual?

♪ So here’s to you, Mr. Robinson ♪… I don’t know if you are alive and well or if this will ever make it to your computer or phone, but I hereby wish to apologize for being such a bratty little snot in your classroom so long ago. I didn’t appreciate that, in the kindness of your heart and the goodness of your soul, you were doing everything you could to ensure that every one of your students would have a wonderful and happy learning experience.

My deepest apologies and I hope I will learn from it and pass it on to others as well. The lesson that it sometime takes over 50 years to see the bigger picture, and to finally take note of the beauty and goodness that others are painting in it.

And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson
HaShem loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you please, Mr. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
-Simon and Garfunkel (modified)

PS – Can you spot me in the class pic?

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