To the Editor: What kind of teacher could be a mentor?

Forty years ago, I had a black driver’s ed teacher named Mr. Caldwell, and a white one whose name I can’t remember. Both were top-notch and well respected and liked. But Caldwell impressed me—e.g., when he scolded us boys that it was high time we wore a wallet, anyway.

Or so I thought. I know now, all these politically-correct decades later, he couldn’t possibly have had a positive impact on me: I’m white! Nor, for the same reason, could I ever have really learned much from him: he was black! Nor could he have helped me with my lack-of-self-confidence issues, which I now know white kids don’t suffer from anyway.

Caldwell did exude self-confidence. He was trim, erect, dapper, polite, well groomed and well spoken. But he couldn’t possibly have mentored me in any way, even just by example, because, although I didn’t understand this all correctly way back then, he and I were worlds—or races—apart. Oil and water.

But I assure you, if I, or anyone else, had looked up to him, it would not have been for his salary, but rather only for his unique personhood. That’s something else we were benighted about in olden times: no one was required, or even expected, to carry his whole race, or to bog it down, through a heightened, or an absent, sense of responsibility; to reach down to someone who’s not even reaching up; to “help” by making school less and less what it’s supposed to be.

Norman Bleed


From the June 23-29, 2010 issue