Hold That Thought, Better Yet, Deep Six That Thought

It strikes me as strange that when so many restrictions of Late Empire American morality have been softened– the acceptance of premarital cohabitation comes to mind – that speech has become less free, especially corporate speech, academic speech, speech addressed to a crowd, whether it be a cache of Facebook acquaintances or a classroom of high school sophomores.

How many chastened blurters in recent years wish they’d followed Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes: “[g]ive thy thoughts no tongue […], give every man thy ear but few thy voice.”[1]  

Unfortunately, throughout my life, I have not followed that advice; indeed, I seem incapable of holding my tongue. When what I consider a clever thoughts pops into my mind, it immediately pops right out of my mouth.

[cue gameshow wrong answer blaring sound effect]

In today’s academic environment, I’m fairly certain I’d be dismissed from my teaching position for any number of less-than-judicious[2] announcements I issued over the decades.

The first time I realized that I should be more circumspect in my audible musings occurred way back in the late 80s when future journalist Ballard Lesemann published in our literary magazine interesting statements by his teachers, all of which, if I remember correctly, were off topic.

Here’s mine: “REM sounds like the Byrds on bad acid.”

The statement, unfortunately, implies that I had had some familiarity with LSD, which indeed was the case, but also, that some types of LSD could be deemed good, as opposed to “bad acid.” Perhaps someone complained to one of my superiors, but I personally never heard about it.[3]  Back then, I was striving to cultivate a favorable impression.

Another less=than-judicious injudicious comment came when I was chaperoning a 6th grade trip to St. Augustine, a horrific seventy-two hours that has taken god knows how many years off my life.

Anyway, nothing irritated me more as a teacher than an arrogant child telling me how I should be doing my job. I especially took offense when little Bennington or Eliza dispensed with decorum and haughtily demanded something from their betters, i.e., I-and-I.

This was the case on the fieldtrip when at a motel the chaperones sat outside and allowed the children to run around the rooms, the stipulation being that the curtains had to be open. I was so miserable I was half-contemplating sneaking away and hitch-hiking back home when this imperious little twit came up and demanded to know why they had to have the curtains open.

Out of my mouth came this admonition: “Because we’re sick and tired every year when . . . [4]

I’ll leave you with this last lack of discernment. I don’t know how the topic of pornography came up in my honors Brit Lit survey, but it did, and I said, “Pornography is for the unimaginative,” and my best student enthusiastically informed me she was going to use that as her senior quote in the Yearbook.

She didn’t, thank goodness, but it just goes to show how difficult it is to overcome bad habits.

On the other hand, a certain frankness can hold a teacher in good stead. One thing that most adolescents excel at is perceiving hypocrisy. They possess finely tuned bullshit meters, and if they like you, they don’t want you to get in trouble.

So cheers, Ballard, cheers Courtney!



[1] Although “full of high sentence,” Polonius is more than “a bit obtuse,” a hypocrite, a fool, and no audience member rues his death. I love it when Hamlet, after stabbing eavesdropping Polonius through the curtain behind which he hid, informs his mother that he’ll “lug the guts in the neighbor room,” In the Derek Jacobi PBS production, as Hamlet’s dragging Polonius’s corpse out backwards by his legs, he chirps “Goodnight, Mother.” It’s very funny.

[2] Surprised my word processing built-in editor didn’t suggest “injudicious” given the pompous prose I’m producing in this post.

[3] I know my mentor Sue Chanson, whom I adore, shielded me from a lot of flak over the years. She herself was known for her frank appraisals, earning her the appellation, “the high priestess of the painful truth.”

[4] Redacted. Look, an old dog can learn a new trick.

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