ERROL CASTENS: Junior high, politics – same blame game

ERROL CASTENS

ERROL CASTENS

As soon as attendance roll had been taken that day in eighth-grade math class, Mrs. Johnson (name changed to protect the guilty) issued notice of a pop quiz.

I don’t remember now what was on the test, but I remember vividly what happened during it.

Mrs. Johnson handed out the quizzes, and I began to solve the 10 problems as accurately as I could.

When I was about halfway finished, the kid behind me blurted out an accusation as unexpected as the proverbial lightning bolt from a clear, blue sky.

“Castens is cheating off my paper!” said the boy, whose name, mercifully, I disremembered decades ago.

I turned around in my seat and faced him.

“You’re a liar!” I declared.

My innocence seemed self-evident: I was seated ahead of this prevaricator – in the front row – and my eyes had been glued to my paper.

In seven-point-something years of matriculation, I had never been accused of cheating.

Even if I had desired to get an unfair advantage on the quiz, I certainly wouldn’t have been copying answers from the paper of one of the least-performing students in the class.

I assumed Mrs. Johnson would quickly acquit me and chastise the accuser.

She took on a posture of righteous indignation, all right, but she aimed it squarely at me.

“Castens, you don’t call anybody a liar!” she yelled. “I don’t call anybody a liar, and I don’t allow anybody else to use that word!”

She turned around and huffed back to her desk chair, obviously self-satisfied at having put me in my place, without so much as a disapproving glance at my accuser.

That my classmate had intentionally besmirched my character and risked costing me a failing grade may not have registered with Mrs. Johnson.

That “cheat” and “lie” are essentially of equal value in defaming someone’s character may have been lost on her.

That she had furthered instead of rectifying an injustice that it was her job to solve may not have occurred to her.

She took umbrage at the word “liar,” and nothing else mattered.

Mrs. Johnson petulantly demanded her own brand of civility – avoiding the use of the word “liar” even when it fit the situation exactly – while studiously ignoring the greater incivility of false accusation.

She was offended by my choice of words – or pretended to be – to the point that she lost all perspective of what was true and just.

My classmate got exactly what he wanted: He not only told a lie against someone he’d decided to make his enemy and got away with it; he was even made a victim/hero for his lie.

Given the state of our country today, I’d almost bet money that my long-ago classmate became a politician.

Errol Castens is the Daily Journal’s Oxford-based reporter. Contact him at errol.castens@journalinc.com or (662) 816-1282.

  • TWBDB

    And most likely a Tea Party Repulican

    • Abner

      TWBDB…..If I make an obviously false accusation about you, what would your reaction be? Suppose I pubicly accuse you of being a racist, or of waging war on women, or being mean spirited. Would you smile and show compassion toward me? Or would you take action to try to clear your name.?

      • TWBDB

        Excellent question. Every time I over-react, I lose credibility. If I come from a place of respect and maturity, even if I’m in the wrong, I can recover. So, I would ask you to explain why you feel I’m a racist, why you feel I’m waging war on women or being mean spirited, or why you feel I was cheating off your paper? I’m not perfect Abner and I don’t always respond this way. But without fail, I hate it when I don’t because that ends my opportunity to learn from the situation and, right or wrong, I feel, and often appear, foolish.

        Mr Castens’ story is the perfect example. Maybe his classmate was falsely accusing him? We’ll never know. We only have one side of the story from a man who was quick to anger at his classmate. Mr Castens’ even says out of the clear blue his classmate blurted out the accusation – - – and he never says anything about ever asking that classmate why? He just assumes the classmate did something to him with malice; even that assumption is immature.

        • TWBDB

          Abner, I would suggest you reread this story and notice the accusations being made and specifically the line, “I assumed Mrs. Johnson would quickly acquit me and chastise the accuser.” There’s a line of truth in that statement which speaks to the entire story.

          • Abner

            To sum it up…you have accused Mr. Castens of hating the sinner while making excuses for the conduct of the classmate and the teacher. Surely in your world, if the classmate really thought Mr. Castens was cheating off his paper, he would have gone to the teacher and privately conveyed the message instead of “blurting it out “. And in your world, the teacher would have gathered the two in a dialogue session and everyone would have lived happily ever after. But things don’t happen in the real world like in your dreams. The classmate showed the characteristics of a bully, and the teacher took the easy way out. If Mr. Castens had not confronted the bully, it would have indicated that he was guilty, and the bullying would have continued. We need more men, including politicians, like Mr. Castens.

          • TWBDB

            I acknowledged the classmate may have falsely accused young
            Mr Castens and acknowledge the teacher failed to make her point even to the elder Mr Castens in retrospect. No excuses are necessary, as these past deeds are only remotely relevant to the current tone of this article. We have the full article before us for debate. To that point Abner, I thank you for offering me the opportunity to further explain my position and offer you a civilized debate in evidence of a real world example.

            In the corporate world, one does not make a habit of turning to their colleague in a business meeting to say, “You’re a liar” and expect to
            remain employed. On the street, these words are often a prequel
            to a physical altercation. Why? “You’re a fill in the blank” is a slur on someone’s character rather than an accusation of a misdeed. We can certainly give a pass to a 7th grader for their naivety to this simple rule of
            civility; even an adult blinded to it by ‘righteous indignation’; but it is our
            duty to call it out to avoid the rule of chaos. “You’re a liar” ends debate.

            Case in point: Mr Castens example remains unresolved these many years later.

            Chaos cannot govern effectively as evidenced by the last few
            years. Chaos can’t correct poor legislation or poor implementation.

          • Abner

            Mr. Castens example was resolved that day in the classroom. Everyone stated their position and they moved on. From your experience with “Judge Shows” (whatever that means), perhaps you are unaware of a precedent that courts have overwhelmingly upheld. That is, in a case where there is only one witness to the event, the testimony of that witness must be accepted. Therefore, at this point, Mr. Castens version must be accepted unless another witness comes forth. Perhaps your comments are only speculations that you have formed from your desire to press a pre-determined point. Now let’s consider this…let us call it “Becoming That Which You Hate”. A prime example would be Dan Rather and his CBS news crew. Mr. Rather and crew were champions of Truth and Justice in seeking and reporting news events. But their obsession with destroying George W. Bush led them to use forged documents…the complete opposite of their mission. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was intended to aid single parent women, but the resulting events destroyed the Black Family in America (along with some White families also). The 60′s anti-war and anti-Nixon crowd have now become everything that they purported to hate in their youth. Now there is Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act which was intended to insure the uninsured, but apparently the end result will be uninsure the insured.
            Now your last statement regarding chaos in the past few years since November 2006, I agree completely. This administration moves from one crisis to another, using the next crisis to stop discussion of the previous crisis. And we have a Senate that has not passed a budget in five years. Mr. TWBDB, let us be careful in our activities that we not overreach to the extent that we become That Which We Hate.

          • TWBDB

            Abner, I don’t hate Mr Castens, I’m certain he is a fine man: I disagree with his politics. Furthermore, I take Mr Castens account of his jr high classroom experience as factual. I assert that many of us did learn the lesson
            his teacher was trying to impress on him: apparently he, and you, did not. In my own first-hand experience of witnessing corporate colleagues being dismissed and private colleagues ending up in a fist fight over saying, “You’re a liar” (no matter how factual), I conclude the lesson is well taken. This isn’t a difficult matter to understand. If you’re looking for someone beating a dead horse in an attempt to make a political point, look no further than the author of the article in debate.

            Now to present day politics: I disagree with the way in which the Obama Administration has handled a lot of things, healthcare particularly. I also disagree with the way in which the Tea Party continues to push an obstructionist agenda. Let’s stick to healthcare. Democrats and Republicans alike have warned of the impending healthcare ‘costs’ crisis for years. Both have proposed solutions in their platforms: the Democrats where just the first to the punch. The way I see it: the Tea Party rose to
            popularity by the very type of tactic Mr Castens proposes – - “You’re a liar”
            politics. Perhaps the reason Mr Castens wrote this article in support of this
            tactic, here I speculate.

            Abner, I don’t hate Mr Castens, I’m certain he is a fine
            man: I disagree with his politics. Furthermore,
            I take Mr Castens account of his jr high classroom experience as factual. I assert that many of us did learn the lesson
            his teacher was trying to impress on him: apparently he, and you, did not. In my own first-hand experience of
            witnessing corporate colleagues being dismissed and private colleagues ending
            up in a fist fight over saying, “You’re a liar” (no matter how factual), I
            conclude the lesson is well taken. This isn’t a difficult matter to understand.
            If you’re looking for someone beating a dead
            horse in an attempt to make a political point, look no further than the author
            of the article in debate.

            Now to present day politics: I disagree with the way in
            which the Obama Administration has handled a lot of things, healthcare
            particularly. I also disagree with the
            way in which the Tea Party continues to push an obstructionist agenda. Let’s stick to healthcare. Democrats and Republicans alike have warned
            of the impending healthcare ‘costs’ crisis for years. Both have proposed solutions in their
            platforms: the Democrats where just the first to the punch. The way I see it: the Tea Party rose to
            popularity by the very type of tactic Mr Castens proposes – - “You’re a liar”
            politics. Perhaps the reason Mr Castens wrote this article in support of this
            tactic, here I speculate.

            I don’t speculate when I say that “You’re a liar” politics
            has made it virtually impossible for our nation’s governing body to operate
            effectively. In Mr Castens story, it
            reads as if he was more put out with the teacher for chastising him than the
            student who accused him of cheating. His
            response to the student and his apparent lack of understanding of the teacher’s
            premise doesn’t end or solve the issue,
            it adds doubt to his own innocence.

  • FrereJocques

    TWBDB, I usually agree with everything you post. I must say, though, your position on this has me completely bumfuzzled.

    You are saying that Mr. Castens was wrong for standing up for himself, and the teacher was right for chastising him for doing so. In my experience, there is nothing worse than falsely accusing someone, and the second worse is not standing up for yourself when an obvious injustice has been done. Neither of these is a “life lesson” that we should all learn, or that is worth learning. If Mr. Castens did not cheat, and from the facts presented, he couldn’t have even if he wanted to, he had every right to point out and prove his innocence. Even back then, silence implied consent. I for one have no intention of allowing myself to be falsely accused without a response. Maybe this is your way, but it is not MY way. And I will seek, in one form or another, revenge against those who falsely accused me, and anyone who punishes me because of that false accusation.

    • TWBDB

      I am not saying Mr Castens was wrong in standing up for himself. According to the account, the teacher did not chastise Mr Castens for standing up for himself, she chastised him for turning to his classmate to say, “You’re a liar”. I’m so surprised that this is so hard to understand.

  • TWBDB

    Let me try this again. Young Mr Castens did not defend his innocence: he turned, faced his accuser, and levied an insult at him. The outside observer, the teacher, was obviously more taken aback by the insult than the accusation. We don’t know the teacher’s life experience which brought her to this space. Consider, a possible scenario in her life, “he abuses me – you’re a liar”.
    Before, anyone gets all up in arms, I’m not suggesting my scenario is factual.

    I am suggesting that name calling is not an appropriate way to defend your position in private life or the political arena, no matter how insulted you may be by an accusation. If I may personalize this, on these boards through the years, some posters have suggested that gay people are pedophiles. As insulting as that is to me personally, I never gained any credibility by attacking the person making that statement. I believe I faired much better by attempting to respond with respect on a higher level. Seeking revenge on the level of the accusation, (cheat = lie) is often accompanied by extenuating circumstances.

    Again, I learned this lesson early in life. Along about the 7th grade.

    • Winston Smith

      I dunno, sounds like the kid was a liar. Is calling someone who lied a liar name calling? I see your point, and it’s a good one. But I think I would have done the same thing in ol Errol’s shoes.

      • TWBDB

        Maybe, maybe not. I guess I just tend to give the adult the benefit of the doubt in a situation involving 7th grade boys. And I know it’s not appropriate to say, “You’re a liar” in virtually every professional situation I can think of: but if you all disagree, who am I to judge. To each his on. Be interesting to get a teacher’s perspective of this story.