While visiting Newport earlier this year, we went to an awesome local/organic restaurant called Cafe Mundo, where we had a very nice evening, enjoying delicious food and live music. While checking out all the interesting decor inside the restaurant, I stumbled upon a small paperback book entitled The Housebroken Philosopher, by Mark Allen Kuykendall, a collection of true short stories. Curious, I picked it up and started reading to see what it was about.
The stories were indeed, short - ranging from a half page to two pages each - which enabled me to read the first three right there as I perused. I found the writing to be quite good, the content hilarious. I told someone at the restaurant that I wanted to buy a copy, but they were out, except for the display copy, so that's the one I took home.
I read it slowly over the next few weeks, savoring each story. They were autobiographical, covering Mark's childhood, his youth, and on into his life. The writing was excellent. There were many laugh out loud moments, several accounts that gave me pause to think, and then at the end, my tears freely flowed when Mark shared two stories written by his mother, who was also a writer. She had been a teacher in poor inner-city schools, doing her best to bring a little light to some otherwise very dark, sad situations.
When I finished reading his book, I contacted Mark to ask him if I could reprint one of his mother's stories, as it touched me deeply, and I feel it is highly pertinent to the concepts of unschooling and philosophy of raising children that I ascribe to. He assented, so here is the true story of Theodore, by Virgina Thompson Creps.
In class, Theodore would do nothing. He said nothing. He played with no one. Theodore used to walk with me to the bus. On the way he would stop off at all the bars looking for his mother. Sometimes he stayed in one. Sometimes he would make the whole rounds and then run down the street hoping his mother would be home. Between the bars, Theodore would stop at the sidewalk grocery stores and just look. I'd ask him what he had for dinner the night before. It was always the same, "bread and catsup."
One day the class went to a museum and Theodore went silently along. A man giving a lecture held up a stuffed squirrel for the class to see. Theodore called out, "Is his teefies sharp?" The man grabbed Theodore by the arm, shook him and asked, "Hasn't your teacher taught you not to call out?" The man told him to sit down, raise his hand, and ask the question again, only this time say teeth, not teefies. "Don't you know anything?"
Theodore mumbled his question and slumped in his seat. Those were the last words I ever heard Theodore say.
Our children are such a precious gift, a divine manifestation of humanity's potential for eternity, and how do we treat them? When they reach out to us with their open hearts, do we reach back to receive them or do we brush them aside, impatient, annoyed by their ignorance of our protocols?
The thought of this sad little boy - who ate only bread and ketchup, whose mother was usually getting drunk at the bar by three in the afternoon, perking up with interest and curiosity at the sight of a stuffed animal, only to be rebuffed by an uncaring adult - simply breaks my heart. In a way, his story is the story of all children, who come to this world with wide eyed curiosity and wonder, only to learn the hard reality that harsh treatment and intolerance of childish exuberance rules the day.
If you have or work with children, please take great care. Please love them and be patient with them, and cherish their questions. They are learning everything about our world from us, and what we reveal to them through our actions and our words is shaping the future, and indeed the destiny of our entire species.
Thanks to Mark for sharing his wonderful stories (most of his book is hilarious - the two stories from his mother's teaching days being the exception) and for allowing me to reprint one of them. I highly recommend this book, which cannot be purchased online, so if you want a copy, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.