Sunday, October 23, 2011

Profile: Ruth Younggren


Ruth Younggren, a first grade teacher of poor children in Minnesota, yearly spent the first two weeks teaching the sounds of English and their corresponding letters. Then through the year, she taught 50 spelling words each morning to her first graders. These first graders were not only good spellers, they were excellent readers and creative writers...

- From How it Began

Ruth Younggren - or Miss Younggren as I knew her - has always been a person in my childhood memories that revives uncomfortable feelings in me.  She was a teacher who made strong demands on very young children.  Many children thrived on her challenges and literally blossomed.

However, even at the time, I instinctively knew she was being very unfair to certain classmates of mine.  If you were intelligent and were willing to work hard, she loved you.  If you had trouble understanding and didn't know how to ask for help...if you were shy and couldn't ask for help...then you might find yourself humiliated.

Miss Younggren used.
among other things,
the Dunce Cap, as
'motivation' ...
I personally witnessed a fellow classmate be repeatedly denied permission to go to the lavatory.  He ended up urinating his pants while sitting at his desk, desperately trying not to.  Another time, a classmate tore her dress on the playground; instead of finding a less embarrassing solution, Miss Younggren made her remove her dress so she could mend it while the girl sat at her desk in her underwear, arms crossed and head down.

Some reading this may ask, why bring this up years later?  My answer:  While talking about this now can't help the children affected back then, it is important to acknowledge what happened, to shed light on dark events.  I have often felt bad for those who had to go through that, while I did not.  There were a couple of times I had to endure a lecture from Old Man Carelessness and stand in the corner, and once I even sat on a stool in the hallway for all to see, wearing the dreaded dunce cap.  It didn't permanent scar me, and I actually was one of the top students in the class.  But for the others who were literally humiliated, I felt bad.

It was a time where old practices still tenuously held on, but were soon to change.  I experienced a bit of the old, as many reading this might have, too.