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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Teachers make us aware of life's complete picture
By ROB DEWITT
Published August 21, 2007
Ah, the end of summer break, and the beginning of the next tumults of growth and learning by way of institutional education. Pause now to praise and thank the teachers of the world; without them we would be lost. This commentary is for them, a remembrance that teachers help us to see in many ways.
One thing parents realize early in helping their progeny successfully navigate school is that if you can't see well (have good vision, that is), you either have to become very good at making friends, or start karate classes. When you have had to wear glasses since third grade, you must be friendly or fast - and watch out for the roots on the playground!
I remember laughing, running and tripping into a cloud of dust where now a parking lot sits on the playground of the original Brooksville Elementary in the 1970s. (I also remember the Halloween carnivals, spaghetti day, Ms. Walker (my first-grade teacher) and holidays with red velvet cake.)
At any rate, in first grade I couldn't see the blackboard. I got glasses, but they were taped heavily for the next three years because of so many fast flights and spills on the playground roots. I learned to see the contrast of the root and the dirt, so I learned to run on the tops of them, eventually being aware of shading and color differences.
This is the type of seeing lesson I'm rattling about, which differs from what the eye doctor helps me do. It is nearly impossible to truly explain, but for creative-minded folks it is a necessity.
Seeing was one of the first lessons Leonardo Da Vinci taught apprentices. Da Vinci continued to make tangible his ever-changing viewpoint, which drives the artist to create in whatever mode or medium. (Think "hearing" for composers or vocalists.)
Luckily, like Leonardo's apprentices, I've had great teachers, past and present. I, too, have taught. It's hard. Try sometime to a fidgeting, unwilling subject. Now give him paints and a brush. Now multiply it by 30. Now multiply by six classes a day - and love it every day because you actually get the students to see.
In essence, out of necessity or lesson, seeing is the process of becoming hyper-aware. In any range of view of a set of elements, there are multiple views. Each viewpoint is the closest to how each individual sees it. A trained eye knows the differences between colors, distances, and tics.
Once you begin to be truly aware of what is around you, and if you respect and appreciate how it is you are able to see, then it becomes quite hard to shut off the experience.
My first teachers were my mother and father, and sisters. They were, and are, still the best I know. This is the story of my first lesson in seeing.
My oldest sister was given the freedom by my folks to pursue art; it made her happy. She is an artist whose pottery I collect, and whose life has led from throwing and firing pots of earth into useful, wonderful objects, to teaching a generation of this area's elementary school students to see. First at Moton Elementary in the 1980s, then the "new" Brooksville Elementary (the "old" D.S. Parrott) in the '90s, and now at the fab Challenger K-8, where principal Sue Stoops has demonstrated tremendous vision.
My artist sister taught me my first seeing lesson while on a break from her first year as an art student at the University of Florida. It was 1973 and we were in the sunken Mediterranean living room, a "dream" my mother created, complete with The Thinker statue and nifty lamps that pirate Jack Sparrow would appreciate.
Into the room I walk, an inspired 4 1/2-year-old with a drawing on white-lined paper, for my big sister, the artist. At the top of the page, a sky blue strip from corner to corner, 3 inches wide with clouds. A wide strip of white horizontally separated the floating clouds and strip of blue sky, from the other elements at the bottom of the page. Drawn was an orange house, green grass and a brown and green tree.
I just knew she would be impressed because I had left the clouds in the blue strip white, which had taken quite a while, carefully coloring where the curves touched in the clouds.
Alas, as it is with most families of artists and such, nothing is ever good enough, and there is always a lesson to be learned. Teaching, even then.
She hid her proud smile as she studied her baby brother's drawing. My incisorless grin, awaited he comment.
"Hmm, Look outside," she told me.
Failure! I was crushed. And I didn't budge.
"Look, your drawing is fine, but I want you to see ... ," she said.
Precocious as ever, I protested that I didn't need to see. I knew what the house looked like, and the green grass and trees, and the clouds. I stomped. (Yes, I was and occasionally still am, a stomper.)
She turned me to look out over our multipane bay living room window to make her point.
"Does the sky stop?"
All I could manage was a quizzical look.
"Look there. Does the sky ... your blue strip here on the paper, ever stop? Look between the trees."
I looked hard, squinting, because soon I'd have to be visiting the eye doctor for those glasses. I gasped.
"IT'S BLUE, TOO! It never stops! Even between the trees!"
She smiled her beautiful smile, and we laughed at the revelation.
I grabbed my masterpiece and began carefully to fill in all the remaining space between my strip of blue sky, and the green ground.
That day, I saw. And I am hopeful I never will stop, thanks to my Big Sister, my teachers past and future, and all who have taught me and many others to see.
And, please, forgive us when we see too much and try to change things we shouldn't. It only means you've taught us well.
Rob DeWitt lives in Brooksville. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.