Note..this episode is far too long …SOME DID NOT GET FULL ARTICLE SO I CUT
MANY ILLUSTRATIONS…HOPE IT WORKS NOW
EPISODE 402 MAKE ROOM FOR HEROES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN RICKERalan skeochaugust 2021JOHN RICKER…EDUCATOR…A MAN WITH HEROES IN HIS LIFEAT THE END OF THIS EPISODE TRY AND RECORD THE HEROES IN YOUR LIFE
In 1986 I wrote a very juvenile article about John Ricker; Uncovered by pure chance today, August5, 2021…35 years later. Who is John Ricker? In a word I would say he is an educator. Much more thanthat of course…husband, professor, philosopher, administrator, veteran, father, grandfather, author, Order of Canada, friend. But he remainsto me a teacher…my teacher. Years ago the CBC wanted to interview me on the place of history inthe Ontario curriculum (or some such thing like that). A reporter came to Parkdale Collegiate and wasquestioned by our vice principal. “Why would you want to see him, he is only a teacher?” True. I wasand always have been ‘only a teacher’. Rather proud of the fact. Early in my career I may have hadambitions for higher positions in the educational pyramid. Maybe later…maybe if I get bored teaching.That never happened. I never wanted to be anything but a teacher. I owe that to John Ricker.He made all of us feel teaching was the noblest of professions when he taught teachers at thefaculty of eduction way back in 1963. Made us proud and nervous. Would we measure up?Believe it or not, we still meet monthly at John’s house with a group of friends. I am 82. John is 95.Very senior ciitizens who gather at our Castlefield Insttute to consider world events and laugh a lot.Teachers all …even if one is a judge and another a surgeon.
There was no reason for me to find this interview among the dusty files in our cellar. Pure chance.Rather wonderful though. Not because of what I wrote. Not my words. It is the pencilled commentsthat John Ricker scribbled all over the manuscript and then went on and on shedding light on theneed for all of us to have heroes we admire.“What do think of teachers, John?” What a hopelessly dull question. I wish I had not asked. ButJohn began to scribble furiously. The scribbles deciphered.“Most teachers are bright…even though some are terribly dull and stupid.” Classic Rickerism.Seems like a contradiction. But it is John Ricker taking himself seriously but not that seriously.There is room for argument. “Teachers are bright enough if they are in an atmosphere thatapplies the right kid of pressure and tension on them.” Internal pressure it seems for the nextcomment was a bit surprising. “The problem is that teachers don’t recognize their own heroes.For some reason many teachers are afraid to say they have heroes.”“We fail to ferret out the time-servers and frauds. But even worse, we don’t make a fuss ofour heroes. No room for heroes it seems . But the heroes are there…masters of their craftwho continue to grow and change, When talking about teachers many agree that teachersare terrible…except for ‘so and so’ God, my whole life was changed by old Mr. X. “JAMIE HEMSTEAD JUST LOVeD OUR SCHOOL…JUST LOVED IT…YOU CAN SEE IT IN HIS FACE.
“Why is it that we don’t have monuments to these heroes? You rob a bank and you get a columnin the newspaper, perhaps even your picture. But the teacher who changes the way anindividual functions for the rest of his or her life earns no more than an aside in what tendsto be a blanket denunciation of teaching and teachers.”“There are teachers who are incompetent. But I don’t think they are a problem because thereare ways to get them out of schools even though they aren’t used often. Many think they should be.A more serious problem is what to do about the much larger number of marginally competentteachers who just go through the motions and have a negative impact on students.”JOHN RICKER’S HEROES“I had two outstanding teachers in elementary school….Miss Warrander and Mr. Henry.Two in secondary school….Miss McDermid and Mr. NationThree in university…Frank Underhill, Donald McDougal and Earl Birney.”“By far, the most outstanding was Miss McDermid at Parkdale Collegiate. What made heroutstanding was that she was unquestionably a scholar. There was no possibility that whatshe taught one year would be the same the next year. She took delight in her subject andwas determined that we students would share it . Tough material did not deter her for a moment.She knew what she wanted to achieve and pursued her goal —and us — relentlessly. Westruggled and grumbled but loved her classes. I think we recognized that this quietly forcefulwoman was a vitally exciting person and her dedication to learning had made her this way.Every lesson revealed her fascination with the creative aspects of life. Though a Scot, I doubt verymuch that she knew for sure what her salary was. I think she was probably surprised thatpeople paid her to spend her life doing what she loved. It’s when reflecting on the MissMcDermids who have enabled the profession that I resent most of the teacher charlatanswho would really rather be doing something else.”John, could you describe this teacher hero in general terms?“Sure,the first obligation of a teacher is to convince his or her studentsthat the creative aspects of human experience are exciting.”
NOTE: Respect is basic. John Ricker did not say this explicitly but the word hero assumes respect .If there is no respect, mutual respect, i.e. student respect for a teacher and the reverse teacher respectfor his or her students then education does not occur.
“To be so excited by the curriculum that the teacher becomes an exciting person in the schoolwhether teaching the chemistry of the DNA molecule or (Voltaire’s Candide). Money isnot that important. Good teachers often do not know what they earn. They are astoundedthat anyone would pay them to teach.”John maintains we all have our teacher heroes but for some reason keep them hidden.
Let’s get them out in the open.JOHN RICKER’S HEROES: BIRNEY, UNDERHILL AND MACDOUGALWHO IS EARL BIRNEY?WHO ARE MY HEROES?“Alan, I thought this Episode was about John Ricker not Alan Skeoch.” :“Good point Marjorie”“Then why continue?”“Because I would just like to give my heroes a good airing.”“Boring, Alan…drifting into boredom”“You might be right we seem to be living in an anti-heroic time where humans that wereonce leaders have their statues desecrated with paint and their figures decapitated.”“You know something, Alan, you might have hit on something. We all have heroesbut rarely say so.”“That is the point John Ricker made.”“Just who are your heroes?”(If you do not want to read about my heroes then start listing your own herroes>)I am such a shallow person …no great depth of political insight like Ricker. A child of the1950’s. Part of a generation of undeserved wealth earned by the fires of the Great Depressionand the sacrifices of so many lives in a war soon to be a footnote.I have a lot of heroes.In elementary school there were two. Miss Sharpely who loved us and Mr. Hambly whomade earth science come alive. He hung a huge wasps nest in his room to which some firedpaper clips from elastic bands. But meant no disrespect.In secondary school there were moreEvan CruickshankRoberta CharlesworthMaida SchroederDuncan GreenFred BurfordWally LittleIn the university of Toronto there were heroes of a different sortMarcus Long , philosopher…Marjorie Hughes, open arms, open heart…made me a lucky manDr. Norman Paterson, geophysicist who made science excitingVoltaire, Steinbeck, Michener, Kant, Rousseau and a host of others not least ofwhich was Eric Fromm’s book The Sane Society. Somewhere in the bookFromm argued that everyone should get the same wage. Then people wouldchoose careers they love rather than careers that paid the most money. And wewould be a happier people.When I said that to my friends they thought I was nuts.and later in post gradJohn RickerAndrew LockhartDesmond MortonPhyllis MorgonIf I had to choose one high school mega hero, it would be Evan Cruickshank. AlthoughI never noticed it at the time “Crooky” taught me to think for myselfwith three little words “I don’t know,” I was not a person that devotedmyself to homework. Skipped doing it whenever I could which wasoften. I meant no disrespect to my teachers. There just was not enoughtime to do everything…sports, dancing, dating girls, reading for pleasure, earninga little money. So I skipped homework and accepted the odd detentionfor doing so. One detention was memorable. Roberta Charlesworthkept me after school to serve a detention in her room. Seemed easierto serve it in the girls gym where there were females in bloomers to lookat. Roberta Charlesworth was the girls coach. Next day she called meto the front of the class…I always tried to find a middle seat…why didshe want me? She promptly lifted me off the ground by my ear. “Whenyou serve a detention with me you do it here in this room not in the girls gym.I respected her as a teacher….one of my teacher heroes in spite of mysore ear..But “Crooky” takes the prize with his simple “I don’t know”technique. I respected him. Stood in awe of him at times. His explanationof Marxian socialism stays with me to this day.One day however I got up my nerve to ask him about some eventin history that intrigued me. Crooky would surely know. Bt he did not.He even confessed “I don’t know” which sent me scurrying to the librarythat evening just to help Crooky out. Not to suck around. I did thatout of respect. Later I discovered that his ‘I don’t know’ may havebeen deliberate but I was never sure. “Crooky” asked big time questions.But he was also humble…open minded.John Ricker became a hero as well. He conveyed a deep love forbig questions. The kind that start simply but lead to universal truths.I was very sorry when I heard that John had become Dean ofthe Faculty of Educaton. That meant he would no longer be facingdown classes of new teachers. Teaching. I even told him so John could make us thinkabout history from many angles. Made us realize we were taking ona sacred trust by shaping young people. He had respect. Withoutrespect , as I mentioned, no solid teacher-student learning can occur.One of his methods was similar to Crooky but different also. When astudent asked John a question there was often a pause…a dead silencein the room while John considered his answer. In 1963 the silence was aidedand abetted by drawing on a cigarette and then reaching for his coffee cup.Dead and total silence when he did that. W were like the Israelites waitingfor Moses to bring word from on high. And John consumed books like abull does ensilage with one different. The ideas in a good book went tohis brain and not his stomach.Life takes curious twists and turns. Most surprising of these twists andturns is that both Evan Cruickshank and John Ricker became goodfriends. Peers in the pursuit of knowledge. Shapers of the mindsof students. Both of them pushed me towards Parkdale Collegiate.“If you teach at that school, you will never want to leave, Alan.”So true.NOW FOR THE CHALLENGEWho are your heroes?
REMEMBER THE SODER IN THE COFFEE CUP?WHO IS EARL BIRNEY?
WHAT IS THE BEST SCHOOL? EASY TO ANSWER…THE BEST SCHOOL IS THE SCHOOL YOU ARE TEACHING IN TODAY…MAKE
IT THAT WAY. NOT YESTERDAY’S SCHOOL OR TOMORROW’S SCHOOL. THE SCHOOL YOU ARE TEACHING IN TODAY ISBEST AND YOU HAVE A DUTY TO MAKE IT SO.
A LOT OF MY HEROES AT THE UIVERSITY OFTORONTO WERE ON OUR FOOTBALL TEAM….ABOVEPRINCIPAL SHIELA HAMBLETON WAS A VERY KIND AND SHARING HERO…LED BY EXAMPLEHEROES IN MY LIFE CAME IN ALL KINDS OF SHAPES AND FORMS…TEACHERS AND STUDENTS.