Success Wars, or The Shop Teacher Strikes Back

Slouching toward Bedlam is the continuing story of a Christian school just like yours, only more so. We invite you to join their story and follow the characters from issue to issue and they grapple with the issues, problems, and triumphs at Bedlam Christian. It is written by Jan Karsvlaam, a retired Christian School teacher who currently owns and manages an emu farm in South Dakota.

Rex Kane, Bedlam’s P.E. teacher, stood at one end of the teacher’s lounge, practicing for an object lesson on the evils of water fluoridation. A glass pitcher of pristine ice water sat before him, with a can of motor oil next to it. Shop teacher Gord Winkle was half-listening while foraging for leftovers, anyone’s leftovers, in the fridge. Bedlam librarian and resident conspiracy theorist Jon Kleinhut leaned in intently, nodding as Rex spoke. Carrie Wellema, the choir director and perhaps the only fully functional adult at the table, sat with a bemused expression on her face.

“This is your water,” Rex said, holding up the pitcher. Beads of cool sweat glistened on its clear surface. He set the pitcher back down, grabbed the oil can, and began to pour it into the water dramatically. “And this is your water on drugs. Fluoride, my young friends, is a drug.”

“Fluoride is not a drug, Rex,” said Wellema. “It is a mineral, and it only strengthens your teeth.”

“That’s what the government would like you to think!” Jon Kleinhut said, with perhaps more intensity than Wellema’s casual comment called for. Carrie shook her head and turned back to her newspaper.

It was at that point that Bedlam’s development director, Amanda Stufflebean, bustled into the room carrying a clipboard, two notebooks, what looked like a set of blueprints, and a three-ring planner stuffed beyond its capacity to contain even a tissue paper more. Shop teacher Gord Winkle’s eyes opened wide and he sniffed once, then asked, “Hey, Amanda, do you have any extra chocolate for the rest of us?”

“What are you talking about? I don’t have any chocolate with me!” She loudly dumped all of her materials on the table. A single M&M candy shot from between the pages of her planner and spun to a stop on the table in front of Gord. He smiled triumphantly and popped it into his mouth.

“Well, well, well,” said Rex. “What brings our little philanthropist-o-phile to our little cabana-in -the-woods amid the eager youth of Athens, Ms. Stufflebean?”

Amanda had long ago adopted the common practice of shaking her head and ignoring Rex like the rest of Bedlam Christian’s staff did. But this time she realized that somewhere in that morass of allusions and mixed metaphors, he had actually asked a question. “Actually, Rex, I am trying to pull together a newsletter article about where our successful graduates end up. We really don’t track this as well as we should, but I figured the faculty would know where some of our graduates are and what they are up to.”
With the sound of rustling newspaper, English teacher Red Carpenter sat up from the couch where he had been napping. “How about the youngest Popagopolis kid? What was his name? Irving? Lewis? Anyway, he graduated from here about fifteen years ago and he is about to make partner in that big law firm downtown.”

“And Duffy Harrington just graduated from Julliard. I heard he got a position with the Akron Philharmonic,” put in Carrie Wellema.

“Marty Cahill graduated back in the eighties,” added Carpenter. “He’s in charge of purchasing wine for that upscale grocery chain, Wellfoods. He married Abigail Cushman. They’ve got a huge place out in Edgehill. I saw it from the road. I think they have a four-car garage. Oh, and what was Marty’s best friend’s name? Dewey something. Dewey Colson? Colfer? Coleman? Colter? Colfax? Something like that, anyway. ”

“I think it was Dewey Schmidt,” corrected Carrie.

“Schmidt! Exactly! I was so close!” said Carpenter. “Anyway, Dewey is vice president of a consulting firm that advises realtors on what sort of scents they should spray in buildings before showing them. Can’t think of the name of his firm, though.”

“And don’t forget Goldie Jaychoe. She’s a surgeon in Boston now. I just read that she did some big-deal pioneering surgery,” said Carrie.

“I read about that,” said Rex excitedly. “She transplanted an animal gallbladder into a human or something. I think maybe from an armadillo? or an arachnid? or was it an aardvark?”

Carrie sighed. “Actually, I think it had something to do with stomach stapling, not aardvark transplants.”

Amanda Stufflebean’s pencil was flying across her legal pad as she tried to get all of this down. “That’s great, guys! Let me get caught up. This is exactly what I was looking for. Have you got any more?”

Gord Winkle heaved himself into a standing position. This was such an unusual happening that all chatter stopped and everyone turned toward him. “Edward Brooks,” he said.

Red Carpenter chuckled. “Eddie Brooks? Seriously? Come on, Gord, that kid’s biggest achievement was graduating at all. Isn’t he in jail by now? I don’t think he is the kind of kid Amanda is looking to highlight in the newsletter.”

Gord stared at him with such an intensity that Red swallowed his next comment about how in his class, Eddie couldn’t even spell his own name. Gord was still standing, and he cleared his throat and pronounced clearly, “Robert Jablonski.”

There was silence for a moment. Carrie Wellema spoke softly. “Gord, Bobby was expelled. He got his girlfriend pregnant near the beginning of his senior year.” If anything, Gord’s face got even more intense. He continued standing, his hands gripping the table. He spoke one more name: “Kay Purvis.”

Again there was silence. Carrie spoke again, softly. “Kay who? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a name.”

Gord took a deep breath. “No, you wouldn’t have. Kay wasn’t exactly an honors student. Most of the kids who take wood shop and metal shop with me don’t take choir, Carrie. And they aren’t good enough at school to get into Red’s AP English classes, either. None of the kids I mentioned are millionaires. None of them have prestigious jobs. But I keep up with my students. Edward Brooks, for example, is an auto mechanic. He works for the Ford dealership in town. But you might know his name if you were an elderly widow on a fixed income, or a single mom trying to put her kids through Christian schools. Eddie fixes their cars for free. He doesn’t even charge for the parts and he never tells anyone about it either. He does it because it is the right thing to do. You want to talk about someone who is a success, Amanda, you talk to him.”

Again, Gord took a deep breath. The room was silent. Ordinarily, Gord was kind of a cross between a class clown and a scapegoat. He was always the butt of their jokes. They had never seen this side of him before. He continued, “Rob Jablonski ended up marrying Kim, his pregnant girlfriend. His folks disowned him, and her folks disowned her. None of you know this, but Rob’s dad is an alcoholic and used to beat Rob and his brothers. Rob swore he would be a good dad, not like his father. He’s not perfect, but he’s got a steady job with a heating and air conditioning company. He never drinks, and he never raises a hand in violence. He loves Kim and their three kids, and he coaches Little League every year. His teams don’t always win, but every kid who has ever played for him knows that they are important to the team, and knows that their coach cares for them. You want to talk about somebody who has made something important out of his life, Amanda, you talk to him.”

He paused again. No one stirred. Gord spoke once more.

“Kay Purvis was only at our school for one semester. Her family couldn’t afford to pay our tuition, so she transferred to a public school. She had a hard time there. She tried to start a Bible study and she got teased about that quite a lot. She also worked her heart out as a student. She was on their robotics team about five years ago when they made it to the state finals. She ended up getting a scholarship to Midwest Tech. That is actually a pretty hard school to get into. She went into the mechanical engineering program and did well enough that they were willing to give her a scholarship to do master’s work there, too. She came and showed me the letter. I told her I was proud of her, and that if she went to MT, she would be sure to get a really great high-paying job. Then she showed me the other letter. She had also applied to the Peace Corps. Guess which offer she accepted? Kay has been working in Africa for three years now. She has done pioneering work in earthen dams and small, water-powered generators. You know how there is a drought in the Horn of Africa region now? Kay is there, and she is making a difference. You want to talk about a success, Amanda, you talk to her.”

Gord took a long hard look at each of them, then walked out the door of the staff room. There was a guilty silence in the room, except for the scratching sound of Amanda’s pen. Once she finished getting all this down, she thought, she would have to stop by Gord Winkle’s room, and see if he could give her some phone numbers. She knew she wasn’t a genius, but she knew enough to know when God was talking to her.