Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Truth

If you haven’t read The Instructions please go back and read them first.
And then come back and read The Truth.

This is what happened.
I was walking down the hall.
I was walking and I heard the kids chant.
I heard their innocent voices rise.
I heard their beautiful voices cry.
I heard them sing, Don’t write outside the box.
And I heard her ugly voice.
Her voice that stopped them dead.
Her voice that killed like a scythe cutting through a field of sunflowers.
Her voice that perturbed like a siren in a quiet night.
That’s right.
Don’t write outside the box, she screeched.
If you write outside the box…
Bla bla bla…
And the one next door to her said the same.
And his voice stopped me inside my head.
His voice stopped me inside my step.
I was walking down the hall and my legs stopped moving.
And I turned around and walked a few steps back.
And I looked through the little glass window on his classroom door.
I looked and saw faces transfixed.
Faces aged fourteen and fifteen and sixteen.
So young and yet so tired.
Faces exhausted by repetition.
Faces transfixed by fear.
Faces lit by anguish.
You can’t fail, he said.
And they looked at him like he was walking on water.
And they nodded their heads.
And I thought to myself, What are they, idiots, that we have to talk to them like this?
And I walked to my classroom.
And I sat in my chair.
And I was angry.
And I was sad.
And I clutched myself and said to myself, What am I doing here?
Why do I stay?
I can walk away from this and do anything else.
Anything at all.
And the kids walked out of their classes.
And their voices interrupted my thoughts.
And I stood outside my door and watched them.
And they looked at each other anxiously.
And their eyes said, We can’t fail.
And they came into my class.
And we sat together and read “Harrison Bergeron.”
And the kids asked me, Miss, what does it mean?
And I said, You tell me.
And they told me.
And the music of their voices filled my heart.
But the irony of it strained my chest.
And my eyes wanted to cry.
But The Instructions say, Don’t cry in front of the students.
So I held back my tears. I stayed inside my box.
And when we had finished exchanging ideas, the kids said,
We’re real nervous about the big test tomorrow, Miss.
And I wanted to tell them that it was okay to fail. People fail, sometimes. It’s okay. It happens, I wanted to say.
But if I’d told them that and they’d failed I would have let them down.
The Instructions don't allow them to fail.
So I would have been lying.
So I stayed inside my box.
And instead, I told them, Real heroes fall.
And the kids asked me, Miss, what does it mean?
And I said,
You tell me.
And they told me.
And the music of their voices filled my heart.
And one boy said, Miss, I still don’t get it.
And I said, You will get it in your own good time.
And they started to leave.
And as they walked out the door, we gave each other high fives.
And as they walked down the hall I heard them say, We still gotta pass that test tomorrow.


  1. And this was how “The Instructions” was inspired. But it is not just about a test. It is about everything you all said it is about, and a few other things, as well. It was an interesting experience to share reactions because we live the essence of those “instructions” every day, each in our own way… or ways.

    Thank you all so much for indulging me. I appreciate each and every one of you. :-)


    p.s. If you are interested in reading “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., follow the link below and you will find a full text version. It is a story not to be missed. Enjoy!

  2. So true. We delude our next generation and wonder why they all expect more to land on their plate.

  3. Often we experience the true joys of life and enlightenment through failure. Watch any small child trying to solve a puzzle. Are they failing or are they learning?

    Perhaps we should remind ourselves that no one can brand us 'failures' without our consent.

    Many years ago, I had to make a career decision. Teaching or Information Management. I chose Information Management. Wrong choice.

  4. The truth is that people are worried.

  5. You're my hero, really. High five.

  6. It struck me hard when you wrote

    "And the music of their voices filled my heart.
    But the irony of it strained my chest.
    And my eyes wanted to cry.
    But The Instructions say, Don’t cry in front of the students"

    I like how you bring things into perspectives.
    I think i would have felt the same way. I've seen teachers like you way back in high school. They suffered...and left. I miss them. You did your best and i appreciate that. The kids too will understand soon.

    That made me wonder, if only the kids can see through all these and voiced out, i don't know if that would've made a difference. But i'm not too worried because they have you. Mind revolution, liberate them..with literature.


  7. Wow. You have a very unique way of presenting ideas.

    "The Instructions don't allow them to fail."

    This line really jumped out at me today for reasons that are too long to explain here. So I'm just going to say thank you for sharing. (:

  8. Dear Nevine:

    I want to think that you are a teacher. Maybe the persona 'I' is not Nevine (you know what I mean). I was a teacher. Will start teaching once I get my degree. Nevine, when we get trained as teachers, we are always told: You can mould a child. Their future is in your hands. Nobody says: The future of the kids is in your hands so nourish them and enable them to think on their own.

    "Her voice that killed like a scythe cutting through a field of sunflowers" -- a very powerful image. I have had teachers like that. I swore that I will never be like that. It is very personal. Nevine, reading this has made me coil as well as recoil.

    "And they looked at him like he was walking on water" -- An image I can relate to very well being a 'Christian.' I wish we allowed kids to walk anywhere in their thoughts. I seriously do.

    All said and done, who will bell the cat? Who will allow thinking out of the box when constraints of syllabus, exams, deadlines and time act as an obstacle.

    Oh! Nevine. I can go on and on. Let me stop.

    I wish I could give the last post to students and ask them to interpret it.

    Alas! when life gives them failures, they think: "The Instructions don't allow (us)them to fail."

    Joy Always,

  9. A teacher friend of mine used to tell me that all education is a mixture of pretense, vanity, and teaching children to stay in their assigned seats as these were the only virtures they would need to carry them forward to death. For a while I thought she was merely cynical, but now, after reading this, I wonder.

  10. Nevine you are wonderful

    your words are wonderful

    your heart is wonderful

    and you inspire me wonderfully

  11. WE want them to fly and yet we have to hold on to the line still...

    Thought-provoking post.

    B M

  12. to have a teacher that encourages imagination and free thinking... i was blessed with just one.

  13. Now you've got me crying! I would have thought by now that more teachers were "out of the box" thinkers. But as I'm experiencing now through my 2 boys, that isn't so. I think, unfortunately, the educational system mostly rewards rule-followers.

    What a blessing, though, that some of those students at least have you to be the voice of reason. When I was in school, it was the teachers like you who made the greatest impact on me. I still remember their names and think of them often with gratitude.

  14. I sit in your class room, reading this, listening and I I walk out, I give you a big high five....your beautiful heart shines bright my friend.

  15. Ellie – The hope is that they eventually see through the delusion, and come into a place of clarity. Thank you for stopping in, Ellie, and for leaving your trail.

    Martin – Children are absolutely always learning, Martin. The trouble is with those who don’t happen to see things from that perspective. Failure is such a stigma, but if we think more of it as a growing and learning process, it’s not quite failure anymore. And you would have made an awesome teacher, Martin. I love this statement: “Perhaps we should remind ourselves that no one can brand us 'failures' without our consent.” You are so right!

    Secretia - … about more things than we can all possibly imagine.

    Christopher – He he he… High five!

    Zachary – You’ve made me feel like it’s all worth my while. And the kids do see it, and they understand. I think that’s what keeps me going back. I watch them smile when they understand and my heart swells.

    Gavin – Well, you’re very welcome. I hope that the “jumping out” line gave you a happy moment versus a sad one. I hope… :-)

    Susan – First of all, you can write as much as you want around here. There are no Instructions on how much or little to write. ;-) And yes, I am “I”. I am a teacher. And these two pieces were truthful accounts, just written in a certain style for writing purposes. And I know how the training goes… because we are given The Instructions before we are allowed to go out there and deliver the same. It’s so sad that they try to drill us that way. But it’s good that some of us escape the brainwashing routine. And it’s good that some of us allow the kids to tread uncharted territories. I figure one day I’ll get myself in trouble because I’m too “lax”. I know I raise eyebrows, but I really don’t give a damn. The kids enjoy their time with me… and I know they’re learning… they’re learning to think for themselves.

    Rick – I would wonder, too. I think that the vast majority of teachers truly do think and believe this way, because this thinking is part of how they are trained to behave as professionals. But there are some who are cynics, and who don’t conform, necessarily. And they are usually the ones who mold students into thinkers. Not such a bad thing, one would hope…

    Sir Thomas - :-)

    Being Me – Yes, we send too many mixed messages, don’t we? We confuse…

    Shadow – And one is usually enough. You are a free thinker, Shadow. And I’d like to imagine that your freethinking teacher had a little something to do with that.

    Felicitas – It’s a lucky thing your boys have a person that thinks outside the box for a mother. If their school environment is driven by the rules and is “closed” then they will have to rely on your guidance and their own good choices to turn themselves into open-minded thinkers. And like you, I still think fondly of my teachers who allowed me to think for myself, and who opened up my mind with their own open-mindedness. If it wasn’t for them, I would be barking orders and instructions, too. Now, don’t cry. The other possibilities are out there, and you can see them… so, I say your sons will be just fine. :-)

    Steven – And your words make my heart just glow. And what a goofy new icon you’ve got, Steven! Leave it to you to be the eternal child and goofball! Now that’s what I call “living outside the box!”

  16. those in your world are gifted that you care - enough to notice.

  17. Mt post today will be a bit about the same... shame on them and on us!
    I feel so disappointed with our society.

  18. You are brilliant. I think the loss of innocence happens much earlier than we realize. We are taught at a very young age that we cannot embrace our own minds. And that message haunts us.

  19. Wow!
    Faces exhausted by repetition.
    Faces transfixed by fear.
    Faces lit by anguish.

    The message is clear, the voice beautiful.
    You have such a talent...

  20. you know, nevine, just after i had commented on your previous post, it hit me and i realized that this was applicable to teaching - actually to my own life as a student - and to all the times i too had been admonished to not color outside the lines - do what was asked and do it in the manner told and do nothing more and nothing less - conform - be confined - but i was always the rebel - and if i wanted green hair on my people drawings i colored them green - and if i saw polka dot dogs then i drew polka dot dogs - if i wanted to add to the "lines" then i drew outside them - and so, as you know, i was in "trouble" a lot - also always asking questions, raising my hand to ask "why", etc - but i came to realize very quickly that for me it really didn't matter - first of all, i was doing what i felt/saw in my heart - and moreover, since we traveled A LOT during my childhood, big deal if i drew outside the lines in one school, because i wasn't going to be there long enough for it to matter to me in the long haul - however, i do remember thinking that somewhere there must be a teacher who would answer my questions, who would think it fun to see a person with green hair or a polka dot dog - and sometimes, there was that rare spirit - sometimes...and she made the difference for all those others - i know you are one of those rare spirits who make that difference, too!

  21. What an inspiration Nevine...
    Totally loved it.
    I am coming to take writing lessons from u although it is said that writing can't be learned..:)
    Why I stayed inside my box??
    I still need to figure that out now Nevine..


  22. It happened that because of a delay in my blog reading, I read this one right after reading The Instructions and am glad that it happened that way. The power of the first poem continued on through this one. Your voice is so haunting, Nevine, with a wisdom that slithers in amid subtly portrayed anguish. You are gifted.

  23. we do what we must to get to where we want to be, after that, most remain in the box that got them there, never knowing alternatives... and that keeps them 'safe', which is all the majority of us want, to fit in....

  24. I was lucky to have good teachers at most of the schools I attended, but the last lot were very much of the 'can't fail' type. Made me petrified to ever do less than superbly in any exam, just in case it made them look bad. Liked the follow up.

  25. This reads like prose but has such a beautiful rhythym to it as well.

    The person enforcing the box is also in her own box. Profound. We are all in a box, each in our own way even when we try to be otherwise. Even when we try to be real heroes.

    This teacher is a real hero because she wants to tell the children it's ok to fail and fails herself at her attempt thus becoming her own definition.

    There's a lovely symmetry to it.

  26. Nevine... Nevine...
    I am so late getting here, this past week at work has been horrendous, and next week, more of the same, and on and on... and work is all inside the box, horribly so, box after box after box.

    The Instructions and this were quite excrutiating... why must humans be such monsters to one another, from an early age conformity is expected, imaginations are murdered, creativity cedes to pure control... I am starting to get a bit disillusioned, there is just so much total crap we are expected to swallow day in and day out... Look at the farcical situation in Washington this weekend over something vital like people's health... seeing The Ghost Writer today didn't help, although we knew all that already... I don't know where we are going, but we are going there fast. What's with the total anarchy along the Mexican border ??? It's a war zone...

    The Vonnegut story is excellent, I just pulled my 1973 edition of Welcome to the Monkey House off the shelf to check if that was where I remembered it from, and it was... Vonnegut is amazing, truly... he's a hero for me...

    So how did you escape being crushed by the weight of the box ? By what happy twist of fate did you remain free and vibrant ???

  27. Kim – Oh, thank you, Kim. That’s so sweet. And I can’t help but notice, especially with teens.

    Dulce – I wouldn’t say shame on us, unless we fall into that system and don’t try to go against that wave. I think that when we still dare to do our own thing, what we think is the right thing, then there is no shame for us. The shame is for those that create the restrictions and those that wallow in them. Looking forward to reading your post…

    Eva – And we’re taught that message so subtly, we don’t realize it. And we’re so young, we don’t realize it. We are slowly programmed and conditioned. And yes, we’re haunted for life.

    Pat – Thank you, Pat. I think it was probably the honesty in the voice that made it beautiful and clear.

    Jenean – I can entirely relate to what you’re saying. I also was a rebel child, not wanting to feel confined and stifled by stupid rules. And I was inevitably always in trouble. When I started teaching, one of the first things I remembered was (in bulk) all of those teachers who had tried to push me down and keep me in. And then my memory of those teachers was overwhelmed by the memory of those who had nurtured my creativity. I knew that I wanted to be that kind of teacher. Green hair and polka dot dogs are just fine by me. In fact, I think they’re wonderful, because they show how your eyes and mind want to see the world… in magnificent and original color!

    Nipun – You don’t stay inside your box… I wouldn’t say that you do. And writing can be learned, but you have excellent writing skills, so you certainly don’t need any lessons from me. But, I have to say I am entirely flattered by your sweet words. :-)

  28. Judith – Thank you for that very high compliment of a comment. I think this two-part piece really came from inside my gut. I had this experience just about two weeks ago, right before our school spring break. And when the break began, I was still haunted by my strong feelings of disgust for what those students had had to endure. It was almost like they had gone through a torture session. A part of me was just screaming to let it out, somehow. So, my inevitable release came through writing about it. My anguish has been released. And I hope that the kids will slowly learn to not take rules too too seriously, though when they don’t in school, they get in trouble.

    LW – I know. Safe is the general way to go. Because nobody wants to stand out like a sore thumb.

    Mme. DeFarge – And doing well on an exam is not at all a crime. All students should try their very best. My issue is with the arm-twisting and mind-bending methods school systems use to brainwash students into believing that if they fail a test, they will fail in all of life.

    Jai – Yes yes yes. This teacher is me, actually. And I did fail because as the students walked out of my class, I thought they had been “cleansed” by our reading and discussion of “Harrison Bergeron”. But they had been so pumped with the failure message, all they could think of was that damned test. I tried. I didn’t succeed. Oh, well.

    Owen – I know. This is my work. This box I describe. So, I know. And guess what? My husband and I just came home from watching “The Ghost Writer”. No, it doesn’t help, does it? And Vonnegut was amazing because he dared to write about our reality, as ugly as it was. He dared to speak the truth through his amazing short stories and novels and critiques of society and humanity. And there is no need for you to apologize, Owen. Didn’t I just do the same a couple of weeks ago? I just disappeared for a few days because I was boxed in… It happens. Oh, and btw… my teachers who tried to box me in… they got it! ;-)

  29. What an INTERESTING, and forever timely topic. I'll try to say this humbly...a number of times each day I am embarrassed as one or another comes to me and says something like, "Steve, you said JUST what I needed to hear today, Yada-yada, etc."

    Shamefully, I do not remember WHAT was said, but I just look them in the eye and say something appropriate--like "Thank you?". And usually when we get to talking, I find out what THEY really wanted to say...amazing!

    Nevine, I LOVED the "Instructions and the Truth"...and will be more aware of each in the FEWTCHAH. Again, I repeat, you are Good, girl! And you are appreciated.

    To students and their teachers...PEACE!

  30. You're a teacher, aren't you? And if you're not, why are you not? :-)

    My God, what a first and second part. I am transfixed, like those kids, I am. By your power to mesmerise and hypnotise.

    Many thanks. You can continue to indulge yourself as long as you want to. I (selfishly and greedily) will be gulping down the results.

    Greetings from London.

  31. @ Nevine

    Its not me but your writing that brings these sweet thoughts..:)

  32. Nevine,
    Brilliant piece of work...

    I have been having an "in the box" experience at the school where I work, they don't like it that I am trying to think "out of the box".
    Reason fear... they are afraid I may take away something from them in the process...

    "And my eyes wanted to cry
    But the instructions say, Don't cry in front of the students"

    I could see myself there....

    like always you are best at what to do...:)


  33. Steve - Oh, Steve, there's nothing for us to be more aware of. I think we all have this awareness, as adults. Maybe some of us pretend not to, because it makes things easier. I just think school kids get so much brainwashing... it makes me sick. They are the ones who need to be made aware. But... when you go against the system, you get hosed!

    Cuban - Ha ha ha! Of course I'm a teacher. But sometimes I wish I wasn't. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier. I think I take the whole thing too personally, like the kids are my own or something. And maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I just should collect my paycheck at the end of each month and punch in the next morning with a smile on my face and voila! But then I'd truly hate it. And thank you so much for your patience and kindness with my self-indulging. I am so very done with it and so ready to move on. Today was my first day back to work after spring break, and I think this two-part writing exercise was just what I needed to cleanse my soul. :-) Thanks again for being around!

    Nipun - Well, thank you. Though I know you're capable of giving birth to sweet thoughts without my writing... I saw... On your blog this morning... ;-)

    Seema - "They" don't usually like it when someone tries to break out of their little box, do they? Fear is absolutely right. You might steal their thunder, or worse... you might actually succeed at changing things and making them better. And we're human, Seema. Sometimes we have no recourse but to cry. And to that I say, "Let the tears flow and they can come bite me!" Thank you for your sweet comments. And I hope things work out well for you where you work; it's not a simple challenge to be different. :-)

  34. Nevine, this has filled me with such and incredible sadness and yet elation too. Elation covers this sadness like a soothing and protective blanket.
    The feelings of sadness got me to thinking - where would I be today had I had just one teacher such as yourself - one who encourages and sees the value of individualism, of free thought and talent when no others can see. Nurturer, encourager, guide.
    The feelings of elation got me to thinking - blessed are those who have you in their lives.
    There is such tremendous humanity, warmth and caring within you...
    Beautiful Creature, Nevine.

  35. Jessica - Well, you've managed to truly make me smile and beam inside my heart. There are challenges every day to doing this job. But I think it's important to bring a little bit of oneself to every job one does, even if it means bending the rules a little bit. Especially when working with children and most especially with teens, it is important to allow them self-expression, to allow them to think for themselves. If they don't learn how to do that when they're young, it becomes a bit too late when they get older. But, I do see that you managed to extract yourself from that dangerous teaching that affected you. So, there seems to always be hope. Thank you so much for your kind words, Jessica. I'm off to work soon... with smiles on my face! :-)

  36. same comment as on "the instructions" :)

  37. Ok, now I'm crying. These two are a masterpiece. I'm sending them to my son, he needs to read this right now.

  38. Cat - These two are my reality. It's sad, but I've been suffering with this crap at work for way too long. I've just about had it...


Your thoughts are deeply appreciated.