Unlike Tucker Carlson, I Learned a lot from my First-Grade Teacher

As most of us hopefully do.

Perhaps you saw a recent story in The Washington Post about Fox News personality Tucker Carlson tracing the origin of his particular political orientations, which includes a recounting of something Carlson put in his book about his first-grade teacher.

As related by Michael Kranish of the Post:

[Carlson] attended the elite La Jolla Country Day School, where a woman entered his life whom he grew to detest. It was his first-grade teacher, whom he referred to in his book as Mrs. Raymond. He caricatured her as “a parody of earth-mother liberalism” who “wore long Indian-print skirts. . . . She had little interest in conventional academic topics, like reading and penmanship.” He recalled her sobbing theatrically at her desk, saying, “The world is so unfair! You don’t know that yet. But you’ll find out!”

Carlson said he just wanted liberals to “stop blubbering and teach us to read. . . . Mrs. Raymond never did teach us; my father had to hire a tutor to get me through phonics.” Thus, Carlson says, he began his sojourn as a conservative thinker, questioning the liberals who he said were all around him, exemplified by his first-grade teacher.

Kranish went to the trouble to contact Mrs. Raymond who is now 77-years-old and remembers Carlson as “very precious and very, very polite and sweet.”

She also says that she didn’t wear an Indian skirt or put politics in the first-grade classroom.

Oh, also, she was hired to tutor Carlson in reading at his home. When told by the Post reporter of his attack on her she said, “Oh my God. That is the most embellished, crazy thing I ever heard.”

My heart panged a little for Mrs. Raymond, because unlike Tucker Carlson, I learned a lot of important things from my grade school teachers, Mrs. Craig (1st & 2nd), Mrs. Goldman (3rd), Mrs Thiel (4th), Mrs. Minch (5th), and Mrs. Chambers (6th).

In fact, I learned so much, and remain so grateful I dedicated Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities to them.

Share

The assignment Mrs. Goldman gave us in 3rd grade to write instructions for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is literally the moment I understood how writing works as part of a rhetorical situation, that we write for purpose and audience. I’ve repeated the exercise dozens of times with students when I’m the instructor. The moment I became a fully aware writer is actually memorialized in this picture.

The writing portfolio prepared for Mrs. Minch’s 5th grade class shows that I was allowed to write freely across many different genres, developing a flexible understanding of deeper dimensions of the rhetorical situation. My story on the computer that pours information into students’ heads while they sleep was some of my best work, and because Mrs. Minch was a good person who believed in her students’ autonomy and knew that the value of school extended beyond just pouring information into students’ heads, she didn’t take it personally that the story concluded with the elimination of all teachers.

I will also never forget another lesson Mrs. Minch taught our class about how we collectively treated one of our classmates who had some differences that we unformed children picked on him for. She asked our classmate to go find a particular book in the library, and then spoke to us not in anger, but sadness, not yelling, but soft-voiced. I do not remember the specific words, but in less than ten minutes I had an appreciation of empathy that had not sunk quite so deeply prior to that day.

The Washington Post story says that Carlson “detested” Mrs. Raymond, which makes me feel very sad for Tucker Carlson, not something I would have thought possible, but then again, I’ve had the advantage of Mrs. Minch’s lesson in empathy.

Carlson’s mother left the family when Tucker was six for a “bohemian lifestyle” and was never a part of his life after that. There is an implication in the Post story that perhaps this trauma led to Carlson’s enmity towards a woman who could be seen as a quasi-parental figure, and there is some clear conflation going on with his mother.

Considering the circumstances, it does not surprise me that a young, emotionally wounded Tucker Carlson was “very precious and sweet” to his 1st grade teacher.

It’s a shame what’s happened to him since. The portrait in the Post suggests a person carrying around a lot of pain. Of course, this does not excuse the kind of pain Carlson regularly visits on others via his media platforms, but it’s hard not to have a little ache for that precious boy who now says he detested the woman who, in reality, came to his house and taught him how to read.

Share

Leave a comment