Discovering Some People Never Learn



My mother, God rest her soul, used to say that some people just never learned. I didn't agree. I believed that sooner or later everyone learned. Until one day Houston, Texas ...

Port Arthur Independent School District (PAISD) where I taught chemistry and physical science for eight years was one of the wealthiest school districts in Texas. As a result, when PAISD set aside a day for inservice training we didn't end up sitting in a stuffy overcrowded auditorium dying of boredom. We did something.

One of those "somethings" for those of us who taught science was a field trip down to M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, renowned for its treatment of cancer. We saw a lot of things that day, not the least of which was an electron microscope, something I had never seen before. It was an absolutely great day. We saw science helping to alleviate human suffering, something that filled us with enthusiasm to get back in the classroom and teach.

The very last thing we did that day, though, had a different purpose. Teachers have a responsibility to the community they serve other than just lecturing in their chosen subjects. They also have the responsibility of being role models for their students, teaching both by example and by how they react the world outside the classroom.

By being what they hope their students will become, teachers can teach morality, ethics, good taste, kindness, understanding, love of god and county, and a whole lot of other things that don't appear any course goals.

One of the "other" things is the danger of smoking. To help motivate us to let students know how dangerous smoking can be, we were allowed into an adult ward to view the horrors of the many types of cancer that result from the use of tobacco. It was akin to going to one of those mandatory speeding ticket classes where the audience is shown horrific films of accidents, except that these were no films. The people we saw were live human beings.

Well, more or less alive; some of them did not look very human any more.

One of them I will never forget, a man in his 50s who no longer had a lower jaw, tongue, voice box (larynx) or any face at all below his jawbones. It had all been cut away by a scalpel and bone saw. The moment I came upon him sitting at the edge of his bed, he was holding a cigarette over the hole where his throat should have been and inhaling the smoke that drifted downward toward it.

From that day, I have never repeated the claim that everyone eventually learns.

Am I wrong to feel that way? Did I miss something that day? I'd like to think so.

Tom Garrett's column will appear semimonthly in the Payson Roundup. His columns are designed to provoke thought and provide a forum for philosophical conversation. Garrett lives in Pine. To respond, please address correspondences to: Your Turn, Payson Roundup, P.O. Box 2520, Payson, AZ 85547 or e-mail at

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