When I first arrived in Washington state from Ohio, I was in for some culture shock. First stop: whitest Spokane. The only black people I saw were among my Freshman English students, and they were either from Africa or from the football team. But as disconcerting as I found that, the white folks from northern Idaho are the lasting memory. At the time, Hayden Lake was the home of Aryan Nations, and even though I don't think I had any of those kids in my class, their cultural influence was obvious enough.
Which brings us to Todd, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nazi poster child. All white teenagers in baseball caps look alike to me, so the fact that I remember everything about him decades later is a testament to how much he pained me. In a paper that was supposed to be about food, he prosthetyzed about how his future wife was going to have to take care of the household. He didn't want a wife with a career, he said. The very idea was ludicrous. She would take care of him and his spawn. That was her one and only calling, and everything else was offensive to Todd. I kept waiting for a biblical invocation, but none came. He instead concluded with "I'm sorry, but a woman's place is in the home."
"Funny, you don't seem sorry," I wrote in the margin.
For the prompt where students were to write about the moment in their lives where they first felt grown up, Todd managed to discuss why blacks don't excel at hockey. "I'm telling you, blacks don't have the ankle strength. They just don't."
I considered praising him for not saying "coloreds," but I thought better of it. I knew my job was to reject the paper and ask him for the evidence to support this claim, but I fervently did not want to read it. I settled on "Today I learned that Michael Jordan has weak ankles."
"Huh," Todd said. "I never thought about that."
Todd represented something new to me. He grew up in a heremetically sealed environment with toxic illiterates, and it showed. Todd himself did not read, for he already completely understood the world through his experiences Hayden Lake. I made zero headway nudging Todd up the Perry Scheme of students' intellectual and ethical development.
When I saw his next English teacher was Berkeley-educated Mariko, I was delighted.
"What the actual fuck?" she asked me a few weeks into their quarter.
Tomorrow: what this has to do with the election