Author’s Note: After a long holiday weekend, I am resorting to recycling material from columns gone by. The following two items were originally published in two separate columns in the fall of 1994.
Item #1: Last year, 29,000 high school home-economics teachers across the country received a teaching guide prepared by Scholastic, Inc., a justifiably noted publisher, and Revlon, the cosmetic company giant. The guide was entitled “Hot Looks, Cool Style” and it opens with a preface to the teacher that reads:
“The activities listed below will help your students discover why hair behaves the way it does, and what to do about it. It’s a lively and entertaining program that will involve your entire class, because hair is so important to a teen’s self-image.”
Among a variety of activities suggested in the guide are the following (I swear, I am not making this up):
“Ask students to bring in pictures of themselves from days they consider ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair days. Mount them on a bulletin board and have students describe what a good and bad hair day means to them.”
Another suggestion has students bringing in pictures from magazines, newspapers, etc., and having the class guess information about the subjects. “Then reveal the true identities of the people…and discuss whether their hairstyles suit their ages, personalities, and professions. Have students offer hairstyle suggestions to improve the subject’s credibility, authority, and effectiveness.”
Now take some time here and picture this: your photo appears in the local paper and ends up in a home-economics class where the students discuss your relative merits based upon the way your hair behaves. Scary? You bet. But this is a learning experience for young minds, right?
One last activity from the study guide: “Students who have developed a successful hair regimen will swear there are products they can’t live without. Start a discussion by asking the following question: ‘If you were stranded on a desert island with fresh water to wash your hair, which three hair care products would you have to have, and why?”
Hello! Is it just me? Am I the only one who, if stranded on a desert island would be thankful for fresh water to drink and wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about my hair?
Understand, I am not making light of home-economics programs or education, but the above claptrap posing as progressive education is an insult to the student’s intelligence. Do Scholastic and Revlon really believe that any student subjected to these “activities” will keep a straight face? And are we really suppose to believe that Revlon has any interest in this endeavor other than capturing the attention of a young audience with their products? Corporate endorsements are everywhere these days, and now, apparently, they are creeping into our school’s curriculum.
Meanwhile, over in shop class, students, working from the Scholastic/Stanley Tools workbook, are answering the question, “Which three tools they would have to have if they were stranded on an island with plenty of hard woods?”
Teacher: Yes, Johnny. What three tools would you choose?
Johnny: Well, I’d choose a mallet so I could pound in posts for the frame of a hut. And I choose pliers in case I got a splinter that I had to pull. (Laughs from the class.)
Teacher: Very good, Johnny. Go ahead.
Johnny: And I’d choose a chainsaw to cut the wood.
Teacher: Johnny, Stanley doesn’t make a chainsaw. You know very well you can only choose from tools that are made by our corporate sponsor.
Johnny: Rats. Well, I’d want some protection so I guess I’d choose a semi-automatic assault rifle of some sort.
Teacher: You’re losing sight of what class you’re in young man. Save responses like that for the Soldier of Fortune workbook in your civics class.
(Okay. I made the shop class stuff up, but you get my drift.)
Item #2: On a different theme comes the sordid story of Harry Glenn Newman and his mother Mary Stiles. I want to stress, before I start, that I am not making this up.
Harry was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a conspiracy that resulted in the murder of his stepfather, Grady Stiles. Jr. It seems Harry and his mother Mary hired a teenage neighbor to kill Grady because, they argued, the old man was “a drunken brute” who slapped and head-butted Mary and occasionally threatened to kill the entire family. Grady was found dead from a bullet wound to the head two years ago.
If, at this point, you think this is just another episode of “Family Values From Hell” or excerpts from Dan Quayle’s nightmares, you’re wrong. Because, as I reveal the rest of the story you will realize that this can only be called “Dan Quayle’s New Nightmare.”
Harry is a slightly overweight 20-year-old. He is poor and boasts an IQ of only 79. To make ends meet he works in a circus sideshow where he is billed as “The Human Blockhead.” You see, Harry has the very unique ability to hammer nails into his nostrils.
(Let me interject here, a moment. I am at a loss to understand how an individual goes about discovering a talent like this. Do Mom and Dad take out the old ball peen and a couple dozen 10 pennies and just start nailing away until they find a place it doesn’t hurt? Does Junior have some type of freak accident as a tot where he falls face first onto a board with a protruding nail and, thoroughly disoriented by the calamity, runs home to Mom and Dad so they can pry it off, which leads them to discover this unique ability?).
Harry is the son of Mary and a midget who is known on the sideshow circuit as “The World’s Smallest Man.”
The murder victim, Grady, stepfather to Harry and husband to Mary, was none other than the renowned, claw-handed “Lobster Boy.”
And Mary, well, she mated with “The World’s Smallest Man” and married “Lobster Boy.” Enough said. (By the way, if any of you have read the novel Geek Love and find the above scenario a tad familiar, I completely understand).
Despite the tragedy of this story, I do believe some good can come from this for all of us who now know the story of “The Human Blockhead” and “Lobster Boy.”
Save this column. The next time you are experiencing stress or trauma, the next time you or your therapist are attributing your problems to a dysfunctional family environment – reach for this column in your wallet, your pocketbook, or (if you happen to be a sideshow performer) the flap pouch on your lower abdomen and reread this story. If you don’t immediately feel better about your lot in life, hurry to the nearest hardware store and purchase a hammer and some nails. You may have overlooked a career opportunity.