Mr. Booth’s Cure for Laziness, and Other Societal Ills

Posted on February 23, 2020


Mr. Booth was my Latin teacher from the seventh grade at The Pingry School in Hillside, N. J. My seventh-grade experience was about 1955, so Mr. Booth is long gone, but not forgotten.

I remember Mr. Booth’s class as the first year of Latin we all had to take at a private, all boys prep school. Pingry today is coed and I wouldn’t recognize its culture, any more than I would recognize a third to a half of the crew on a ship of the U. S. Navy today. Girls were not on ships when I was in the Navy.  We had to chase them while in port.

Mr. Booth’s class was required and so it was into Gaul with Julius Caesar. I can’t quote Shakespeare and I can do a few Bible verses, but I’ll never forget “Omnia gallia in tres partes divisa est.”

It means “All Gaul is divided into three parts” and is part of Caesar’s commentary on Gaul, which he conquered in a long campaign of nine years. Gaul is roughly modern France. You can look up Julius Caesar since today he’s probably not part of the history of the world anymore, and, if there, labeled no doubt a sexist, racist, misogynist and Roman supremacist to boot.

He turned into a tyrant and died on the floor of the Senate (the one in Rome, not the one in Washington), stabbed to death by his rivals. As Caesar went down in 44 BCE, he looked at one of his assassins, Brutus, and said, or allegedly said, “et tu Brutus?” “You too Brutus?” Brutus had been one of his old supporters. You politicians, watch out for your friends.

I didn’t care much for Latin, but I did remember Caesar as his magnificent warriors, organized into the famous Roman legions, conquered the Gauls.

I mention Mr. Booth and Julius Caesar simply to remind us that in the olden days we studied Latin and read about the Romans, both at the core of western civilization.

Mr. Booth was very old fashioned. If he saw that your mind or attention had wandered, you were apt to be zapped by an eraser which he could wing pretty accurately. If you were persistently ignoring Caesar in Gaul, Mr. Booth might nail you with a piece of chalk.

Now, I don’t remember either chalk or eraser hitting any targets, but as I thought back on it, he usually got our attention back on Caesar and maybe conjugating something intriguing to pubescent boys like puella. The idea of conjugating a puella was enough to fire the imagination of a bunch of twelve or thirteen-year-old boys who were drawn like moths to the fire by imagining girls.

Mr. Booth today would be arrested for child abuse and probably assault and battery and fired for good measure. I have no idea how schoolteachers discipline children today but the evidence I see of children with little or no respect for authority is everywhere.

My evidence is largely anecdotal, not statistical or born of research into the dynamics of modern education. A few months ago, while in line at the local Yogurt shop, a two, maybe three-year-old, in his mother’s arms slapped his mom with his right hand and when she just turned away a bit, gave her a slap with his left hand.

She didn’t say a thing but handed the child to a friend or relative just in front of her who admonished the little brat, “now Bubba you know we shouldn’t do that.” He didn’t smack her, but I could see was weighing the consequences. His mother he treated like dirt.

I didn’t inquire about the circumstances of the event, although I gave the kid a look and thought, “if I could get my hands on you…” but he looked at me with disdain.

I have read that teachers in K-12 spend fully half or more of their time just trying to establish order and discipline among their students. Learning is secondary to discipline. And if you follow today’s event of the latest and breaking news, I suspect some teachers of higher grades have a Glock tucked somewhere within reach.

And I ask myself: why is this? And I ask that because I think there exist three sources for learning responsible behavior and what is right in our universe: family, the Church, and schools. 

In the election of 1996, a book written by Hilary Clinton, It Takes a Village, became very popular espousing the virtues of the global world. “It takes a village to raise a child” became a rallying cry of Democrats, to which the Republican nominee for President that year, Bob Dole, responded “with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”

How do we restore something we have lost? Mr. Booth had no reservations of teaching 7th graders that he was in charge, whether they liked it or not.

Maybe that is one of the main problems with kids today. They are used to having their own way, regardless of the old rules of family, Church, and school that informed them, “no, you are not going to have it your way.” You’re going to learn the right way.

Their parents subscribed to the old Biblical injunction, “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

The entire verse reads in the New International Version Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Psalms 13:24)

Published as “Mr. Booth’s approach would not work today,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Feb. 23 2020.

Posted in: Education, History