As It Is ~ THE BEST TEACHER I EVER
taught Year Six Science. During the first of his classes,
be gave us a lecture about a creature that he called
the Cattywampuss, an ill-adapted nocturnal animal
that was wiped out during the last Ice Age. He passed
around a skull as be talked. We all took notes, and
later had a test.
"When he returned my paper, I was shocked.
There was a big red X through each of my answers.
I had failed. There had to be some mistake! I had
put down exactly what Mr. Whitson had said. Then I
realized that everyone in the class had failed. What
"Very simple, Mr. Whitson explained.
He had made up all that stuff about the Cattywampuss.
There had never been any such animal. The information
in our notes was, therefore, incorrect. Did we expect
credit for incorrect answers?
"Needless to say, we were outraged.
What kind of test was this? And what kind of teacher?
"We should have figured it out, Mr.
Whitson said. After all, at the very moment he was
passing around the Cattywampuss, skull (in truth,
a cat's), hadn't he been telling us that no trace
of the animal remained? He had described its amazing
night vision, the color of its fur and any number
of other facts he couldn't have known. He had given
the animal a ridiculous name, and we still hadn't
been suspicious. The zeros on our papers would be
recorded in his grade book, he said. And they were.
"Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would
learn something from this experience. Teachers and
textbooks are not infallible. In fact, no one is.
He told us not to let our minds go to sleep, and to
speak up if we ever thought he or the textbook was
"Every class was an adventure with
Mr. Whitson. I can still remember some science periods
almost from beginning to end. One day he told us that
his Volkswagen was a living organism. It took us two
full days to put together a refutation that he would
accept. He didn't let us off the hook until we had
proved not only that we knew what an organism was
but also that we had the fortitude to stand up for
"We carried our brand new skepticism
into all our classes. This caused problems for the
other teachers, who weren't used to being challenged.
Our history teacher would be lecturing about something,
and then there would be clearings of the throat and
someone would say "cattywampuss."
"If I'm ever asked to propose a solution
to the crisis in our schools, it will be Mr. Whitson.
I've not made any great scientific discoveries, but
his class gave me and my classmates something just
as important: the courage to look people in the eye
and tell them they are wrong. He also showed us that
you can have fun doing it.
"Not everyone sees the value in this.
I once told a primary school teacher about Mr. Whitson.
"He shouldn't have tricked you like that,"
the teacher said, appalled. I looked that teacher
right in the eye and told him he was wrong."
I came across this article in a magazine
some time last year, and was so delighted with it
that I wanted to print it in BECAUSE I CARE, but hesitated
to do so without first contacting the author for his
permission. I obtained an address in the U.S., but
it seemed 'not quite right,' and I doubted if I would
get a reply, but wrote anyway. There was no reply,
and neither was my letter returned to me undelivered,
but by that time it was too late to include it in
Now, however, because it says so well and
humorously what I am trying to say?believe nothing,
no matter who says it, but check it out carefully?I
have decided to risk any breach of copyright, and
hope that the author really wishes to share something,
like the teacher in his article, and that, therefore,
he won't mind me using his words, and might even take
it as a compliment. I am not using them for monetary
gain, but to share something good with others. I would
like to thank David Owen, the author, whoever and
wherever he is, and ask his pardon for using his words
without his permission; in exchange, he may use mine,
if he likes.