Saturday, November 1, 2014

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, The Kimberly Affirmation

I doubt she reached five feet in height.

If she did, it was by a hair. But when she came within my orbit, she brought with her a blinding light, a gorgeous constitution belying her tender years. The first thing I noticed was her smile. IT WAS HUGE. All teeth. And what followed that was an intoxicating laugh. She was one of the few students who could get ME to genuinely laugh.

Back then, I paced as I lectured. She sat in the far end of the class, folding her legs under her ass in order to prop herself up. Her eyes followed me all around the class. As a lecturer I was famous for burping mid-sentence or for saying some outlandish shit just to see if students were with me. SHE WAS WITH ME every second, every word, every syllable. She’d routinely raise her hand, in fearless engagement, wanting to know more about this subject, challenging me on that subject.


Through the years my students came in all colors and backgrounds, and this furthered my insistence on the stupidity of racial categorization. Filipinas, however, were exceptional … almost without exception. Their parents had made unbelievably great sacrifices for their education, and so the kids were infused with educational gospel. The other groups or designations of students were a crap shoot, by and large, but as a teacher I could ALWAYS count on a Filipina student to be at the top of whatever course I taught.

KM is how I’ll refer to her for discretion’s sake.

KM was brilliant among the brilliant. In the entire time I taught, she was, BY FAR, the smartest student I’d ever had. What made her great was her well-roundedness: she did everything, and she did it well. She was insatiably curious about the world. She managed to get the most out of education, and I admired her spunk and initiative.

During a tragic circumstance, when a fellow classmate, someone we all loved very much, died at a heart-breaking age, it was KM who suggested to me that we do something as a class to celebrate his life.  When I spoke to the dead student’s family, they explained the hospital expenses were so outrageously high they were in a terrible financial state. KM overheard me on the phone, and when I got off, she now INSISTED we raise money. We asked kids for $5, and we wrote out the text of the flyer in English, Spanish, and Tagalog. The principal at the time was wary of fundraising so informally, but as you know I do what I want, and with KM by my side we were an unstoppable team. She was a member of the ASB, and she proposed some kind of school-wide function to share our grief. More than a few hundred people showed up (at night), and we all reminisced about what a wonderful kid he was (that’s a whole other story). It was a success, very therapeutic for the community, and KM was a large part of why.

I became a much, MUCH better teacher because of KM. She was SO brilliant, so incredible, I stepped up my game to meet her great mind. I created THE GREAT DEBATES just for her (she didn’t know that), and she knocked it out of the park. She was a team leader, helping her fellow classmates figure out the fine art of public speaking and disputation. Once that challenge was over, and it was the ONLY time ANY students in our district were introduced to debate, she needed MORE. She was chomping at the bit to learn and challenge herself.

I found a nationwide competition, HISTORY DAY.

No one in the entire district wanted to touch it. It was a lot of work, there wasn’t any extra money, and it was well known students hated history.

Insert KM.

She JUMPED at the chance, as we watched the promotional video together at lunch. She was so excited. She recruited her friend Dar, a very bookish and shy girl at the time, and KM approached me with a topic for the project: ABORTION. Yeah. Not only was I taking on a competition all the other teachers warned me not to participate in, but now I was faced with presenting an extremely controversial subject.

PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE, she begged. I could not say no to that chipmonk face. I tried to discourage her and Dar, telling them they’d need anywhere from 50 to 100 annotated sources. She jumped up and down in excitement. She and Dar split up the task, and they went to work.

Within about a week, they came back with STACKS and STACKS of sources. All of them were annotated. Mind you, this was at a time when TEACHERS were complaining about two to three annotated sources for an English portfolio. KM and Dar were putting together TONS of annotations, and they were doing so without any grade remuneration! None of the other teachers believed me when I told them. They thought KM and Dar were plagiarizing. That drove me NUTS. But I let it go, as I always do, allowing the haters to hate (a common theme during my professional life).

I’ll never forget KM coming to me, asking what penumbras and emanations were. Christ, KM and Dar had actually READ the Roe v. Wade case! We discussed privacy, its arguable right within the US Constitution, and the implications as the Supreme Court saw them. KM soaked it up. It was then she broke the news to me: she and Dar would present the project as a Drama; KM would be the Pro-Choice, professional, and Dar would be the Bible-thumping Pro-Lifer. I could not see it, but I trusted KM by this time. I knew she could pull it off.

They were hilarious, profound, and kicked ass. Our school participated in a county competition, competing against schools who’d entered History Day for years and years. They had shirts, formal teams, and so forth. Um, we didn’t.

KM and Dar went up against students who had elaborate sets and costumes (all made by their parents, of course). KM and Dar merely carried signs, managing to bump into one another on a street corner. KM was in a business suit, Dar held a Bible and my Rosario.

The judges were BLOWN away by their performance AND by their chosen topic.


That’s right. They beat out ALL THE OTHER SCHOOLS, and some of these schools charge TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in tuition. KM and Dar beat them all.


KM and Dar were slated to compete in the STATE competition, going up against all the best projects from around California! The girls won medals, certificates, and other junk at the county level. How the hell was I going to get them to Pasadena? On a weekend?

The principal was thrilled with KM’s and Dar’s win. She could not believe it. She basically opened the school’s checkbook in order to get us to Pasadena. Very cool. I, of course, chose the most expensive SUV to rent. Cleared everything with the parents, and we were off.

The competition was interesting. KM and Dar were fantastic. I thought they blew away the others. The judges didn’t think so. Oh well. We had the hotel for two nights, and the competition was over the first night. I took them to the famous Chinese Theatre and we watched some Marvel Comic movie. After that, we drove around the city of Los Angeles – hilariously fun. As I turned a corner, our windows were down, and there was an obvious prostitute walking. I guess she heard me say, Oh, there she is!, because she whipped around and flashed her tits at us. KM and Dar laughed and laughed.

The next day, I took them to Beverly Hills, and we got a Star Map. We found famous houses, including the Playboy mansion (the security yelled at me to move along) – and before you get all weirded out, KM and Dar were the ones who wanted to see it. We found our way to Venice Beach, and we walked the boardwalk. KM and Dar got temporary henna tattoos and sunglasses. A great trip.

KM was promoted with distinction. Once she went across the way, she managed to finagle an exchange program to Belgium! She was still in high school. Unbelievable. The last time we interacted to any lengthy degree was when she applied to college. Her entrance essay she honored me with by asking me to critique it. I poured over what she’d written, and I tore it apart. She thanked me for the honesty, and I didn’t see her again until her younger brother promoted during what turned out to be my final year as a teacher (he was brilliant too).

I wanted to thank her for what she gave me. She didn’t realize it, of course, but she changed the way I approached the craft of teaching. I stopped teaching toward the lowest common denominator, and I began to view all students as potential KMs. She really did affirm for me the beauty and grace of the human interplay that is education. She was an affirmation for me.

And I mean it.   


 Craig Edward Kelso is the author of Anarcho-Capitalism (2014), a primer on the philosophy of peaceful, stateless cooperation. His curriculum vitae include a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a Post-Baccalaureate secondary education credential in both Social Science and English Language Arts. Kelso taught for nearly a decade in the American public school system, and was voted by colleagues Teacher of the Year, twice in his short tenure, earning numerous accolades from chambers of commerce, mayors, state assembly persons, governors, congresspersons, senators, and even Wal-Mart. Currently he struggles to earn an opportunity to be employed, working as a laborer, dishwasher. He is deliriously happily married to Myra Kelso, living in Southern California with their adorable children.

No comments:

Post a Comment