“In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart, and I recommend pleasant.” –Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) quoting his mother in Harvey
Our friend and Lake Calhoun neighbor Lance Lavine got it mostly right twenty years ago. He observed our reticent infant son, urged us not to worry, and proclaimed that one day Benny would be a philosopher. “Little Benny Two-fingers” spoke early and in complete sentences. He would listen carefully to the discussion around him. When he was ready to speak, he would remove his two middle fingers from his mouth and gesture with them much like a tweedy Humanities professor waving a pipe. Then, point made, the two fingers would go back into his mouth for further contemplation and sucking.
Other children used the neighborhood swings to play and release excess energy. For adventure they would pump hard and it seemed attempt to defy gravity. While Ben seemed to enjoy being pushed, when the adult (usually me) gave out he would contentedly lean back in the swing and stare up at the sky. I asked him why he didn’t want to go faster or in later years stand up on the swing. He replied that he “liked it peaceful.” When he was five, JoAnne and I quizzed him on his refusal of a play date with a friend. Ben confided that the boy was “too frisky” for his taste. As a child he frequently sought the company of his fairly sedentary parents. His standard greeting on entering a room was “Where are you guys gonna be?”
Granted I am cheap, but I can not imagine a private education benefiting Ben more than what Minneapolis Public Schools provided at Barton Open. Ben was able to attend for nine years (K-8) including three years with the sainted teacher Mary Ann Fabel. The friendships and social skills he acquired were as important as the whole-brain academic curriculum. Since Barton does not give letter grades, I would get frustrated attempting to measure Ben’s ability. In sixth grade he would come home with radish stickers on his work. I remember some fairly bizarre parent conferences with me grilling his teachers on why Ben wasn’t getting more broccoli stickers and would a tutor help him to do cauliflower work.
Thanks to excellent support at Barton, Ben was ready for the Open Program at South High School. At last there were letter grades and in Garrison Keillor tradition we discovered that Ben was above average, and that a college fund would have been a good idea. Ben enjoyed soccer but seemed to feel that after he had kicked the ball it was someone else’s turn. Consequently he played on the freshman-sophomore team through his junior year. His strong logic skills helped him find success on the school’s mock trial team.
Leaping ahead, Ben chose the University of California Santa Cruz. He did well there but I occasionally felt like I was back at Barton. I had finally mastered the vegetable grading system only to receive an evaluation from one of his film courses which read in part…”His memoir described his childhood experiences at the disjunction between action films and real childhood threats. Ben sought to explore the resonances of hypertextuality, identifying key tensions such as the relationship between Memex and hypertext, databases vs. hypertext and the author-reader-text relation…” There were some nice words about him that I could understand, but the instructor seemed most impressed by Ben’s “…focusing on the tension between a bounded CD-ROM and the more fluid and ephemeral Internet…”.
We attended his graduation last week in Santa Cruz staring out at the Pacific Ocean during the ceremony. Our little Benny “Two fingers” is a film major who wants to go to Hollywood and represent writers. Like all parents we want our children to exceed us. Even though he is currently unemployed and driving the nine year old Mazda we gave him he is already very close to eclipsing me. He is a young man of principle, balance, and common sense. We are enormously proud of him.
Tom H. Cook is delighted to have his whole family in southern California clogging up the freeways.