Dear Mr. Mulvihill,
I know it’s been a lot of years, a lifetime in fact, since I sat in your Social Studies class along with the other seniors at West Orange High (“Go Cowboys!”). We all thought you were one cool dude, except that word probably hadn’t been invented yet except as an adjective modifying “ranch.”
In truth, you weren’t much older than we were, maybe seven or eight years older and probably just out of teachers’ college. We might have been your first class. If you were nervous, it never showed. We really liked you, which is why to find out now that you lied to us hurts so much.
You taught us that America was truly a land of great opportunity, a place where people worked hard and were happy to have jobs. You never told us that one day people would be allowed to sit home all day and play video games because they got an unemployment check deposited in their bank account each week for doing absolutely nothing. If they did decide to work, they might ask to be paid under the table. You told us Americans were hard-working and not lazy. You lied.
You taught us that we were growing up in a country where everyone pulled together in the workplace, for what they believed, and for each other. You lied.
You taught us about Election Day in America and the importance of voting because every voted counted. You said it was about Republicans and Democrats who competed fairly and honestly to win their offices, not battle viciously and resort to under-handed means to get each other and the vote.
You taught us about the privilege of voting in a voting booth with a closed curtain and being allowed to have our say in the legislation of this country and our say as to which elected officials would enact those laws. You told us that only those who were ill, disabled, in the service of our country, or away from home could vote by absentee ballot. You lied, Mr. Mulvihill, you lied.
You taught us about decency and respect, about a country where people held the door for each other, and that door was always open for opportunity, that there never was a place for foul language, that ours was a country where our elderly population was valued and respected.
You lied when you asked us to dress appropriately for class, same as we did for worship, weddings, or out to dinner.
You taught us that being Americans, even young ones, meant honor, respect, and responsibility. It meant standing quietly at football games while the National Anthem was being sung, it meant raising our hands in class when we had something to ask or say, and remaining quiet and listening to others when they expressed themselves, even if we didn’t agree. That led to discussion, debate, and sometimes dissension, but always it was orderly and held to the highest of standards. You made sure of that. But time has proven you wrong, Mr. M.
Mostly you taught us about respect: for the flag of the United States, for people’s right to speak their minds so long as it didn’t hurt the other guy, about respecting laws, police, property, and rules. You really lied on that one!
You didn’t do your job properly because you never taught us about anger and hate and how that can escalate into the ugliest of behaviors. You never taught us that words sting and wound deeply, that rioting never solves anything, and people get hurt.
We studied Confederate General Robert E. Lee in your class, and you told us that there was a statue in tribute to him in Richmond, Virginia, as a decorated Civil War hero. But last week they took that statue down because those “who know better” than you decided it was now a symbol of racial injustice and had to go. Matter of fact, they’re taking down a lot of those statues these days, and right along with them they’re taking down the history you taught.
Yet with all of that, I’d still like to be back in your class right now. You filled our young, impressionable minds with the concept of a good America, one that had warts and faults, but still endured and was something of which to be proud.
We just never thought you were lying to us.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.