Dear Mr. Mulvihill,
I know it’s been many years, a lifetime since I sat in your social studies class with the other seniors at West Orange High (“Go Cowboys!”). We all thought you were a cool guy, except that word probably hasn’t been invented yet, except as an adjective that modifies “ranch”.
In truth, you weren’t much older than us, maybe seven or eight years older, and probably just graduated from teacher training college. We could have been your first class. If you were nervous, it never showed. We liked you very much, that’s why it hurts so much to find out now that you lied to us.
You taught us that America really is a land of opportunity, a place where people work hard and are happy to have jobs. They never told us that one day people would be allowed to sit at home all day playing video games because they got an unemployment check in their bank account every week, because they were doing absolutely nothing. When they have decided to work, they could ask to be paid under the table. They told us Americans are hardworking and not lazy. You lied.
They taught us that we grew up in a country where everyone at work pulls together for their beliefs and for each other. You lied.
You taught us about Election Day in America and the importance of voting because every vote counts. They said it was about Republicans and Democrats fighting fairly and honestly for office, not fighting viciously and using devious means to get each other and the votes.
You taught us about the privilege of voting in a voting booth with the curtains closed and of having a say in the legislation of this country and of saying which elected officials would make those laws. They told us that only those sick, disabled, serving our country or not at home could vote by post. You lied, Mr. Mulvihill, you lied.
You taught us about decency and respect, about a country where people held the door to each other and that door was always open to opportunities, that there was never a place for swearwords, that ours was a country where our elderly Population was valued and respected.
You lied when you asked us to dress appropriately for class, just as we did for church services, weddings, or dinner.
They taught us that being American, young too, is honor, respect, and responsibility. It meant standing quietly at soccer matches while the national anthem was sung, it meant raising hands in class when we had something to ask or say, and staying still and listening to others speak up, even when they were talking we disagreed. This led to discussions, debates and sometimes disagreements, but it was always organized and kept at the highest level. You made sure of that. But time has proven you wrong, Mr. M.
Most of the time you have taught us about respect: for the flag of the United States, for the right of people to speak their minds as long as it doesn’t harm the other, for the law, the police, property and rules. You really lied!
You didn’t do your job right because you never taught us about anger and hatred and how that can escalate into the ugliest behaviors. You never taught us that words burn deeply and hurt, that riots never solve anything and that people get hurt.
We studied Confederate General Robert E. Lee in your class, and you told us that in Richmond, Virginia, there is a statue honoring the decorated Civil War hero. But last week they demolished that statue because those “who know better” than you decided that it is now a symbol of racial injustice and had to leave. In fact, these days they are taking down a lot of these statues and at the same time with them the story that you taught.
Still, I would love to be back in your class now. You filled our young, impressionable minds with the concept of a good America, one with warts and flaws but still enduring and something to be proud of.
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 protected] or 401-539-7762.