The Miss O’ Show: Scene 2: Let’s Hear from an Expert
When last we left Miss O’, she was figuring out that teaching is not actually a TV Show, with lights and lovely frocks, but a bizarrely human enterprise wherein “students” actually may need to “know” things. Hunh.
[Enter TOLSTOY. Fun fact: In addition to epic novels such as Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy was also a teacher. One of my finest professors at Bread Loaf, Michael Armstrong, was a co-translator of Tolstoy’s writings on education. This play is not Michael’s fault.]
LEO TOLSTOY [at lectern, reading; a sign, “Welcome Educators! Opening Address: Tolstoy on Education,” lights up (author’s note: ref. pp. 70–71 of Armstrong’s translation)]: “After tracing the course of the history of philosophical pedagogy you will find no criterion for education in it, but, on the contrary, one common idea which unconsciously underlies the thought of all teachers in spite of their frequent disagreement amongst themselves, an idea which convinces us that there is no such criterion. All of them, from Plato to Kant, are striving for the same thing, to free the school from its historical trammels, they want to guess what man needs and upon their more or less accurate guesses as to these needs, they build their new school. Luther has Holy Scripture taught in the original and not according to the commentaries of the holy fathers. Bacon has us study nature from nature itself, and not from Aristotle’s books. Rousseau wants to teach life from life itself as he understands it, and not from past experiences. Each step forward in pedagogical philosophy only consists in freeing the school from the idea of teaching the younger generations what the older generations have considered learning to be, and going over to the idea of teaching what the younger generations need. This same common and yet self-contradictory thought is to be felt throughout the history of pedagogy––common because everyone demands a greater measure of freedom for the school, self-contradictory because everyone prescribes laws founded upon this own theory and thereby restricts freedom.” [beat]
[During beat: MISS O’, donning a hardhat and jackhammer pen, moving atop the desk now covered in a twenty foot stack of papers to grade, about to strike]
TOLSTOY [looks about; demands from group addressed:] “The experience of schools which have existed and now exist? . . . But how can this experience prove to us that the existing method of coercive education is just? We cannot know that there is not another, more legitimate method, since schools up to now have not been free.” [crashing music; silence]
MISS O’ [stops, looks up, out to audience]: Did you hear something?
[end Scene 2]
SCENE 3: Classroom Management
[Return to classroom, MISS O’ dressed anew; STUDENTS, too, are fresh. A bell rings.]
MISS O’: It was simply grand of you to come back. [beat, takes in the scene; looks at roster, surveys the room.] Shall I call roll? When I call your name, please raise your hand and say, “Present.” Molly. Mary. Jack. Ann. Mary. Maryann. Billy. Michael. Michael. Rose. Jack. Michael [she corrects herself]--Mike. Tommy. Mary. Michael. Rose. Jack. Tom. Tom. Tom. [beat] Mary. Tom. Susan. [smiles]
TOMMY: Miss, um, O’?
MISS O’ [all beneficence]: My name is not Miss Um, Tommy. Therefore no such inane verbal filler need be contained in your addressing of me.
KELLI [mutters to self]: Jesus Christ.
MISS O’: And that is not my name, either, Kelli. With an i. Who is still not on my roll. And you have a hand, don’t you, Tommy? [aside] Kelli’s is apparently stuffed up her ass. [KELLI gasps. No one else has heard. Whispers to KELLI.] Did I say something out loud? Without raising my hand for permission? Goodness. [TOMMY raises hand.]
MISS O’: Yes, Tommy?
TOMMY: Miss . . . O’?
MISS O’: Yes, Tommy?
TOMMY: Can I go to the bathroom?
MISS O’: I’m sure you can, Tommy. But your ability to complete the bathroom task is not really the thing for which you seek affirmation, is it? [TOMMY shakes head] I believe your question is, “May I?”
KELLI: Okay, shit like that. Stuff. Like. Why do you do that? It’s stupid. You know what Tommy wants.
MISS O’: Tommy, I’m sorry, I was distracted by an impolite buzzing in my ear. [As if smacking the side of Kelli’s head with a dictionary] Got that fly, didn’t I?
TOMMY: May I go to the bathroom?
MISS O’: Yes, you may, Tommy. And to that end, as it were, [takes out from locked desk drawer a packet of passes, writes as she speaks; possibly projected, what is filled in may be outrageous] I will fill out for you an official school-printed hall pass, stating your name, today’s date, the time [looks up at a clock, writes in time], the number of the room from which you came, your destination, and the expected number of minutes it will take you to complete the task, thus giving us a time of return. I will give you five minutes. Finally, I sign it, my signature so specific that no student can forge it, should any student take it into his or her head to commit such a forgery, making him or her free to commit nefarious deeds on the school’s dime. Tommy, in the time it has taken me to write out this vital school security information, I have completely lost the focus of my entire class. I doubt I can get it back for some minutes. And yet, your physical needs must be met, of course. Here you are, Tommy.
TOMMY: Thanks, Miss [does not say “um”]. . . O’.
KELLI: YOU are the one who is wasting time here. [throws hands up to protect head; nothing flies]
MISS O’: Class. CLASS! Class, today we will be adventuring into the land of Mr. William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, the greatest writer in the history of the English language. The work? His magnificent tragedy, Julius Caesar.
MIKE: Is it true...
MISS O’: Excuse me, class. Mike, did you have a question? [MIKE raises his hand.] Mike?
MIKE: Um, yeah, I mean, yes, Miss O’. Is it true that Julius Caesar had epilepsy?
MISS O’: Well, Mike, thank you for this unexpected, and may I say, rather ill-timed moment of historical inquiry. As a matter of fact, Mr. Shakespeare himself addresses this very ailment, oft mentioned in records kept by Caesar’s contemporaries, by having a character refer to the great Caesar’s “falling sickness.”
MIKE: So why didn’t Shakespeare call the play Julius Seizure?
[STUDENTS snicker, some uncomfortably. ANN, an epileptic student, bursts into tears. Pause.]
MISS O’ [all Donna Reed, handing ANN a tissue]: Possibly for the same reason I do not refer to you as Mike the Psych, as in psycho, which is what other students call you due to your as yet undiagnosed mental illness. Shall I now?
MIKE: Um, no, that’s okay.
MISS O’ [smiling beatifically, generously, gamely]: Class! Allow me, with the Bard’s help and without further ado, to welcome you into a world of murder, intrigue, political gambits, high stakes, low rolls, untold deaths, ruination, all in a bid for ascension to the highest and most powerful office in the ancient Roman empire, ergo the World. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
[TOMMY returns from the bathroom, hands pass back to MISS O’, who stares at his offering. Grimaces. The teaching moment is gone once again.]
TOMMY: What do you want me to do with this?
MISS O’: I believe you may destroy that, Tommy. Trashcan. Thank you. [Lights change.] Next time, why don’t you just piss on my lesson planner over there rather than into a boy’s bathroom urinal, since all the day’s work, my hopes, my dreams of a better tomorrow for all of us have been blown apart by your bladder’s untimely call. While you’re at it, why don’t you just take a gun from Mike the Psych’s long-rumored collection and shoot me in the goddamned head and put an end to it? This is a FARCE! O, Death!
[LEO TOLSTOY enters. He sits in the back of the room. Or possibly he floats above Miss O’s desk. (author’s note: ref. Armstrong p. 158)]
LEO TOLSTOY: “How can you relate the beginning of the Russian state to a child and interest him in it when he doesn’t know what the Russian state is or what any state is. Anyone who has dealt with children must know that every Russian child is firmly convinced that all the world is a Russia just like the one he lives in; exactly the same applies to a French and a German child . . . . The historical interest in the main makes its appearance after the artistic interest. It interests us to know the story of the foundation of Rome because we know what the Roman Empire was in its hey-day, just as we are interested in the childhood of a man whom we acknowledge to be great. The contrast between that greatness and the paltry crowd of refugees makes up the essence of our interest.”
[Lights change. LISA walks into a pool of light.]
LISA: At my high school was a teacher of legend, a name truly famous among the names of all the teachers. She was white, Southern, from Tennessee or North Carolina, I think; tall, statuesque, heavily made-up, seriously coiffed, elegant. Her name was Mopsy Manors. [beat] You don’t grow up being called Mopsy and not develop attitude. I imagine.
TOMMY: Miss Manors . . .
MISS MANORS [holding head, eg.]: Tommy, if you, sir, would be so good as to lower your voice. Mama has been to the river this weekend. [MIKE walks in late.] And Mr. Mike, you, sir, are tardy. Sign the tardy book.
MIKE: Big freakin’ deal.
MISS MANORS: I beg your pardon?
MIKE [mutters]: I’m late, but you’re hung over. [TOMMY, wide-eyed, laughs]
MISS MANORS: Take a seat.
MIKE [louder]: Stupid fucking bitch.
[An Artic ice shelf just shattered. Sank. Water covers it. Beat.]
MISS MANORS: You may call me a bitch. And you may call me a fucking bitch. But nobody calls me stupid. That’s a detention.
MIKE: Why do you get to act like this?
MISS MANORS: It’s my show. I play all week, five shows a day, I booked the room. You don’t like it, get your own show. May I suggest you graduate first?
MIKE: I fuckin’ don’t give a shit. Dumb bitch. Write me up again, I don’t care. I fuckin’ hate you, hate them, hate this school.
MISS MANORS: I can see that the best part of you ran down your daddy’s leg. [beat] And I sincerely hope that I am the worst thing that ever happens to you. I rather doubt I will be. [beat] Ladies and gentlemen. Take out your books. Begin on page 56. Macbeth, Act III, scene 1. Read along with the tape. And do not, I repeat do not, say another word this entire class period. [turns on Macbeth, Act III, sc. 1, Banquo: “Thou hast it all now...”; TUDGIE pulls out a box of Christmas cards and begins writing, addressing envelopes.]
LISA: My drama club director, another Southerner, Mr. Clarence, knew I wanted to be a teacher. “You’ll be good at it,” he told me one day, as I was grading one of his class sets of spelling quizzes without even having to look at the key, “because you’re mean.” That was a bracing endorsement. What I wanted was to be . . . a dedicated spinster. With one good dress. Hard shoes. A cottage. And a shining inspiration to the world.
[Lights up on MISS MANORS, laughing her ass off. TOLSTOY shakes his head.]
[end Scene 2]