A glimpse back to John Taylor’s classroom
By By Tray Smith
John Taylor’s words are muffled by an illness seven doctors from five countries, two centers and two universities have not been able to identify. But Mr. Taylor’s unknown ailments have not affected his ability to think; his mind is still a treasure cove of information he taught students throughout his 35-year teaching career.
Taylor intended to teach in Fairhope, but after determining the bayside suburb was too far a drive from his hometown of Eufaula, he interrupted his travels and stopped in Atmore. Here, he was offered a job immediately, and began teaching in 1970, the tumultuous year of integration.
One week after he began teaching, Taylor was arrested for grand larceny, while visiting his family in Barbour County. He was subsequently fired by the Escambia County Public School System, bringing a quick end to his first stint as an educator.
That November, Taylor went to trial and was found innocent. The school system reversed its decision and he was allowed back in his classroom in January 1971.
Taylor speaks of Presidential candidates and their predecessors: McCain, “better than the alternative, God forbid;” Clinton, “stupid as hell;” Reagan, “good” and Lincoln, “stupid as hell, like Clinton.” He declares FDR a man of communistic ideals, and, although he doesn’t object to receiving a check each month, believes Social Security is a “communistic program.”
Taylor asks where in hell people got the idea George Washington was the first president. The country was 13 years old by the time he was elected; had been governed by four Continental Congresses, each with a leader of its own and had spent seven years under the reign of the Articles of Confederation. During that time, Washington himself called John Hanson, the leader of the Articles’ government, “Mr. President.”
Taylor never ran for office himself because he says he is too honest. Instead, he taught about those who did. Most local residents attribute their only knowledge of government to Taylor, the man who instructed a litany of courses ranging from government and economics to communism vs. democracy.
On average, Taylor taught a fourth of the information he covered in his first 27 years during his last eight. Such mediocrity was a result of both growing apathy in the student body and increasing accommodation from faculty members. “The later students,” Taylor said, “wanted to talk about sex and drugs instead of social sciences.”
John Taylor refused to lower his standards, however, and several students failed to graduate as a result of his stubborn insistence they master course material. “On the first day of school, I would tell every class I had never failed a student. If students, on the other hand, failed to do their coursework, learn the material, and earn good grades, they would fail my class.”
Taylor believes breaking the current impasse on educational progress will be impossible for 20 or 30 years, and points to lagging student achievement as a weakness against strategic competitors China and India. He singles school uniforms out as putting a band aid on cancer, saying uniforms share the communist ideal of making everyone the same, but they will not make anyone a better student.
John Taylor’s intricacies reveal an intense passion for his subject and his profession, passion many contemporary educators lack. And his insistence on high standards, discipline, and hard work reveal the core of his successful career, a career all teachers would be wise to emulate.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.