In 2007 a former astronaut got in her car and drove 850 miles from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida to confront a man, also a former astronaut, with whom she had some kind of a love interest. It’s not certain what her intentions were but she had in her possession a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, rubber gloves, $600 in cash, and love letters, all in bags. When she confronted the fellow ex-astronaut, she succeeded only in getting him to partially roll down the window of his car and she sprayed him with pepper spray.
Despite the intricacies of the sordid plan described above, the one detail everyone remembers about this incident is the fact that in order to endure the long drive from Houston to Orlando, the woman wore an adult diaper. In fact, Google it, and the first headline you will find is “Diaper-wearing astronaut jailed in love triangle plot”. There wasn’t a single story published about this incident in which this wasn’t mentioned; in most cases, it was the lead.
I’m not going to focus here on the reasons why Americans were fascinated by this little detail (although I reserve the right to do so at length in a future post). Rather, my fascination is with the curious details that can take such prominence that they overshadow the story itself. This, I have found, is a curious phenomenon associated with middle school kids. Whenever you ask young adolescents about the adults in their lives, their teachers, administrators, their bus driver, the lunch ladies, they always focus on some quirky detail that is the part that becomes the whole:
The social studies teacher who shepherded his students from Jamestown through Reconstruction:
- “He always had M & M’s on his desk”
The lovely lady who served lunch to 804 kids every day:
- “She used to whistle songs from Wicked”
The assistant principal who greeted them every day when they got off the bus:
- ”That guy was really tall.”
So what’s the point? Middle school kids and probably elementary and high school kids too, will not remember all of the pearls of wisdom and small acts of kindness that we bestow upon them every day, well, maybe one or two.
Middle school educators should focus their attention on always doing their very best work with kids, don’t worry about the details. Be kind, elevate student voice, work hard, focus more on learning than on “content” … because more than likely, your legacy is going to be some version of “Diaper-wearing astronaut jailed in love triangle plot.”