I’m a skeptic. Being a skeptic, I try to think critically about extraordinary claims. I want to assess the strength of the evidence for such claims before I accept their veracity. I’m highly doubtful of ghosts, psychics, ancient aliens, cupping, Futzuki pads, homeopathy, etc.; but, if you show me good evidence for their existence or efficacy, I’m willing to stop doubting.
This blog isn’t about skepticism. It’s about looking back fondly at the past. After all, Warehouse Find is the official blog of Nostalgia Zone, a store dealing in old comic books and toys and other fun stuff from the past. I normally save my skeptical observations for my blog at dimland.com and my internet radio show/podcast Dimland Radio. (Yes, I know, shameless plugs.)
However, earlier this week a junior high school school friend of mine and I reminisced about a teacher of ours who had a profound influence on us. I credit this teacher with setting me on the path to skepticism and critical thinking.
His name was Roy Raymond and he was my junior high English teacher. Don’t ask which grade, because I can’t remember. Anyway, he was an excellent teacher as well as a funny one. He liked to claim both his first and last names translated to royalty or king or some such. He told jokes and allowed his students to do the same.
Although it didn’t hurt, his being funny didn’t make him a great teacher.
He was able to make his students feel comfortable and receptive to learning. He challenged us. He made us think.
And when it came to reading the classic American novel Of Mice And Men written by John Steinbeck, he did something I think was an example of brilliant crowd handling. He read the book to us in class, but before he did he had a little talk with us. He said he intended to read it as written. He wasn’t going to gloss over any of the swear words and racial epithets. He believed to do so would lessen the impact of what Steinbeck was trying to say.
That’s when Mr. Raymond did the brilliant part. He told his class that he believed we were old enough and mature enough to understand context. And telling us that stroked our egos a little and got us to minimize the shock or giggling when our teacher said a swear word or the N word. Brilliant crowd handling. And it’s a great book.
Another book that’s not nearly as great factored into an important lesson taught to me by Mr. Raymond.
Since the fourth grade, I have owned a fascinating little book which I purchased through the Scholastic book program for a mere 35 cents. It was author C.B. Colby’s collection of weird, creepy, and mysterious tales of ghosts, haunted houses, disappearing people, lost treasures, and many other bizarre occurrences titled Strangely Enough! Its cover suggested the short stories within might all be true by asking, “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?”
In my youthful gullibility, I believed these stories to be true. Many of them included names of people and towns. And some had dates for the mysterious happenings. Dates! These must be real! No one would make up names and dates!
I was so convinced, I took a pen to the cover to draw an arrow to the words “Fact” and “Real.” You can see the arrows in the close-up image of the cover of my well-worn copy below.
Oh, and look that cover. So good. There were other printings of this book with other cover designs, but this is the one I like. It’s a terrific illustration that so completely captures the tone of the book. Just look at that green hazy night, those black and dormant trees, and that figure racing through the night. Is it a witch? A devil? A lunatic? A frightened villager? And is that ball lightening in the sky? Or, maybe, a flying saucer?
I was very taken by this book and I wanted Mr. Raymond’s opinion of it. He had encouraged his students to read and share with him what we were reading, so I handed Strangely Enough! to him. I told him the stories seemed to be true and that there were names and dates and everything. He took it and had a look.
When he returned this most favoritest book of mine to me, he burst my bubble as gently as he could. He explained that these stories couldn’t be simply accepted as true just because some gave names and dates. He told me that most readers wouldn’t bother researching the stories to see if the names and dates were real and that the author knows that. He also explained the “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?” questions were part of a gimmick to give the stories a little more impact.
I was a bit crestfallen that Mr. Raymond didn’t validate my opinion of the book, but I didn’t resent him for it. I didn’t react by doubling down and believing the stories even more. I didn’t accuse my teacher of having a closed mind. Instead, my mind opened. I didn’t quite understand at the time, at least not consciously, that Mr. Raymond was essentially telling me, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I see that now. And I have learned that Strangely Enough! is mostly urban legends – apocryphal tales meant to warn and thrill readers. Some stories might actually be based on real events, but are told through the filter of mystery-mongering. A more rational explanation was likely available, but the author preferred to go with the mystery.
Mr. Raymond is no longer with us. I don’t know exactly when he shuffled off this mortal coil, but I will always fondly remember him. And I will be eternally grateful for his helping me to think critically and not be so gullible.
Thank you, Mr. Raymond!
Appreciate your great teachers and give them your thanks.
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