More Challenging Health: Open a Book

I’m still working on my WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge (and I’m getting good enough to be able to type the acronym from memory). Given that today’s prompt involves books, I figure it will be right up my alley:

Open a Book. Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 without stopping.


Okay, this is more of a passage than a single phrase, but I feel like it’s important to get the whole context. The book I selected is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. The precise phrase I pointed to was the sentence, “Mr. Phillips paid no heed to Gilbert.” The context involves Gilbert Blythe being put off that Anne wouldn’t pay attention to him. He teased Anne about her hair, and she cracked her slate on his head. Then, the teacher found out:

“It was my fault, Mr. Phillips. I teased her.”

Mr. Phillips paid no heed to Gilbert.

“I am sorry to see a pupil of mine displaying such a temper and such a vindictive spirit,” he said in a solemn tone, as if the mere fact of being a pupil of his ought to root out all evil passions from the hearts of small imperfect mortals. “Anne, go and stand on the platform in front of the blackboard for the rest of the afternoon.”

Anne would have infinitely preferred a whipping to this punishment, under which her sensitive spirit quivered as from a whiplash. With a white, set face she obeyed. Mr. Phillips took a chalk crayon and wrote on the blackboard above her head.

“Ann Shirley has a very bad temper. Ann Shirley must learn to control her temper,” and then read it out loud so that even the primer class, who couldn’t read writing, should understand it.

Several thoughts about this scene, each of them briefly as the quote itself is not so short.

First, Gilbert’s initial sense of entitlement to Anne’s attention — “She should look at him, that redhaired Shirley girl…” — as well as the fact that he touched her without her permission. I’m not suggesting that a slate to the head is the ideal way to solve classroom differences, but it’s pretty clear to me that there was a power imbalance here that was not in Anne’s favor.

Next, regardless of the teacher’s proclamation, I’m not so sure that Anne was being vindictive here. Angry, certainly. But I don’t see how anyone could know that she acted out of a desire to punish the unwanted intrusion more than, say, a desire to make it stop.

Like so many instances of classroom conflict, Mr. Phillips sees only the reaction and so punishes only the responder rather than both the responder and the instigator. In Mr. Phillips’s case, however, he continues to do so even after Gilbert speaks up and claims fault. And of course, it doesn’t escape my notice that Mr. Phillips allows Gilbert, a boy, to go unpunished for behavior that could be seen as trouble-making — in other words, something that falls under the vast excuse of “boys will be boys.” However, when he punishes Anne, a girl, it is for having a temper and being vindictive — traits that are in direct defiance to the expected feminine docility.

I might be willing to forgive Mr. Phillips this, if it were not for the fact that he also believes public humiliation to be a fit punishment for a student. In other words, after she has already felt humiliated by Gilbert’s remark, Mr. Phillips responds to that by humiliating her further in front of the entire class.

As a way to quell the anger inside her?

Mr. Phillips is kind of a shit teacher for thinking it will even work. And he’s definitely an ass for reveling in it as he does.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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2 comments on “More Challenging Health: Open a Book
  1. CaitlinMac says:

    I remember that scene. It still gets me angry almost 30 years after first reading it. The cherry on top, for me was him misspelling her name. I have a fairly common name with slightly variant spelling–I have to make a lot of noise for some people to spell/pronounce it correctly. I read the scene as him saying to Anne, you do not matter. What you do only matters if it disturbs ME. You matter so little that not even your name matters.

    • Tori says:

      Agreed. People misspell my name fairly frequently. While I completely understand it when someone isn’t sure and so asks, I hate it when a person misspells my name because they didn’t even bother to check to see that the group of letters they wrote down does, in fact, represent me.

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