Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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José Manchego
English 100
Out -of-class Essay 1
July 2005 

A Role Model and a Mentor

In the book Psychology, Carol Wade and Carol Tavris, provide a quote from the  behaviorist John B. Watson: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors” (82).  In Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose talks about the influence that Jack MacFarland, his English teacher, gave him. Rose explains “MacFarland had hooked me. He tapped my old interest in reading and creating stories. He gave me a way to feel special by using my mind” (34). Watson suggests that we turn out according to how we are raised, and we can be the person we want to be if we have had the right experiences and influences.  When students are faced with adversity and disadvantages in a less than perfect learning environment, positive influences and encouragement are the key determinants to the success of their life. As I read Rose's statement, I reflected about my own experiences in high school and realized that despite all the problems I encountered, there was one person that saw my potential. My stepfather, Byron, supported and influenced me in a positive manner that gave me the self confidence to graduate.  I was a child that had been tainted by divorce and neglect, and Byron similarly to Rose's teacher recognized that I needed guidance and attention in order to succeed in school. According to Watson, when humans are still very young, they can still create the ability to adapt to a new environment full of support and understanding if the environment they come from is negative and detrimental to their development.

Watson and Rose agree that each individual needs a positive role model and a mentor to look up to in his/her life in order to develop to their full potential.  An experience that affected me in a negative way happened while I attended a school in Manhattan. I needed a positive role model to guide me in the right direction and encourage me to see my potential in a dangerous and neglected educational institution such as the one I am about to describe.

When I think of high school, I picture a place where a student can be taught without any fear for his/her own safety.  An experience that I can’t forget is my freshmen year attending a high school in Midtown Manhattan, NY. The building was three stories of pure concrete and was enclosed with a fence that stood fifteen feet high above the Courtyard.  Every window had protective metal bars to prevent students from accidentally being pushed out by other students. Every open space between the staircases was also enclosed with metal bars to prevent accidents. Picture a prison visit with out the armed guards; this was the routine faced by every student everyday in my high school. The first ten to fifteen minutes of my morning consisted of scanning my identification card, placing my backpack through an X-ray machine, and doing what I called “the walk” through the metal detector. The idea was for students to think that after all these special security features they would be safe to learn and walk through the school’s hallways. In reality all that security didn’t work. Some students found ways to bring weapons and drugs into the school without being caught by security. I was so scared for my own safety that I was unable to concentrate on my school work or anything related to that matter.  My main focus was to stay away from the students armed with knives, brass knuckles, or anything, including pencils, which could become a potential weapon. I couldn’t remember what the teachers taught in class, because I paid more attention to my surroundings. My high school was definitely not a positive learning environment. Even when I tried to make the best of my situation by enjoying my airplane structure mechanic class, there was a conflict between two students that interrupted my only comfort. One student wanted to stab another student with a piece of sheet metal that he had cut with the pressing machine into the shape of a knife, because one student felt that the other student was being disrespectful to him. The diverse backgrounds and cultures of the students that attended my school was another factor that affected my ability to learn and to concentrate.

Diversity is defined as a “difference or variety” in Webster’s Dictionary. The encounter that I faced in my airplane structure mechanic class was clearly an adverse effect of diversity in my high school.  In my high school there were black students that came from the poorest areas of New York, or the ghettos as they are otherwise known. There were the Latino students, which included Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and there were counted white students. The black students and the Latinos were the majority and the whites were the minority. I was in the minority group.  A place of education became a battlefield with all this diversity. Conflicts between students became monotonous. I perfectly remember the hallways and the fences that surrounded every open space, due to the fact that several students were thrown over the side of the hand rails and through several windows, on purpose. School hallways and doors were on constant lock down. The doors to the classrooms were locked after the bell rang and if you didn’t make it to class on time you were not allowed in. Teachers did this for their own safety and the safety of their students. I can vividly remember the door to my math class being locked a second after the bell had rang. I can still see the instructor peering at me through the wired glass window without any intent of opening the door. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of six students approaching me and looking at each other and throwing an evil smile my way. I knew that if I didn’t think of something fast I would become their bait. I started to kick and punch the door to attract the teacher’s attention. Without any success the gang of six students, were getting closer. Fortunately for me, I was saved by an unaware student walking up the stairs. This poor soul walked right into the bullies' trap. Diversity became a negative experience instead of an interesting way to meet and socialize with students from different cultures and backgrounds. It seemed that the student body had preferred chaos over a place to learn.

After a long day of conflicts and indifference, I was not even sure if school was a place for me to grow into a better adult. All I had seen was the opposite of what I was taught at home. Respect was an unknown word in my high school. Home was a safe place where I knew I could put down my guard at any time. I didn’t have to worry, because I knew I wasn’t going to get stabbed if I relaxed for a second. Unfortunately after three months of exposure to the violence and disaster at my high school, my behavior changed dramatically. I brought the tough attitude from school to my house and started to disregard my parents' authority. I had built a wall of security around me that I didn't want to let anyone in, because I was afraid of being hurt. I came from a hostile environment at school to a peaceful setting at home and I was unable to change from my school "tough guy" character to a more relaxed and normal boy. My stepfather started to notice and express concerns about my behavioral change and started to investigate.

A person I can recall being there to influence me was my stepfather Byron. He was always willing to help me with my homework, and very interested in my day at school. Byron became the father that my biological father couldn’t be for me at that time of my life. Byron spent countless hours with me. More time than a teacher in high school had ever bothered to give me. Algebra, literature and biology had become a different language to me with the help and understanding of Byron. My stepfather's patience and ability to explain these subjects helped me to believe that I could learn and that I was a smart kid. Education seemed more interesting to me and I felt the desire to succeed in ways that I thought were too hard for me to overcome. Byron was the mentor I needed,      the type of role model that Watson and Rose imply we all need to develop to our full potential.

Throughout the course of our lives, people enter and exit, leaving a good and sometimes a negative impression of life. Watson once claimed, “experience could write virtually any message on the blank slate of human nature” (qtd. in Wade and Tavris 82). If that is true, then we could be altered according to our surroundings. I had the right help and role model at home that cared for me.  My stepfather took the time to notice that my behavior had changed negatively. While taking the time to care for my drastic changes, he discovered that the environment at school was all wrong for me. Within one week I was transferred to a different high school that suited my needs as a student.  Similarly to what Rose wrote in his book Lives on the Boundary, “Jack MacFarland couldn’t come into my life at a better time”(32). Byron had come into my life at the most vulnerable moment when I needed the right person to guide me in the right direction and to teach me that school wasn't negative, but a positive and exciting future for me. Rose’s English teacher MacFarland had also inspired and influenced Rose to pick up his reading that he had enjoyed as a child. If not for MacFarland’s help, Rose wouldn’t have gone to university which lead him to be a professor at the University of California and become an accomplished writer, with many books published. If not for Byron's help I wouldn't have graduated from high school and I wouldn't have decided to go back to college to pursue my degree.


Works Cited

Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin, 1989. 18-37.

Wade, Carole, and Carol Tavris.  Psychology.  6th ed.  New York: Prentice Hall, 2000.


Copyright 2005
José Manchego


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA