The Walking Memory Machine
Irv had the most active memory of any student in any class. He was tall and very oriented to acquiring information with great ability. For the entire year if I ever had to stop and ponder for moment to bring a name or event into my recollection, he always seemed to pop up with the correct information.The most difficult test was prepared to get them ready for the AP test. It was created from several different text books and loaded with material which had a possibility of being on the test. It was fourteen legal-size pages long. While they were taking the test, I gave it a try. Irv got a higher score than I did! I had a
master’s degree in history and made up the test. He was a 17 year old kid. Wow! I had him prepare a lecture to the class on immigration and he did a great job.
“We were assigned to write a paper using a much as possible primary sources. I wrote on my great-great-grandfather who was with Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. I went to the Mormon Church Library to get my information, and I
had a most interesting conversation with the Church Librarian before he would let me see the documents I needed. “Near the end of school I told you I was going to go to summer school at the University of Utah. You took me to Dr. Cave who at the time was in charge of the honors program. He let me in even though I didn’t qualify as a freshman.
I became a history major. I next became acquainted with Dr. Clayton in charge of the graduate department. He gave me the same advice you did. You both told me to sign up for classes with good teachers, and not for classes by title.
“When I came home from my Mormon mission you called and asked if I wanted to do some work for you. I was too occupied, but you told me about an opening at the Mormon Church History Department and you wrote a letter to
introduce me to your friend, Leonard Arrington, who was the Church Historian
at the time. I got the position so I guess you had an influence on my life.” He was Utah’s Presidential Scholar!
Intellectuality and Leadership Combined!
Barry was a classic student! The only student I ever taught who told me his goal in life was to be President of the United States. He meant it! I thought if he played his hand well and with a little luck it was possible for him to sit in the oval office. When I went to his home for an interview for this book he showed me his library. I believe he may have more books in his basement rooms, all well organized by topic, than there are in the present Bountiful High library. They were not just sitting there. He had incorporated most of that information into his fabulous mind.
He was also a member of my tennis team. He happened to be a senior when Viewmont High, the school rival, had a tennis player who was just a little bit better. It was hard on him not to be the best, but he survived the ordeal.
“Your classes were more, see this! Feel this! For me it was powerful and meaningful. You had lots of books in your classroom; I read many of them and ad my eyes opened. I came into the class with a typical, conservative Bountiful mind, and you helped me to have a different perspective. I read Arthur Schlesinger’s Bitter Heritage, critiquing our country’s mistake in Viet Nam and I wanted to know more. I read several of Richard Hofstoder’s books. The Paranoid
Style of American Politics had a great influence on my thinking.
“You showed me a world out there that I had never before considered. At the same time you did not try to pigeon-hole us and make us think in a certain way. You taught me to think independently and passionately.”
He showed me a poster in his office which read, “An intellectual is a person who likes to play with ideas.” He seemed like Washington and Jefferson all rolled into one person.
“You had me read Madison’s notes on the Constitution and I have read them every few years since then. You gave me a love for history and it has made my life rich.
“When you were teaching at Westminster and I was a law student, you had me come to your class and lecture on Judicial Review. I took a conservative point of view and we had a great discussion in front of the class. It showed me that you had not changed.”
He was one of the brightest kids I had the pleasure to teach. He was a language expert and later taught a course in Arabic at our high school. I enrolled and studied the language for a year. My student became my teacher.
Russ had a keen sense of humor. He would break the whole class up with his mimicking of Yogi Bear, a popular TV show of the time.
He remembers the class as being very lively. He said I threw chalk at kids from time to time. He was my student for two courses, Geography in the
ninth grade and World History in the 12th grade. He thought I taught with a
delicate style and was all over the place during the class. He did not take
conversations home to his parents, but he had many discussions with classmates
about my teaching.
“You wanted students to think. It is just what I needed and it made a major influence on my life. You were not conventional. You seemed to never top learning. I am a professor now and when you stop learning you stop teaching.”
He married one of the most active and attractive young women in school. I was a little surprised that she connected with him. She seemed to have everything going for her and could have had any person she wanted. She chose Russ. I asked her what she saw in Russ and she replied, “He treats me with such
Couldn’t Spell His Name
Ted checked into my class a month or so after school stared in the Fall and left school after three of four months. When new students come into an established class, the teacher has a responsibility to help the new student to integrate and be a part of the class. They are usually frightened and unsure of what will happen. When I asked Ted to tell the class about himself it was obviously the wrong thing to do. He stumbled trying to say something and I rescued him to prevent further embarrassment. I tried to bring him into class discussions, and whenever he was asked to give an opinion the class went silent as he struggled. The first written assignment
was a half-filled paper without one complete sentence on the page. I had Ted stay after class and asked him, “How long did you spend on this assignment?” He sheepishly told me, “About an hour.”
I worked out special assignments for him with regard to written work at home.
“No matter how many questions I ask you to answer, just set the alarm
on your clock and you are finished in thirty minutes. Do you understand?”
He nodded his head. The rest of the time he was in my class he completed about three lines of what he thought was writing for each assignment. I believe I gave Ted a ‘C+’ for his effort. One day he was gone and I thought I would never see him again. About two years later I was driving home from my night class at the University of Utah and I recognized him hitchhiking. I offered him a ride. As he
swung the passenger door open, the smell of alcohol wafted over me. He was inebriated enough that there was not much of a conversation. I delivered him to his home in Bountiful, and once again I was sure I would never see him again. Another two or three years went by and he spotted me in a grocery store.
“Mr. Briscoe,” he said as he walked rapidly toward me. “Hello Ted, how are
you?” He wanted to get right to his important news. “I am married and we have
a baby,” he enthusiastically informed me. He pointed to a young mother holding
a child a few feet away. She had a shy look on her face, but we both motioned
her over and enjoyed looking at their new little child. Ted was so full of
excitement and enthusiasm and stated, “Mr. Briscoe, I have a job. I work at the
I have often thought that this exchange was perhaps the greatest success story of all my teaching and influence on students.
Comment: I did let one student sleep through the whole year. I flunked him every quarter
and passed him on to someone else. Motivate him, I couldn’t! I almost got paid back for
my reluctance to work with him and get him to function. Years later his daughter asked my
youngest son to a girl’s choice dance at another high school. I worried that the relationship might take and the laziest student I ever taught would share grandchildren with me. Whew! It didn’t happen.
Victor, So Bright – So Stupid
Victor decided that he was going to graduate with a 2.0 GPA. This was highly unusual for a National Merit finalist. He was verbally skilled and stood a handsome, six feet tall. He had a biting sense of humor. He could have made the class one of the very most fun to teach if he could have gotten himself together to make the classroom discussion an enjoyable experience. It was obvious in the class that his intellectual ability far exceeded the work he did in his essays and his tests, which was abominable. He was bright, but craftily worked so he never got better than a ‘C’ on any test or written work. He could not hold himself back in class discussions, and his curiosity and ability to learn were always present and so self evident. His biting judgments left a negative impression on many of the students and put a damper on the class atmosphere. I asked him to stay after class and tried to reason with him. I was not
successful in gaining any compromise for him to do the work that I knew he was capable of doing. After a second or third visit I did get to the bottom of his reasoning.
Unfortunately, he had lost both of his parents during the last two or three years of his life. His grandparents incorporated him into their home and tried to be the parents they thought he needed. Alas, it was not working. The grandparents were stalwart members of the Mormon faith and let Victor know that when he graduated he was going to attend Brigham Young University. It was not a joint decision, it was a mandate! Victor was determined that Brigham Young University was not going to
be in his future! I tried to reason with him that when he turned eighteen, he would be able to make his own choices about school. He was loaded with a wealth of pride, and I think he was hell-bent on teaching his grandparents a
lesson on agency. I think he was also angry at the whole school system. In fact he was angry with life. It probably centered on not having an understanding or an acceptance of the death of his parents. I met with Mr. Keddington and explained the situation. I suggested that a meeting be called of all of his teachers and he be given an option of earning a ‘B’ in his classes or receiving an ‘F.’ Mr. Keddington called all his teachers
together and we discussed Victor’s future. It was unanimous that he was wasting his time. We also agreed he had to earn at least a ‘B’ in his classes or flunk. Earning a “B” would have been a piece of cake for Victor. Mr. Keddington called the recalcitrant student into his office and made an attempt to get his cooperation on becoming a real student. Victor was not reachable! The next week he checked out of school and enrolled in Salt Lake
Technical School. A couple of weeks later a special news story was in the paper for Victor being the first National Merit finalist ever to enroll in that school. He had the last say in the matter. As I reflect on this student 40 years later, I believe we took the action that was in his best interest. He probably did also.