Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Know thyself and don't pass the buck

When I was a kid, I was hell on wheels. I can tell you stories that would make your hair curl. Yeah, I was a bad boy.

As a result of the mayhem I instigated, I have these recurring nightmares. An angel of the Lord appears in my dreams. I think it's a she.

She says, “Dr. Joe, you seem to have forgotten. God is a paymaster. He may not pay every day, but he pays in the end.”

She then opens a scroll and begins to read a litany of my transgressions.

And she says, “Today is your reckoning, Dr. Joe.”

I argue that in the New Testament, the Lord is a merciful god. “Dr. Joe, in your case, we're going back to the precepts of the Old Testament.”

Was she going to turn me into a pillar of salt?

“As punishment, you will be banished to teach at La Cañada High School and will be subject to the wrath of parents.”

I protested. “Turn me into salt! Toss me into the Red Sea! Put me in the desert for 40 days! But don't make me teach in La Cañada!”

I wake up trembling and sweating, and continually remind myself that it's only a dream.

OK, perhaps I'm overacting a bit, but I often think that being a teacher in La Cañada merits combat pay.

My perceptions have not evolved in a vacuum. I'm constantly being bombarded by commentary regarding myriad issues. One issue that dominates is the tendency of parents to lambaste the teachers each time their child comes up short. In this town, it's often the teacher or the school's fault.

As a student of philosophy, studying the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, I learned about a French concept called ressentiment. It describes a kind of moral scapegoating of others to explain our disappointment and dissatisfactions. It's projecting blame on others when something or someone doesn't meet our expectations. Thoughts, ideas and prejudices become weapons, as all too often, teachers become scapegoats and are demonized by the wrath of parents.

There seems to be an erosion of ownership and responsibility. When something does not meet our standards, we tend to ask, whose fault is this?

I tell my students that when something goes wrong or is contrary to one's expectations, the first place to look is within yourself. It's personal accountability. I tell them there are two questions to ask of themselves. What did I do that has caused the plight I am in, and how can I fix it? At the end of the day, we are accountable to ourselves; our success is a result of what we do.

Maybe we are a bit too focused on our children and their success; consequently we come to their defense at the slightest provocation. When I was a kid, my mom didn't know that I went to school.

Are we too preoccupied with attaining perfection? We supplement our dissatisfaction with the fantasy of perfection. There are parents who want to take a flamethrower to the school when their child gets a B grade. When children learn they're not perfect, then they'll develop some confidence.

My mom used to tell me that she hoped I would not have a child like me. I gave her hell, but she gave it right back to me. Whenever I messed up, she'd grab me by the ear and drag me to the nuns, priests, brothers or police and make sure I was held accountable. I always knew that I'd get it worse from Mom.

I think that was a good lesson.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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