I had John Dryden as a geography teacher in my junior year of high school. I’m not sure if it was 1995 or 1996, or both.
From the beginning this class was like no other. He passed out the year’s text books to everyone in the room before making us walk them over to the cabinets on the side and put them away—never to be used. He promised there would be no map coloring in this geography class.
Instead, we studied real stuff. We learned about geography in an entirely political way. I even remember writing a book report on Inevitable Revolutions shortly after studying Dryden’s own “axioms of a revolution”. We learned how revolutions succeed, how they fail, and how they do everything in between. We never colored maps.
I could even blame him for the F I got on a paper from our high school’s worst teacher during my senior year. I wrote a very convincing argument on how the United States did not have a democracy. Unfortunately, I think this other teacher was obsessed with Joseph McCarthy (in the bad way).
Fast forward almost 20 years.
Dryden was pushed out of the Batavia school district back in early October after years of fighting with the administration. He had told kids back in 2013 they had a constitutional right under the 5th amendment not to fill out one of those drug use surveys and was reprimanded at the time. It seems this final push was basically an extension of that.
The underlying message in all of this is one that means so much to me. And it’s one Dryden offers explicitly in his letter to students:
In order to create critical thinkers, we must question everything. We have to be critical. We have to ask why and how do you know?
I’ve been fortunate to have several people in my life challenge me on this again and again. My grandfather. My parents. My sister. My wife. Many friends. John Dryden.
At this point it’s a part of me to continue questioning and to get really irritated at answers like “because that’s how it’s always been.” It will probably even be the part that turns me into a cantankerous being in my later years, hopefully one that passes the message on.
I really, really hope Dryden wins a seat on Batavia’s Board of Education next year. From that, I expect good things. Thank you, John.