Tuesday, June 12, 2018

You can’t rely on your memory

by Rick Blechta

Aline’s post yesterday (as her posts often do) struck a chord with me.

For nearly 25 years, I taught school music (band aka “crowd control with a beat”) and I learned pretty early on how memory can often play tricks on you — or your students (or both).

Just as Aline experienced, I had memories of situations in my memory that I was certain were 1000% accurate. This usually involved confrontations with students (thank heavens, I was usually an observer). In the most memorable confrontation, one student pasted another right in the nose (unbelievably, they were arguing over a trumpet fingering!).

I was at the front of the class dealing with a clarinet problem. As usual in a music class, the kids were coming in, getting out their instruments and music with the usual attendant “talking and squawking”. A normal class in middle school, right?

Then I heard a loud crash and a whole lot of cursing (“You broke my $#%^@ nose!”). At first, I thought a couple of boys were getting a bit rowdy, nothing more. Then I saw the kid on the floor, holding his face and there was a whole lot of blood. The classroom suddenly went quiet. “Everybody sit down and no one talks!” I said, and remarkably, they all did as I asked.

The unfortunate boy did indeed have a broken nose. I got some paper towels, and had him lie down on my desk (fortunately cleaned off for once) with his head off the end to try and slow down the bleeding. Then I got on the intercom to the office to get some help.

The upshot was, the parents of the punched out boy wanted to press charges. I had to give a statement. I laid down exactly what happened, positive that I had it right. I was helping so and so with her clarinet, heard the fracas and looked up to see the chair with the boy in it tip backwards and so on…

Some of the other children in class were also interviewed. What I found out later was the person I was helping was an alto sax player (but she was sitting in a chair in the clarinet section at the time). The tipped over chair fell sideways (which is why the struck boy didn’t have a huge welt on the rear of his head along with the injury to the front).

Before the principal informed me about my faulty memory, I was certain I had things correct. In fact I would have put a few hundred dollars down on that.

To say the least, I was stunned. Like Aline, I could see in my memory exactly what happened so clearly. But four or five of my students remembered something completely different — and all agreed on what they saw, so I had to accept that I was wrong.

Fortunately the whole debacle ended there, charges were never pressed, and both boys became good friends in a few months, as children will do.

But I learned so strongly that day that memory is a very faulty thing indeed. In a court of law, it can be a deadly thing, too.

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