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They Called Me “Dumbass”

John W. Pinkerton


As a youth, I recall being told more than once that I was a “dumbass.”  I didn't take these responses to some foolish action I had taken or foolish words that I had uttered as personal affronts.  I accepted them as helpful hints to guide future behavior.

Dunce, lunkhead, dolt, bonehead, dunderhead, muttonhead, numskull, knucklehead, blockhead to me are all words of encouragement on the path to knowledge.

Dad was quick to point out the errors of my ways with a quick, “Dumbass.”  Mom was a little more reluctant to call her first born “Dumbass,” but I, on occasions upon which I sorely tested her patience---example, placing salt and pepper shaker in refrigerator---prompted the “dumbass” response.

My generation of folks had to earn their self-esteem…it was not bestowed upon them by a kind and generous world.

Self-esteem became the hot topic of the day in the '70's.  I don't think it reached me in the classroom until the late '80's.  I recall workshops on how to increase our students'  positive feelings about themselves.

Finally, a program was  installed which was so successful that I am a little surprised that on every courthouse square there is not a plaque celebrating our nation's victory over low self-esteem.

The oldest of those having the honor of never being told that they were dumbasses are into their late 50's and early 60's now.

As a member of the Silent Generation which ran up through my birth year, '42, I did not have the privilege of being a protected generation.  The Baby Boomers (born1946-1964) were on the cusp of the great self-esteem movement, but Generation X, the Millennials, and Generation Z received the full treatment.  We apologize.

I recall that we were instructed to never give students negative feedback.  Call me a primitive if you wish, but I thought---“What bullhockey!”

But being a team player, I tried to foster high self-esteem.  I found myself saying incredibly stupid things like, “Johnny, that's an excellent response, but perhaps we should look at the question from a different perspective” or “Johnny, that's a thoughtful response filled with deep thoughts; however, we need to guide our thinking a little by considering yada, yada, yada.”

I recall one day that I asked Johnny a question which required little thought to respond to.  It was a gift to an ungifted student.  His response was a complete non sequitur…so far off the mark that it wasn't even in a mutual universe.  I hemmed and hawed trying to think of a response which wasn't soul crushing and, of course, would maintain Johnny's self-esteem. 

I couldn't do it.  Instead I said, “That response sets the record for being wrong.!”  Well, I guess it being record-setting is a positive.

It appears to me that once one achieves high self-esteem it is much like getting a vaccination for measles.  You're never likely to suffer from measles or low self-esteem ever again once inoculated.

It saddens me to think of all of the people sitting in jail, people unable to financially support themselves, people who are addicted to drugs, etcetera, who still feel that they are the bee's knees---confident that they are God's special children…their estimates of their intelligence, strength, and moral fiber unwavering.

Our war against low self-esteem has been a total victory.


Once again, I apologize for not calling you a “dumbass” when it was early enough to save you from yourself.  Perhaps it’s not too late, Dumbass.