howtheduck (howtheduck) wrote in binky_betsy,
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Miss Blais: Teaching by Humiliation

Miss Blais is Elizabeth’s Grade 1 teacher. Unlike Miss Lyon (Kindergarten) and Mrs. Kinney (Grade 2), Miss Blais does not make it onto the interactive character pages of Lynn’s website for Elizabeth Patterson. Lynn has said that Miss Lyon was based on an actual teacher of Katie’s, but given the way Miss Blais is portrayed, I doubt she was based on someone real. I will talk about it after the cut.

http://www.fborfw.com/char_pgs/interactive/index.php?character=elizabeth




First of all, I think Lynn Johnston intended Miss Blais to be an example of a bad teacher. In the first panel where she appears, she has the classic buck-toothed, overbite that is a sign to Lynn’s readers that this person is incompetent or stupid. Right away we know she is a little off because she considers a handshake to be an appropriate method for Grade 1 kids to help get acquainted with each other. The kids look at each other in disbelief and who can blame them?



In her next appearance Miss Blais asks Elizabeth of all the kids she has named what she would prefer to be called – Lizzie or Elizabeth. There is nothing particular off about this except she asks this question of Lizzie alone and not any of the other kids, and the fact the kid sitting next to Lizzie gives her a clue with the ways she might be mocked that she might not want to go by the name “Lizzie”. The unnamed kid’s motivation for saying this is never revealed and is probably firmly nestled in Lynn Johnston’s head. Is it because other kids will mock her, or will it be because Miss Blais will mock her?



Miss Blais is unseen but humiliates Lizzie by having all the kids hold up their school supplies and Lizzie has none to raise up. Humiliation seems to be the way Miss Blais likes to operate.



Next up Miss Blais sticks a finger in her face and publically humiliates Elizabeth for using her fingers to do addition. Another bad teaching moment from Miss Blais. Early math involving addition/subtraction and set theory is so much easier to learn using physical objects. Aside from that there is that finger right in Lizzie’s face and her pronouncement that she sees fingers.



Then Miss Blais does a pencil inspection and declares Elizabeth is a germ-spreader because she bites her pencils. Miss Blais is full-up toothy here and Elizabeth thought-bubbles her desire to bite something (and we readers are supposed to get that she means Miss Blais.)



Good work gets a scratch and sniff sticker from Miss Blais, which is kind of an odd gift because it makes it really obvious which kids did not get good work. If you got a smiley-face sticker or a star or something like that, then you get a reward of sorts but it is less obvious and less humiliating when you don’t get one. Miss Blais appears to be all about humiliation, but this time is she is only indirectly targeting Lizzie who is apparently the only kid who did not get a scratch and sniff sticker.



Following that, Miss Blais tells Elizabeth she has to pull up her socks to get a sticker. Elizabeth takes her literally which seems a reasonable thing to do with such an obscure expression (apparently common in British English). I had never heard the expression before this strip. The phrase I am used to hearing is “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”



During the Valentine’s Day sequence, Miss Blais makes her final appearance. Giving out Valentines to whom you choose instead of giving one to everybody is naturally the method of Miss Blais, the humiliation expert. (However, I will admit this was the method used when I was in school in the 1960s. By the time my kids got to school in the 2000s, everyone got a Valentine and that was the rule.)

Conclusion:

Lynn almost tries to get us to sympathize a little with Miss Blais by having her crack up, put her head on her desk and talk about 4 years of teacher’s college. To be honest, if she got out of teacher’s college to start teaching Grade 1, she knew what she was getting into. In order for Lynn to show us that Miss Blais is more deserving of sympathy, she starts with the teeth, which do not stick out as prominently as they have in the prior strips. Also, for once Lynn does not put her in a down-to-the-floor long dress. It doesn’t work for me. Neither Miss Lyon nor Mrs. Kinney lose control like this and having shorter teeth does not gain my sympathy.

That the last we see of Miss Blais. There is no farewell to Lizzie at the end of the grade and there is no sense that she and Lizzie ever got to the point where they appreciated each other or even tried to appreciate each other. It’s a very unsatisfying character because she humiliates Lizzie without reason or cause. It’s not clear what she wants Lizzie to learn or why she wants her to learn it. There is no balance showing that she humiliates other kids too. Miss Blais is a caricature of the teacher who has it out for someone.

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  • Sunday, January 27

    "An'"s: Two. "Quotes": One. Panel 1: Merrie says "cool," which I find surprising; she seems more like a Precious Moments kid. Her face is exactly…

  • (The remainder of) Week of January 7, 2008

    I had planned to do this when I resumed blog duties, but I forgot because it didn't come up for so long. It's a week of flashbacks, or it looks as if…

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    I don't know what's going on with Yahoo. Think maybe they've dropped Foob entirely?…