Mr. Knows-It-All

By: William Huffaker

Every campus across the nation has their own few elders; someone or a group of someones who have been staff there since before its foundation.  Often, as their time there begins to come to a close, students will notice them becoming more and more resigned. They seem as if they’ve given up and are just waiting until the end of the year. Luckily, the head elder at Tulare Western has retained that spirit of energy and excitement even to the very end.

This may be in the form of memorizing every student on campus’ name or just standing up in the library each morning shouting to anyone within, “Good morning Humans!”  If you need an answer to a question in any subject, he’s the man to go to. He’s got the facts on just about anything in history, literature, language, etc. Whether as librarian or teacher, Mr. Asher has continued to enter the lives of thousands of very different students in a very personal way.

Jerry Asher was 9 years old when he decided to work in education.  He was going to be a teacher. He told his mom that was going to be what he did and that was that.  During his youth, there was never a doubt that this would be his career path, though during adulthood, he had questioned it only twice.  

Asher was 17 years old when he entered the military.  He began a 6 month national guard training before going into reserved service.  From there he was sent to clerk typist school where he scored highest on both the first and last weeks’ exams.  He was soon offered to go to Officer Candidacy School, which he initially considered, but later decided to deny in order to continue with education.

After graduating college, Asher’s brother-in-law offered to pay for law school if he would become a partner at his new law firm.  Asher did like constitutional law and had studied it while at school but as before, kept his promise he had made to become a teacher.  He always wanted to work with people. This job left little room for that.

Since entering education, he has had over 40 years of teaching/ being a librarian.  He began at the Rio Jando community college and after that worked 12 years for the state legislature.  His path soon led him to Tulare Western, where he has remained ever since. When asked whether he’d preferred one over the other, Asher stated “Interchangeable…. It’s just what I wanted at the time.” He later went on to say that he’d just had a lot of lucky decision making in his hands.

Asher described a sense of community and freedom that Tulare Western had in years past, saying that before the intensity of the Bell Game, there was a school-wide bonfire and sing-a-long.  The outhouses were all torn down and the wood was then used in the fire.

Another great memory he shared was that of the Race Kent Theater’s construction.  After the late counselor Race Kent’s on campus death, parents from all over the community, specifically Joaquina, came together to level the ground and construct the theater in just one day.  This wasn’t the only time, the community pulled together for Western.

The last of his favorite memories of Western was in the 80’s when Western decided to use red and blue as opposed to Tulare Union’s red and gold.  Once again parents in one day got the job done. All over, the campus was painted the dark blue Western is famous for.

After being asked whether he had any hesitancy with retiring, Asher stated, “Not this year!”  This was in part due to next year’s 4 by 4 schedule but also because he’s quote-on-quote “aged-out.”  “There’s value in being old-school.” says Asher. Something has been lost in terms of human beings, such as that sense of community.  Students and school altogether is just entirely different than it had been a few decades ago.

Students do things he would never have while in high school, even if he’d had a chance. Students know so much less about social history and social expectations than students he went to school with. (He asked me to add in that students need to be so much more careful about what they post online.  They never know when it will come back against them.)

Keeping to the idea of new age vs old school teaching Asher would soon go over his opinions on A-G requirements.  In his words, when the district and counseling begins to push it, it becomes “fundamentally dishonest.” Not all kids are supposed to or should go to college.  He feels that schools need to provide opportunities for students from all different crafts.

Every parent is sending their sons and daughters to school expecting them to be the next college bound student but their needs can’t all be met.  It’s difficult to treat all their needs equally, he says. Every parent sees their child’s issues as the most prevalent but it’s hard for him and anyone in education to treat them all as if they’re the same.

Currently, he says he has 270 undocumented readers.  That’s not just students who aren’t Mighty Mustang Readers, that’s students where he has no proof of them ever reading. This is either due to no AR tests or no book checkouts from these students. He says he wonders whether most are just being lazy, or whether they are using it as a defense mechanism.  How many students aren’t taking tests because they lack the ability to read? How are they supposed to survive on a university campus if they can’t read yet, or struggle extremely with reading?  They are being forced under the guise of encouraging to enter a college they are ill-prepared for.

The last major difference and major issue Asher saw in current public schooling was the relying on community colleges.  He says that when community colleges were first established in this area it was for the purpose of allowing adults who perhaps hadn’t taken grades too seriously in high school to have a second chance.

The last discussion point I’d made with Mr. Asher was that of his favorite book, The Scarlet Letter.  The reason for his deep love of the book is how clearly it shows how “corrosive hate is” and how it undermines the inherent goodness that could be there. The character Dimmesdale allows hate to overcome him. Though Jewish himself, the one message he most admires of Christianity is the overall theme of love.

After a rather lengthy discussion about religious philosophies and the similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity, I left Mr. Asher at his desk to what I’m sure was hours of documenting readers and calling students in that were on the verge of being Mighty Mustang Readers.

After many years of service to our school, it is with great sadness and extreme gratitude that we say goodbye to Mr. Jerry Asher at the end of this semester.  His work here for students is and was ceaseless.  For that, we as a student body say “Thank you!”  Keep reading and enjoy each day of freedom that comes with retirement.  You’ve most definitely earned it.

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