Truly a teacher


I was saddened today to learn of the passing of an old high school teacher of mine, Diane Comstock. There aren’t many teachers that I remember as fondly as her, she taught me valuable lessons about critical thinking and not always following the “wisdom” of the crowd. She was an unabashedly liberal voice of reason in the very conservative world of the Indiana of my youth. She believed in the values of fairness and justice and equality, and often made us think about these issues in our English and literature studies. It is odd to think that I remember some of her warmth and lessons so many years later, when much of that period is lost to me. I remember the time she gave us an assignment to analyse a poem by Keats called “On the Grasshopper and the Cricket”. Most of the class looked for whatever virtues they could find in the piece, praising its meager insights in an attempt to please. But I found it lacking and my analysis was critical and concluded that it was worthless. I received an ‘A’ with the rest of the class receiving a low grade. Ms. Comstock (as we called her) informed us that we needed to be more critical, and that not everything she would give to us had value merely because she said so, we needed to form our own opinions by looking closely at what was in front of us. It was a lesson I would never forget. On another occasion I remember someone (a student or perhaps another teacher) taunting her by asking why she was a registered Democrat in a place so filled with Republicans. Her response stays with me to this day: “Because I believe that a poor, black child in Alabama has as much right to an education as a rich, white one.” Ms. Comstock never stopped believing in equal rights for everyone, not just those with access to money and power. She was exceptionally good friends with the head of the English department, who was gay and closeted (although I have no doubt she knew), and I often wonder what it would have been like to have been able to come out to her. I have no doubt she would have been supportive, even all those years ago. On a few occasions after high school I would take the time to visit her briefly when I was back in Indianapolis, but it had been many years since our last meeting when my brother alerted me to her passing this morning. I hope she knew how much she was needed, how much she meant to so many students, and ultimately understood her part in making the world a better place. Goodbye, Ms. Comstock, and thank you.