In the past year or so, I’ve become a fan of the Disney preteen cartoon Kim Possible. For anyone with kids between seven and fourteen, I hope you understand. Of course, my son Noah’s only four, but he’ll watch “KP” anyway. Anyway, the cartoon’s about a cheerleader who’s also an up-and-coming superhero who handles the typical pressures of teens and tweens — popularity, friends, the pressures of grades, boys, work and fighting super-villians. Kim’s somewhat geeky and nerdy sidekick is Ron Stoppable (for those of you unfamiliar, I apologize), who’s been her best friend since kindergarten. The storyline of the series is that they gradually become boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s an interesting take on two characters who — under normal cartoon standards — would be about as compatible together as a Yugo would be to a BMW.
What attracts me to the show besides my son making me watch it with him is that despite the hair, clothes, popularity and other stereotypical variables of the cheerleader construct as developed by Hollywood, the main character really cares about her ridiculously un-cool sidekick and friend. Kim Possible shows a level of complexity rarely seen on any cartoon in terms of sensitivity to others, knowledge of one’s self and our impact on the world around us (okay, I’ve probably taken this reasoning a bit too far). I’ve said to my wife multiple times in the past year, if Kim Possible had been at my high school, she probably would’ve been my first girlfriend.
Unfortunately, no one I knew during those wonderful days of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (with Full Force) and Tears for Fears even approached a level of maturity or sensitivity of this character, male or female. Even the so-called outcasts at Mount Vernon High School were as clique-ish as a bunch of Houston high school cheerleaders on ESPN. And our teachers — at least the ones we had in the high-achievement track — were about as concerned for our general well-being as a lion concerns herself with the feelings of her prey as she chomps and gulps down another mouthful of flesh. I think that there should be a rule in which there’s at least one Kim Possible in every Class of Whatever in every school district in the US.
On a more serious note, I did have one teacher whose concern for his students and his penchant for asking me “Is everything at home all right?” was such that he was able to reach me, as a student and as a human being. He didn’t let me go with my grunting, “I’m fine” responses. He became the only person who knew about my family’s financial straits, had a sense of the domestic violence, and understood my standoff-ish stance toward almost all of my classmates and other teachers. If it weren’t for him, my level of trust in others would be about as high as a dead Mafioso type down at the bottom of the East River in Manhattan, weighed down by cement shoes.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have him as my teacher until my junior year at Mount Vernon High School, way too late to begin forming meaningful friendships with more than a handful of classmates, too late to do more than to begin to imagine relationships with a few girls in my class. Even more unfortunate, though, was my teacher’s untimely death at age sixty-six. He took early retirement on his 57th birthday because the powers-that-were didn’t like his style or tactics in dealing with students. They had tried for nearly twenty years to remove him from Mount Vernon High School, to take away his favorite classes, to discredit him as a teacher. It’s a sad story, and too much to go into here.
But it’s also an uplifting story. Learning how to trust others after your trust has been shattered, burned, and scattered is somewhere between more difficult than the quantum physics of a black hole and as impossible as hooking up an electrical appliance directly on the sun’s surface. I’ll miss my teacher and all of his sing-song, meandering stories, his homilies about history and human nature, about love and trust. Just like there need to be more Kim Possible’s in this world, there need to be more teachers like my eleventh-grade AP American History teacher.