I recently returned to my hometown of Denver, Pennsylvania, to speak to graduates of my father’s high school. The school closed in the 1950s, and because some of the graduating classes were so small – my father’s class had nine students – they do one combined reunion every year.
During dinner, the discussion at our table turned to Helen Crouse, who had been my father’s third-grade teacher. In The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, I write that my father credited her with encouraging his interest in ships.
He was still building model boats out of paper and homemade paste then, yet she fed his interest by tracking down books on ships and seafaring even though Denver and the surrounding towns didn’t have a library at the time. When I told this story at the dinner table, everyone smiled and nodded their heads.
Mrs. Crouse, it seems, didn’t just serve as an inspiration to my father, but to most of her students. After my talk, one member of the audience asked for a show of hands from others who had been inspired by her. Half the hands in the room went up.
As the husband of a third-grade teacher, I found myself wondering how Mrs. Crouse would fare in today’s era of standardized testing and one-size-fits all education. She understood that unlocking a child’s intellectual curiosity is the key to a lifetime of learning. That’s not a skill that can be measured with a test, it’s a gift. In my father’s case, it was the gift that enabled him to chase his dreams and to learn, ultimately, to think like a ship.