Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Pressing Buttons

Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Pressing Buttons

Article excerpt

My Welsh stepmother would instruct, "Press Button B" when I shouted from one room to another. Yelling, like chewing with my mouth open, was rude. "Button B" was the button in the red call box, in the British Isles of an era long before now. Then, one would press Button B after pressing Button A to make a phone call. One would deposit coins, dial the number, and wait for the line to be picked up. Without Button B, there was no hearing of the other side of the line. Button B was how one communicated softly, normally, politely, without shouting. That response to my shoutings back then was my stepmother's reminder that I was an uncouth, terribly unBritish, American in my unmindful yellings and carryings-on. She wouldn't hear me unless I pressed the right button.

She had other expressions, which I have incorporated into my teaching responses when a student gets an answer almost correct: "Right church, wrong pew." How Anglophilic of my upbringing, I cringingly admit. How reliogiocentric. Her other expression came from carnival days: "Close, but no cigar." My students have heard of none of the above. I am their Button B.

The poet/playwright Wole Soyinka writes in his poem "Telephone Conversation" about the same red telephone box to which I am referring. A Nigerian is trying to rent an apartment in what we can assume is a white London suburb in the 60s. He warns the landlady that he is African. Translation: black. He hears her, or imagines her, taking a deep breath. Good British breeding disdains rentals to blacks. She asks how dark he is: "'ARE YOU LIGHT/OR VERY DARK?'" Button B. Button A. Stench/of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak./ Red booth. Red pillar box" (Soyinka, 1960/2006, lines 10-13). …

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