Barr McCutcheon is a Parker legend. He has taught at the school for over 50 years. He went there as a student, until eighth grade when he was kicked out.He was a hichly conservative man, of a particular type of genius. He could talk backward as well as he could forward. My brother went over to his house, and found him charting Elizabethan family history "in case anyone wants to know." He used no textbooks, or standard concepts. Instead of learning about calculus and linear algebra, we learned about oozoes and air taxies. He made us learn the time zones for major cities of the world,
i get on a plane at 2pm in the seychells islands, and i land in bangkok by 8am the next day; how long was i in the air?and he had us calculate orally the distance from one corner in Chicago to another.
We were swept along into his mind at dizzying speed - with few identifiable landmarks. There was no use relating to other kids taking math in high school - we didn't speak the same language. Of course the material sang, because he loved it. He drew figures and characters and explained things as though it were simply Tuesday, and there should be no other reason for it all. He was a mathemagician, if ever there was - like a Rold Dahl character made flesh, or perhaps norman juster?
Of course there were problems. He was largely unsympathetic to modern student excuses, and some were put off by his unforgiving gaze. In an age increasingly obsessed with standardized testing, parents were frustrated with his refusal to allow textbooks in the math department.
photo of mccutcheon and i, march 1998, by philipp conrad
My unruly streak clashed with his sense of authority, and so I was frequently detained and dismissed.
sophomore year, I failed his geometry class, had to make it up in summer school.
Junior year, prerequisite to my return to his higher level math class, I was made to sit on the floor for three months, and speaking to no one, upon penalty of immediate expulsion.
His comments of me were comic:
Justin's behaviour is #!@$*%&!
If Justin starts to pay attention and do his school work, we will all stand and salute the flag.