Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Story of Cakemix MacIsaac

I often stick my beak into things that seem to be none of my business.  This morning found me interacting with some school administrators as I expressed concern over some stories that I had heard regarding how a certain teacher ran their classroom.

Everything I do is with purpose and my action this morning was no different.

But to explain why I stuck my beak into this situation, I need to rewind the clock almost 40 years to tell you the story of Cakemix MacIsaac.

Back when I was in elementary school, corporal punishment, intimidation and humiliation were the norm and not the exception in schools. 

I’m referring to the conduct of the teachers, not the students.

Schoolmates were rapped across the knuckles with the yardstick because they wrote left-handed.

Many of us, including myself, had a turn or two in the Dunce’s Chair, wearing the hat and sitting on a chair while being taunted by our fellow classmates (at the encouragement of the teacher) because we had turned in a piece of work that did not meet the teacher’s expectations.

And then there was Bob MacIsaac (not his real name).

Bob had a slight speech impediment and learned differently than we did and so he was often picked on by his classmates. 

It’s easy to say that cruelty on the part of such kids is typical of kids.  However, it is a learned behavior …. they learn such behavior from us.

But I digress.

One day Bob turned in an assignment that was completely messed up.  It was one of those “pick a word from a list of words and fill in the blanks” type of assignment and he filled the words into the blanks in the order that they were on the list, missing the point of the exercise.

It’s intriguing to me that the mistakes he made are as vivid to me now as they were 40 years ago.  For example, instead of writing “I tan in the sun”, he wrote “I broil in the sun”.

Our teacher singled his assignment out and read each sentence out loud to the classroom to the sounds of guffaws and hysterical laughter.  A classmate of mine yelled out “It sounds like a cake mix, Miss” and our teacher replied “You’re right.  From now on we will call him Cakemix”.

He was humiliated beyond words.  Even as a very young person, I could see the pain in his face.

The name never left him.

Neither did the pain.

Even as adults, people still remember him as Cakemix MacIsaac.

And every time he is referred to as Cakemix, I know the humiliation he felt 40 years ago returns as sharply now as it did then.

Many of us overcome the taunting, bullying and humiliation that takes place in our childhood and we move on to create lives of purpose and positive impact.  I went from being a class Dunce to founding and IPOing companies in NYC. 

Some of us can leverage such a background to propel ourselves towards success.

But some people don’t - not every kid moves on from such humiliation.

In fact, for some it becomes a millstone around their neck that lives with them forever.

Bob is one of those people.  He never recovered any sense of self-confidence to accomplish much in his Life.

It wasn’t his fault alone.

It wasn’t his teacher’s fault alone.

It was OUR fault.

We all own the responsibility, the credit AND the blame for what society produces.

Our choices matter

We can’t choose to save every person that we meet nor are we required to.

However, we can choose not to intentionally set them back also.

Children may not know the difference.

But we do.

And they will model what we do.

Modeling what we do is where real education occurs and is also the most impactful and the most long-lasting.

What kind of model are you being today?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum: November 29, 2012

I do want to add that by way of this post, I am not diminishing the effort put forward by the MANY great, committed educators in our education system and the positive impact that they have on our lives and society-at-large.

My example was solely to demonstrate the impact that someone of influence can have when they are the wrong type of role model and is not directed at teachers specifically or in general.  I have too much respect for our educators to collectively disrespect them.


  1. I seen this "adult" behavior too in Saskatchewan where I grew up. A teacher once hit me over the head with a thick textbook for talking to the girl next to me. The bullying was often started by the teachers or joined in on when a student started it. I was once tied to a tree and threatened with a snake during recess and when I told the teacher I was told to not be a "cry baby." Fortunately I did not let it affect me into my adult years. Not all were left unscathed however. One boy was picked on mercilessly by the children and singled out and mocked by the teachers as well. As an adult he snapped and as far as I know still doing time as a result. Today in that small town nobody acknowledges their part in his demise. He just turned out like they said he would so they feel justified.

    For me however, I am reminded to be very careful how I speak to children and how I speak about others. There are too many that add to the problems of our society. We can make a choice to contribute to the success of others and often a word of encouragement or some affirmation goes a long way to produce a higher quality human being in the end.

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal story, Kerry. There are many private stories that we carry - some that help us to be better and some that destroy us. It is difficult to predict which way an influence on us will go until, in some cases, the damage is done and can't be undone.

    I agree with your second paragraph completely - I wish more people thought this way!

    Create a great day!