Everybody has a story: Accuracy went wrong for high school typist

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Scientists have now found that the frontal cortex of the brain does not completely mature until after the teen years. Any parent would probably agree. Bright does not always mean wise!

Read on.

I was a student at the "Old" Fort Vancouver High School in the 1960s. My dad dropped me off at school on his way to work each day. Since I was early, I asked at the office if there was anything I could do before classes started.

The school secretary invited me to learn to operate the old-fashioned switchboard, which was probably an original to this aged school. I loved it. Then I was asked if I'd like to help out with clerical duties for the dean of students during my study hall. I jumped at the chance. Mr. Cummings, the dean of students, would dictate letters, and I would type them for his signature. No computers then!

Mr. Cummings was in charge of official record-keeping for our football league, which included eight local high schools. After the season ended, he dictated a letter congratulating Battle Ground High School on its first-place finish.

He asked that a letter go out to each of the seven other schools. He gave me a list of names and addresses for all the letters. After I completed this assignment, I put the letters on his desk for him to sign. He read the top letter, approved it, and signed all of them without looking further. I folded each letter, making sure each went into the correct envelope, and mailed them.

About a month later, I was called to the office. When I got there, it was evident that Mr. Cummings was angry. He laid out carbon copies of the letters that I had typed to all the schools. He asked me to look at them and see what I had done wrong.

They looked just like I had typed them. He said, "You can't see what you did wrong?" By now I was upset, and I wondered if I had somehow typed some kind of secret code inadvertently.

He explained how he had been getting "the cold shoulder" from the other schools' deans. He couldn't figure out why they were angry. He asked the Hudson's Bay dean what was wrong, and that dean handed him my letter regarding the football season outcome. Mr. Cummings read it and couldn't believe what he had signed. The letter "congratulated" Hudson's Bay on coming in eighth, or last, place.

When I had typed those letters a month earlier, the first one to Battle Ground was straightforward. But when I started the second letter to a different school, I assumed that Mr. Cummings meant for me to insert each school's place in the standings in each letter, making them all different from each other. In fact, I was so sure that he meant for me to do this, I didn't even ask him if I was doing it correctly. I was too bright for that. After all, why would Ridgefield High School be interested in finding out that another school had placed first?

The letters were supposed to be exact duplicates, stating that Battle Ground was the first-place finisher. Mr. Cummings' mistake was signing them in blue ink without reading them. The blue ink identified to the reader that it was an original letter, not a copy.

Obviously, I had embarrassed Mr. Cummings. The letters to the other deans, "congratulating" them for falling short of first place, appeared to be rubbing it in.

At the end of my senior year, I was recognized for my service handling the switchboard every day for three years. I don't know what Mr. Cummings thought about that.


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