Victor Padula The Origin of "You've Got Potential"

You know that expression “history is written by the victors”? Well I just happen to be one of those Victors. Each year, at the secret assembly of guys named Victor, all the Victors draw names out of a hat to decide which sub-genres of history we’re going to cover for the following 12 months.

We then write and disseminate our findings to respected historians, movie theatre trivia writers, and so fourth. Now most of the Victors like to maintain a veneer of objectivity in their work by you know, writing about things that have actually happened. I personally am party to another school of thought: I prefer to look at society as it is today and work backwards. You see, I’ve found it’s much easier to write about the things that must have happened to get us where we are today than to actually do any research.

Now a lot of you may say that historians have the responsibility to remain objective; that it’s the historian’s sworn duty to give the general public a clear perspective on where we’ve come from, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past. The flaw in this logic is that we’re pretty much doomed to make the same mistakes no matter what. So I say, why not have a little fun with it? “You’ve Got Potential” as a teaching tool: It was the early 1980s, and all across the country the practice of physically disciplining students was becoming politically unfeasible. The hippies of the Woodstock era were growing older and getting jobs. Although the bright-eyed optimism of the previous decade was growing less candescent by the hour, many of these former freedom fighters were still stuck on the idea that “beating the dumb” out of the nation’s children may not be the most effective form of classroom management.

Across the nation, teachers were scrambling to find new ways to discipline and shape the young minds that would one day grow up to maintain the correct viscosity of the nacho cheese at Seven Eleven.

The challenge of maintaining order in a room full of semi-retarded 14 year olds would be difficult in any era, but this was a period when staggering quantities of low-grade mexican marijuana was flooding the nation’s Jr. High schools. It seems that the release of the teen-comedy romp “Fast-Times at Ridgemont High” in the summer of 1982 had inspired a generation of aspiring young stoners to made it their life’s ambition to be like Spicoli. During this dark period, one could scarcely open a classroom door without discovering long haired little doofuses acting aloof and crackin’ wise. Then one day, while supervising after school detention, a teacher named Margaret Mattheson had a revelation that would forever change the face of public education.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” recalls Mattheson “this little d-bag was just sitting there, giggling as if being a zit-covered virgin retard was something to laugh about. I remember reaching into my desk for my old trusty belt, then I realized that weren’t allowed to do that anymore. I put the belt back in the drawer and reached for my whiskey flask.” As Mattheson finished her flask, inspiration struck “I just went up to the little bastard, kept as straight a face as possible and said ‘you know Darren, you’re better than this. You have so much potential.’” Much to Mattheson’s surprise the student bought into her obviously false statement “I knew he didn’t have any potential,” recalls Mattheson, “well not any more than the other kids at least.

I mean what does that even mean? My bank account has the potential to have a lot more money in it, but I decided to be an alcoholic school teacher, so that’s obviously not happening.” Pretty soon, teachers all across the country were telling half-witted stoner children that they “had potential.” Educational researchers found that the tactic was only about 10% as effective as taking the kids out back and beating them with a King James Bible, but given the constraints of the brave new world they were living in, it was the best teachers could hope for.

That’s why to this very day, every time a teacher is about to take aside some self-involved little jackass and give them the potential speech, they have a couple of stiff belts from their teachers union issued whiskey flask, and offer a silent toast to Margaret Mattheson.

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