By Mark Gorte
off the record
Since the first day of school students have blindly followed the notion that the teachers they interact with almost every week day have a minimal or even a nonexistent social life outside the occasional get together orchestrated in the teacher’s lounge. There may even be some who have not completely given up on the idea that their teacher plugs into the wall to recharge their batteries at night. Yet there are the other students who have had the revolutionary experience of sighting their teacher outside the walls of DHS doing something other than grading papers or have had the opportunity to get to know or even befriend a teacher, know that they do in fact have lives of their own.
Typically when the four years of high school come to an end it is the teachers who are saying their farewells and good lucks to their students and friends, however, this year is a little different. This year the roles have been changed and students will be saying their farewells and good lucks to the government and sociology teacher Jim Ferency, for he has made the decision that at the end of this school year he will be retiring from teaching. And since this will be Ferency’s last year, he has agreed to share pieces of his past which and his insight on his future.
Born in an area of Detroit called Grosse Ile, which at that time had not been touched by the suburbia building contractors, Ferency was free to explore the outdoors.
“My childhood was spent roaming the creeks and fields around my neighborhood,” Ferency said.
Ferency’s childhood memories of growing up were not purely centered around exploring the outdoors but they also included a major factor that influenced his life later on. Ferency attended a Catholic grade school that he claims was run by strict, physically and psychologically abusive nuns and priests. Growing up in this sort of environment has had a significant impact on Ferency’s personal beliefs.
“This frightening experience informed my distrust of people in positions of authority, which translated into an interest in those who make laws and enforce policy, which translated into my interest in government and the behaviors of the ruling classes,” Ferency said.
Despite popular belief, teachers aren’t nerds who are instantly in love with the subject that they teach from the moment they are born.
This is the case with Ferency who hated his government and economy classes in high school but instead found interest in science, art, literature, and gym classes. But Ferency did enjoy track which gives a possible reasoning for why he is the head coach for the track team.
“I ran track and cross country my junior and senior years,” Ferency said. “I was a good athlete and would have been a good football, baseball, or basketball player if I had the confidence.”
Ferency went on to attend three different colleges altogether, Henry Ford Community College, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University graduating in 1980 with majors in English and art, a minor in social studies, with the addition of his teaching credentials. He later went on to Wayne State University Law School. By the time Ferency had started teaching at DHS, he had graduated from law school, had passed his bar exam, he had taught at four different schools, teaching English, art, history, geography, and during the a few summer classes of government where he had DHS’ very own Jason Gehoski as a student.
“When the opportunity came up, I got a position at Dow High as a government teacher in the fall of 1997,” Ferency said. “That’s how I got hooked into teaching government – not my first choice, but one in which I found considerable interest.”
For 15 years Ferency has been teaching government at DHS with the thought that his job as a teacher is to show his students that this institution is a giant socializing machine, where young people primarily are taught to follow the rules and obey authority, thus becoming compliant workers and obedient citizens. He has tried to accomplish this goal by creating group assignments that challenge the students to try and change DHS policy that they think are unfair.
“It has been an exceedingly difficult challenge, and I believe I have failed most of the time,” Ferency said. “I don’t know if this has been because of personal failure, or because the socializing machine is so effective that, by the time I get a crack at students, it is too late.”
With his time at DHS coming to an end Ferency has looked back at what he will miss the most about the school. Despite what some might believe Ferency will miss the surroundings and nature more than he will miss teaching.
“I remember the older teachers telling me when I was young: there comes a time when a teacher has taught enough, when it is time to do something else. I have reached that time,” Ferency said. “I won’t miss teaching.”
Ferency has had a long career at DHS and as his teaching career comes to an end, he has a message for the students at DHS.
“Fare thee well, Dow High!”