Justice and the public schools: Nobel for Andy Fire

You know what? It’s not easy tracking down the elementary and high school records of Nobel winners! Most biographies of Nobelists skip from “born in the city of . . .” to “Ph.D. at . . . ” without noting elementary, junior high or high schools. I’ve noted before, I track this issue half-heartedly as a 30-second response to the claim that private schooling is vastly superior to public schooling. Can’t tell that from Nobel winners.

I know Andy Fire, the 2006 Nobel winner in Physiology or Medicine, attended public schools. From the op- editorial in the Daytona Beach, Florida, News-Journal, I know that Fire attended Hollenbeck Elementary School in Sunnyvale, California. I also know he was picked on by bullies. The full story is below the fold.With a little copyright license (fair use), I have the note opposite-editorial from William R. Nylen of Stetson University:

October 15, 2006

A Nobel extra: There’s justice in this world

Every parent of every kid who has ever been bullied or relegated to the shadows behind the “popular” kids has responded with some variation of the following story: “Today’s bullies and popular kids are tomorrow’s has-beens and losers. And today’s so-called geeks are tomorrow’s movers and shakers.”Maybe some of us were even told this by our own parents. But is it really true? Even as we try to reassure our own children, we all know that life is not always as fair as we would like it to be.

Sometimes, though, life’s justice can be poetically beautiful.

I have a memory of schoolyard injustice that has smoldered in the recesses of my mind for more than 35 years. Did justice ultimately prevail? Recently, the answer came in a most satisfying way.

All of us in the 1969 sixth grade class of Hollenbeck Elementary School in Sunnyvale, Calif., played out our educational and social development within the ample social space that existed between two polar opposite personality types. On one extreme, was “John,” the unrivaled bully. On the other, Andy, the equally unrivaled geek.

John and his gang of wannabes were tough, and they dominated the playground. When they turned their attention toward the awkward and bespeckled Andy, as they frequently did, the rest of us could only offer our undivided attention as spectators or, in some cases, cheerleaders of the cruelty that followed.

One day, one of John’s gang called everyone to take a look at the “hilarious” spectacle in the boys’ bathroom. One by one, we dutifully filed in, climbed up on the toilet seat of one of the stalls and peered over the wall to see what? None of us knew. Until we saw poor Andy there amidst the jeers and jostling all around him. My own sense of shame for taking part in this most embarrassing of moments, stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Whatever became of poor Andy?

Though I couldn’t care less about what happened to John, I can say that the last time I saw him, he was stoned out of his mind, muttering to himself and stumbling around our high school tennis courts, the same high school he’d apparently flunked out of since he’d disappeared shortly after our sophomore year. John was getting his just reward.

But what about Andy?

I never knew . . . until a few days ago.

Dr. Andrew Fire, of Palo Alto, Calif., a professor of pathology and genetics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, received the 2006 Nobel prize in medicine. At age 47, he was one of the youngest recipients of the prize.

Parents, children, geeks, bullies — there is justice in the world.

Nylen is a political science professor at Stetson University.


One Response to Justice and the public schools: Nobel for Andy Fire

  1. bernarda says:

    The title of the following article is “Religion is not a learning aid”.



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