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In Character with David Bailey

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: Nick Fochtman Deity? No. Institution? Maybe. David Bailey has been stressing out Lincoln High students for 44 years – and enjoying every minute of it.

Next to the blackboard in David Bailey's classroom at Lincoln High School there's a bulletin board where students post whatever they want. Within reason. Bailey is big on reason.

One sign reads, "What's the difference between Mr. Bailey and God? Answer: "God doesn't think he's Mr. Bailey."

Bailey has taught journalism and what used to be called civics for 44 years at Lincoln, though some of his students insist he's been at the school at least 100 years.

Portland Tribune:

You know, not everybody would think that sign is complimentary.

David Bailey:

I'll have kids say, "Well, what's the difference Mr. Bailey?" I'll say, "God is older and he probably has more hair." And then I just leave it at that.

Tribune:

And what about that other poster (It shows a lineup of photographs: Hitler, Castro, Gaddafi, Stalin and Bailey)?

Bailey:

The sign originally said, "Gun control works." But students covered over "gun control" and made it "Torture works."

Tribune:

They're saying you torture?

Bailey:

It's intellectual torture.

Tribune:

And that's OK?

Bailey:

If it produces the desired result. The end justifies the means, doesn't it? If it's intellectual waterboarding and it produces the result of kids being able to think and challenge and react, then let's have more intellectual waterboarding.

Tribune:

Rumor has it that you take controversial positions just to get your students riled up. Any examples come to mind?

Bailey:

I said Jonathan Swift had it right a couple hundred years ago when he proposed we eat the children because the population was growing too fast in the cities. A couple kids said, "Why don't we eat the old people?" And I said, "Because old people are tough and stringy."

Tribune:

You're seen as quite the institution here at Lincoln. How does that make you feel?

Bailey:

Better to be seen as an institution than to be in one.

Tribune:

Speaking of institutions, you've been known to show up at prom as a chaperone?

Bailey:

I don't like to go to dances anymore. I've gotten tired of watching bump and hump. I played like Moses and walked right through the dancers who were grinding and I separated them like the Red Sea. We had a kid come to one dance with his partner and he was down on all fours with a collar and his partner held on to the leash. It was time for them to leave.

I have kids every year ask, "Is it true somebody put your car in the bleachers?" I deal with that every year, just like I have somebody say, "Is it true that the Mr. Burns character in the "Simpsons" cartoon is based on you?"

Tribune:

What do you tell them?

Bailey:

It depends on my mood. Apparently Mr. Burns does something with his fingers and goes, "Exactly." I've never seen it.

Tribune:

And yet you just did it.

Bailey:

A parent spoke with ("Simpsons" creator Matt Groening) and she asked him, and according to the parent he just laughed and said, "No truth to that." But if there is, I want money.

Tribune:

Your car?

Bailey:

A student came to me while I was teaching and gave me a note, "Someone moved your car." I've been parking in the same place for 44 years. They got it to the steps of the bleachers. These weren't the brightest kids. Then it dawned on them, "This thing is heavy and how are we going to turn it to carry it on the stairs? There's not enough of us." So they just left it.

Tribune:

And you also coach cross-country, right?

Bailey:

One year I was the girls' tennis coach. God bless our girls, they actually knew the game.

Tribune:

You didn't possess an extensive knowledge of tennis?

Bailey:

I could call the taxi cabs to get the girls to the matches. One of my girls said, "We have to have a ladder for rankings." And I'm thinking, what do you need a ladder for? The nets aren't that high. I was absolutely clueless.

Tribune:

So many teachers today report that their profession has become stressful. Not for you?

Bailey:

I had a handful of instructors in college and high school and they made the whole thing seem fun. Isn't that what it should be? I come to school because I want to have some fun today, intellectual sport.

Tribune:

And stress?

Bailey:

I create stress for others.