Mr. Whitson taught sixth-grade science. On the first day of class， he introduced a creature called the cattywampus， an ill-adapted1 animal that was wiped out during the Ice Age. He passed around a skull as he talked. We all took notes and later had a quiz.
When he returned my paper， I was shocked. There was a big red X through each of my answers. I had failed. There had to be some mistake！ I had written down exactly what Mr. Whitson said. Then I realized that everyone in the class had failed. What had happened？
Very simple， Mr. Whitson explained. He had made up2 all the stuff about the cattywampus. There had never been any such animal. The information in our notes was， therefore， incorrect. Did we expect credit3 for incorrect answers？
Needless to say， we were outraged. What kind of test was this？ And what kind of teacher？ We should have figured it out， Mr. Whitson said. After all， at the every moment he was passing around the cattywampus skull （in truth， a cats）， hadnt he been telling us that no trace of the animal remained？ He had described its amazing night vision4， the color of its fur and any number of other facts he couldnt have known. He had given the animal a ridiculous name， and we still hadnt been suspicious. The zeroes on our papers would be recorded in his grade book， he said. And they were.
Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would learn something from this experience. Teachers and textbooks are not infallible5. In fact， no one is. He told us not to let our minds go to sleep， and to speak up6 if we ever thought he or the textbook was wrong.
Every class was an adventure with Mr. Whitson. One day he told us that his Volkswagen was a living organism. It took us two full days to put together a refutation7 he would accept. He didnt let us off the hook8 until we had proved not only that we knew what an organism was but also that we had the fortitude to stand up for the truth. We carried our brand-new skepticism into all our classes. This caused problems for the other teachers， who werent used to being challenged.
I havent made any great scientific discoveries， but Mr. Whitsons class gave me and my classmates something just as important： the courage to look people in the eye and tell them they are wrong. He also showed us that you can have fun doing it.
Not everyone sees the value in this. I once told an elementary school teacher about Mr. Whitson. The teacher was appalled. “He shouldnt have tricked you like that，” he said. I looked that teacher right in the eye and told him that he was wrong.
1. ill-adapted： 不适应的，不协调的；wipe out： 彻底摧毁，消灭；Ice Age： 【地】冰河时代，冰川期。
2. make up： 捏造，（尤指为了欺骗）临时编造，虚构。
3. credit ： （学生成绩单上某门课程的）及格记录。
4. night vision： 夜里（或黑暗中）看清东西的能力，夜视力；any number of： 〈口〉好多，许多。
5. infallible： 不可能错误的，永无过失的。
6. speak up： 大胆地说，自由发表意见。
7. refutation： 可供反驳用的证据（或论据）。
8. off the hook： 〈口〉脱离困境，脱身；fortitude：坚忍，刚毅；stand up for：支持，维护。