The Case for Year-Round School, Irreverence and Impudence, and Stealth Education

Here I sit, the ugly kid with the thick glasses and bad clothes, waiting on an ass kicking…

I absolutely loathed first grade (because I could read on the same level as a college freshman at age 5, the powers that be in the school system thought that sleeping on a mat in kindergarten might be a tad bit unnecessary for the likes of me) through high school, with the exception of my junior and senior years when I was permitted to go to college classes at OSU in the afternoons.  I think the only reason I was accorded that privilege is that by then the guidance counselors hated my guts and really didn’t want me hanging around.  What I didn’t realize back then is that I intimidated a good portion of the school faculty.  I really wasn’t an overt wise ass, but I was a little bit too good at pointing out areas that could use some improvement, and I was a rather impudent youth.  Tact is a skill that one learns with age and experience, and I didn’t have any back then.  I don’t have much now, but age brings its own gravitas, and I’ll gladly be a wise ass now, thanks.

I loathed school for two very good reasons.  First, I got the living daylights beat out of me virtually every day from ages 5 to 13.  Granted, when I wasn’t at school my sisters and their friends were administering the beatings, but school was no respite from them, and at school the dynamic of verbal abuse was added to the physical beatings.  Hell, I knew I was ugly and uncoordinated and my clothes were a disaster.  I didn’t need any reminders.  In my clothes’ defense, they were dirt cheap to begin with, and had also been through my two older sisters, so there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of any of that stuff actually fitting properly even if it wasn’t threadbare and worn out.  As to me being a particularly ugly, geeky sort, there really wasn’t much helping that.

I spent way too many mornings waiting on the bell at school just like this.

Worse than landing in bushes and being dumped headfirst into trash cans on a consistent basis was the boredom.  Most of the time my classmates couldn’t get away with beating on me in class (the one exception being Mr. Titty-Titty-Titty back in 8th grade who came very close to getting his greasy paws on my chest area, but ended up breaking my best friend’s leg instead.) I had some very good teachers- most notably my 8th grade history teacher, my music theory teacher, my AP English teacher and my government teacher- but I had some abysmal ones as well, such as the biology teacher who fessed up to the entire class that he only majored in education so he could get out of Vietnam.  One of the abysmal teachers unfortunately taught American history- sort of- as in he read each chapter’s lesson out loud to the class in the same sort of monotone as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Thankfully I already had an interest in history (no thanks to this guy reading a very dry 20 year old textbook) so I was pretty well versed in American history before I’d ever hit this joker’s class.


The bad part about this dude having his nose buried in a book droning on ad nauseam is that’s where his eyes were focused too.  Everyone was seated in reverse alphabetical order in that class (so he didn’t have to remember names- he just looked at his seating chart) so I sat directly in front of the same girl every day.  She happened to be a black girl who for some reason was obsessed with blonde hair.  At that time I was doing the big 8o’s hair that was so horrible to maintain.  The monthly uniperms (spiral perms with heat, which is an archaic process that went out of vogue in about 1989) not only burned up my hair and gave it the texture of straw, they also lightened it several shades, turning mousy brown to dirty blonde.  Acck, on many levels, because any blonde is not a good color for me, but this girl absolutely loved my hair for some bizarre reason and wanted hair just like mine.

One day when I’d gone back to the salon for yet another $60 uniperm, my stylist noticed that a chunk of hair had been burned off the back.  Apparently the girl in history class was not just obsessed with having straw textured blonde hair.  I thought she had tried to set my hair on fire. I found out later she did.  The sad irony is I had so much hair that I really didn’t notice.

It wasn’t a weave though.  It was my actual hair.

A couple of days after the visit to the stylist, I sat down in that class, at the same desk with the same graffiti (the further back you sat the more elaborate the artwork, and my desk was only one forward from the last in the row) only to observe my friend sitting in the desk behind me with a bright red bandanna wrapped around her head like Aunt Jemima or something.  I simply asked, “Hey, Angie,*(not her real name) What happened to your hair?”

“Angie” replied, “I straightened it.  Then I blonded it.  Then it all fell out.”  The lye relaxer products the black girls used back then were some noxious stuff, and apparently they did not react well with peroxide either.  The coloring products of the 80’s were some killer harsh stuff- without preceding them with lye.

The same stuff that unclogs your drain- these girls put it on their heads.

It took six months for her hair to grow back to where she had just a slight covering of nappy fuzz on her head, but we ended up becoming good friends, even after she fessed up to burning off a chunk of my hair.  I think she was bored in that class too, although I think I did some of my best artwork ever in that class.  On that desk.  Shame on me.

I learned more about art than I did history in that class.

Suffice to say that I don’t put much stock in traditional education.  I do believe that kids need to learn certain “boring” basics such as how to read, how to spell, basic grammar, and at least what I call basic accounting math- how to add, subtract, divide and multiply and have some understanding of percentages and ratios.   But beyond that, there is a world of information and exploration that kids generally don’t get to touch.  History is one heavily neglected area of education that can be one of the most edifying, intriguing and downright fun to explore.  Science is another, and so is the vast world of literature.  I educated myself when I was bored.  I had no problem with year-round learning.  Summer gave me plenty of time as a kid to hide out in the library and to learn on my own without having to worry about “staying behind with the rest of the class” or having to worry about what was going on behind my back.

I think if I could have done some things differently and could have spent more time with my son as he was growing up, instead of being constantly frustrated with the school systems’ bureaucracies and inefficiencies, I’d have seriously considered home-schooling, at least for awhile.  I know the isolation might not have been terribly good for his social development, but I think he would have had more fun learning.  I did quite a few stealth learning projects with him anyway.  I showed him that museums are generally quite cool and are great places to learn.  Though he does not share my passion for voracious reading, he does know how to research subjects that interest him and where to find resources he needs.

You can learn anything you want to if you know where to find it.

I don’t have a problem with kids having fun while they learn.  In fact, I think the lesson just might stick better if it’s fun.  Just a thought.  I also don’t think kids necessarily need to take a break from learning- though they do need to take a break from the formalities from time to time.

4 thoughts on “The Case for Year-Round School, Irreverence and Impudence, and Stealth Education

  1. I dreaded school, too. I brought a lot of my woes on myself, honestly. Like you, I irritated other students, teachers and guidance counselors. Unlike you, though, it WAS because I was a smart-ass. My mouth would work so fast that I often had great difficulty controlling it.

    Part of my problem was boredom. Up through 6th grade, I’d been correctly placed in the challenging classes (I even went to an experimental school for 5th & 6th grade, which was a very good experience), but we moved to Washington State in the 7th grade, and for whatever reason for the rest of my Jr. High & High School career I was placed on the “average” track. I had to really fight to get into AP History, and wasn’t allowed to get into AP Humanities. It left me with an ugly impression of the public schools (and this was before the odious “No Child Left Behind). Public schools (so far as I’ve seen, anyway) don’t cater to the exceptional student.

    The biggest problem I have with school is that they’re no longer teaching critical thinking skills. History is presented as a timeline of ever-changing facts, the interpretation of which morphs with the prevailing mores of the day. To me, the most critical thing in the study of history is how to THINK about history. Although I learned more of this in college (I have a perfectly useless degree in history, and an equally useless one in political science), the job of the historian is to view events with as little bias as possible. Total bias elimination is impossible, but in being trained to avoid it, I’ve also learned to spot it. The prevalence of unchecked bias in history is a real detriment, I think.

    Also, blond is the best kind of hair to have. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I’m just telling you how it is.

    • Some people look good with blond hair (like Fabio) but others (like me) don’t. I’ve always liked jet black Asian hair, they have the best hair IMO, but I think people always gravitate to the opposite of what they already have. My poor friend “Angie” really must have wanted burnt up bleachy artificially spiral curled straw hair like mine once was. I’ve always loved black, black hair, and turning grey at 26 gave me all the excuse I needed to switch from mousy brown.

      I’m glad I keep it short and straight (it is naturally bone straight and resists all efforts to curl it) and black. Black is the only color where you don’t end up with either dark roots or darker ends and lighter roots. It’s the easiest one for ‘po folk like me to do at home.

      I guess in retrospect, I was technically a wise ass, but I didn’t quite get it. No one back then had heard of either Asperger’s or hyperlexia, (hyperlexia=self-taught reading before the age of 4, pretty much) which was probably a good thing in a weird way. I generally don’t care much for labels, but knowing that there is a name for what’s (wrong? different? better?) about me has been somewhat helpful in navigating my own wiring. No one had addressed either of these conditions until I was in my early 30’s, when I was getting counseling for major depression for the third time. I’m not retarded (sometimes scatterbrained, but that’s not the same thing) and I had no problems with written language, so I wasn’t labeled “autistic” in school- even though Asperger’s is a mild form of autism.

      Unlike autistic kids today, I was not excused from social interaction. No matter how terrified I was of being put in certain situations, I had to suck up and figure out how to do it anyway. I got thrown to the wolves, which did lead me to many years of anxiety and all that mess, but overall ended up being good for me in that I did acquire sufficient social skills to get an education and to be employed which many autistics are never able to do.

      I got my ass kicked a lot, but it was my inability to read facial expressions without thinking about it like “normal” people can (I’m really abysmal with non-verbals) that got me in trouble. Kids have radar for anyone that doesn’t belong or fit in, and they attack the oddball relentlessly. I called things as I see them (still do) and my difficulty with empathy and difficulty with reading other’s behavior got me in trouble. A LOT. I had no problem with intellectual skills, but I didn’t (and really still don’t) have the social skills to match up with them. I have to use alternative decoding methods to navigate the world. Neurologically speaking, normal people get to take the Interstate to a lot of places that I have to use the backroads to reach- but I get to take the Interstate to a lot of places where normal people have to take the backroads. Age and experience help with these processes immensely, although my mother still accuses me of staring at people. 🙂

  2. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Elysian, you had some rough experiences in school. (I love when you share them because you are just so darn funny…but still – you went to school with some real assholes!)

    • Assholes are everywhere, and they love chicken. I was afraid of everything, except (ironically) dogs. My oldest sister made sure that if nothing else, I was afraid of HER. I was afraid of everything else pretty much by default- but I never had a problem with dogs, even ones people claimed were “vicious” and all that noise.

      Unfortunately kids are inherently evil. They have to learn better. As I got older and learned to navigate the world a little better (and befriended a few large girls who appreciated the fact I had a car) it got easier.

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