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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.