Sunday, January 29, 2006

My Story - Education Sucks

In Fourth Grade, things were going pretty well. I tested into the gifted program, which told all my teachers that I had a decent brain in my skull. And I was on the 'advanced' track in all my subjects. (We had still had tracks at that time, although each class would have a mix of students in all three tracks.) Things were going well.

But I was starting to get restless. School was starting to seem repetitive and full of makework. Doing homework started to become a chore, with requisite friction between me and my mother, and a drop in grades at school.

One set of assignments sticks out. Our teacher handed out a LARGE stack of papers one Friday. It was a set of science assignments that we had to complete over the next eight weeks. Very daunting to a fourth grader. That night, I got home and went through whatever routine I went through. Right after diner I started in on the first assignment. Less than four hours later, I was done with the whole stack. So much for eight weeks of work! (I recall that I had made two small errors in the whole of the assignments.) This kind of dedication was (and is) rare from me, but occasionally it happens. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy!

This story sounds great... until one stops to think about it. Either I was incredibly brilliant, or the assignments weren't that challenging. As it turns out, I really was that brilliant. Somewhere between First and Third Grade I had turned into a genius. School became a drag.

Then Fifth Grade started. This was a watershed year. We had two black teachers in the school. In Third Grade I got the first one, whom I loved. In the Fifth Grade, I got the other. Oh boy, did I get the other.

This teacher (who shall remain nameless) was a bit ... militant. Black militant to be precise. The year started innocently enough. We got to learn about various black luminaries from American history: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and a host of others. As far back as I can remember, I've always loved history, and this was no exception. American history is rich with under-dog stories, and the Abolitionist Movement has some of the best.

As the year went on, the stories we got became a bit more extreme. Did you know black people had built the Pyramids? Did you know that the ancient Greeks and Romans had stolen all of their ideas from Darkest Africa? And the Chinese had, too! It turns out that Africans had done EVERYTHING first! Every last possible thing, until Whitey came along and enslaved them all and stole all their stuff.

I may have only been ten and eleven, but I knew I was being given the business, as Wally and the Beaver would say. It was an unpleasant year, and I learned that teachers really don't know all that much, and to weigh what I was told with some skepticism. (Okay, a lot of skepticism.) Actually, these aren't bad lessons to learn, but the time, place and manner in which I learned these things wasn't right. Anyway, I started to hate school.

But Sixth Grade was where it really all came together for me. I got lucky and landed in Mrs. Noname's class. And there is NO WAY I will mention this name. Mrs. Noname was a trip. She was in her fifties, dedicated to her job, patriotic and religious. And an evil sadistic bitch, too. Every year she would pick one or two students to make an example of. I was lucky to be Chosen One that year.

It's really hard to describe what it was that she did that was so awful. It was a combination of little put-downs, ignoring students and their accomplishments, generally managing to make certain that the target was an outcast. If you weren't one of the targets, she was absolutely wonderful. Constant encouragement, a warm friendly demeanor, and a forgiving attitude to one's shortcomings. So it was a great arrangement for 29 out of 30 students. But every year she set out to break someone, and most years she succeeded.

I remember hearing a story about one of her students actually suffering a total nervous collapse and being institutionalized several years before I became her student. A friend of mine, currently going by the name Plasmaball, had her a year or two before I did. He got to be one of the 29, but will cheerfully acknowledge what an evil bitch she was. As will another friend who had her a couple of years after I did. Like me, he got to be the 30th. Not so good for him.

But so far, all I've done is talk about ostracizing people. That's kind of vague, so let me tell you a couple of stories.

I mentioned she was religious. Very much of the Protestant Christian faith. We had a couple of boys in the class who were the sons of a pair of local ministers. Every two or three weeks, as part of an assignment, they would get up and give sermons. Mind you, this is a public school! It was very clear that you'd better toe the line, or burn in Hell. The religious stuff went on constantly, and it was quite oppressive.

But my favorite story concerns geography lessons. We got lots of geography lessons. We'd learn about rivers and mountain ranges, languages and political systems, where the cities were placed, what types of industry and agriculture were practiced, etc. We focused predominantly on the Eurasian land mass. This was the admonishment were were given: "Someday, some of you boys will be in the Air Force. You may have to drop nuclear weapons on Soviet cities. But your planes won't have enough fuel to get you back to the US, so you'll have to bail out and make your way home on foot, avoiding capture. So you really need to know this stuff!"

We got this and similar stuff on a daily basis. Welcome to Sixth Grade. Now here's your M-16 and your marching orders! Make sure to bayonet the corpses because those Commies are tricky and may pretend to be dead to kill you from behind....

The whole year was like this. Every damn topic was about God and Country, and the need to blow up our enemies. And it was clear that I was one of the enemies. I came to look back on Fifth Grade as a time of bliss. By the end of it, I was so broken down that my mother finally got the whole story out me, and had me switched to another class for the final three weeks of the school year. It took a trip to the principal to get it done, but I was grateful. I mentioned that someone else I grew up with had her two years later. His parents got him out of that class after a half-year. Parents can learn!

From this point on, I hated school passionately. Even when I had good teachers it was oppressive. School would continue to suck until I dropped out of high school and started a long and storied career as a junior college student.

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