Sunday, January 29, 2006

My Story - School is Hell

Sixth Grade sucked ass, but it nicely set up junior high (7th through 9th grades in my locale at that time) and high school. Mostly this stuff is the story of any outcast, so I'll try to be brief. (Not my strong suit, I know, I know.) [Later: Yep, failed miserably at brevity!]

Junior high consisted of just one boring class after another. This included the gifted class, which was an hour each day. The truth of most gifted programs is that they capture, and cater to, students who are bright and hard working, but not really the truly exceptional students. Most of what we did the gifted class was a combination of foreign language study, arts & crafts, and a bunch of other bullshit. (The foreign language study was not intensive at all, and therefore ineffective. Therefore bullshit.)

But by now I was firmly ensconced as an outcast. This has its advantages. You don't HAVE to care what other people think, and the teachers start to accept the fact that you're going to be a failure in life, so they largely leave you to your own devices. This would be liberating if they would let you just go the hell home, but instead you just get to sleep in class.

Besides actually making it to high school somehow, there were a couple of other highlights. We took some more standardized tests in Eighth Grade. In one test, for us gifted students, I tested as having the vocabulary of a college graduate. This surprised the teacher since I had ignored all of the assignments concerning expanding our vocabulary.

Incidentally, in Seventh Grade I had started cussing a lot more. My vocabulary was becoming a bit of a hindrance in social settings. What social settings does an outcast concern himself with? Well, even an outcast has to talk to people in his classes. And it is a real pain in the ass when someone insults you, you insult them back, and they stare at you blankly. Explaining insults has the same effect as explaining jokes: it neuters them. So I learned to say motherfucker instead.

The other big achievement was taking the PSAT. And getting the highest score in the gifted class. I started getting reading material from small liberal arts colleges in the northeast. Of course, nothing could have ever come of that, but the attention was nice. It helped to highlight for all concerned exactly how badly I was fucking up my life.

Around Eighth Grade I also started to contemplate dropping out. But I made a critical mistake: I actually believed the people who told me if I dropped out I would never accomplish anything. Even bright people make mistakes, and this is one of my worst. I should have dropped out in the Eighth Grade, taken my GED and been done with it.

One story from Ninth Grade: While doing poorly in my English class, I was chosen by the teacher to be an assistant for her Eighth Grade class. My responsibilities included grading papers and administering tests. She was fond of saying "Out! Out!" when her classes would be particularly exasperating. It was later that I discovered it was a reference to Lady MacBeth. She was also the first teacher to openly cuss in front of me. One day, grading papers, we got to talking. And she told me, "You know why you do poorly in English class ****? It's because you just don't give a damn." I was more startled by her matter of fact assessment than I was by the language. Another great teacher in a lousy system.

High school was a bit more interesting. My academic downward spiral continued, but the counter-points were funnier.

My second favorite was getting chosen by my 11th grade Chem II teacher (the gorgeous Miss Elder the Younger) to set up the lab experiments. This despite the fact that by the time she picked me I was failing the class. I later got an award for helping out in that class. It was announced over the school loud-speaker system as part of our weekly update: "**** has been a helpful student, and a heckuva guy! So we're giving him a mini-footbal!" It was also announced a couple of days after I had been given 20 days of detention. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what I had done that would have warranted all of that detention, but not suspension. I guarantee that it was something stupider than anything you think up! (Actually it was two separate incidents.)

But the best thing happened in what would have been 12th Grade. I dropped out right after the Christmas break of 11th Grade. A month or so later I took the SAT. I was already in college, but what the hell, right? I took the test on very little sleep, and because of a dispute with the proctors proving that I was in fact me, I took it with a time disadvantage. Several months later, the Principal of my former school gets on the loud-speaker and congratulates me for having the highest SAT score in the class. Absolutely priceless!

But since I'm running long anyway (Surprise!) I have to add the story of getting tossed out. At the half-way point of the first semester, I was doing poorly. A couple of Cs, three Ds and an F. I was on my way out, no question about it, but I didn't know how to make a clean break. So as the semester wore on, I became belligerent. (I know, another big surprise.) I went looking for chances to argue with classmates and teachers. One day, in Mrs. Paine's gifted English class (no joke, that was her name), I got in an argument about the police with the rest of the class. My point was that all policemen aren't necessarily good guys. (Yeah, a startling observation.) One of the other students was passionately arguing the opposite. Her main point was that she knew ONE policeman who WAS good, therefore ALL policemen ARE good. Finally, after some heated argument, Mrs. Paine told me to stop arguing because I was being illogical! I said, in great disbelief, "Bullshit."

That was it! I was sent to the principal's office with all due haste. She was so mad she didn't even send a note until a couple of hours had passed. I got kicked out of her class permantently. A couple of days later, the school psychologist came by. (This person rotated among many schools. I believe Wednesday's were his scheduled stop at Evans.) I was summoned to the principal's office, and told to talk to this man. We had a lovely chat over several hours time. I must have been a relief from what he normally dealt with. He told me to see him next week when he came back.

The next week came as Christmas break approached. He told me he had a solution to my problems. He said, "****, what you need to do is drop out of high school, get your GED, and start taking classes at Valencia [Community College]." My jaw must have been on the floor at being granted this Christmas gift. He explained further, "High school isn't really a good environment for some students. The material isn't challenging enough and the atmosphere can be stifling. You are one of those students. So this is what I think you should do. I had my three children drop out after Ninth Grade and do the same thing."

It took exactly no convincing to get my mother to agree to this, as she had suffered enough with my brother and me to know when to let it go. Plus, she had no great love of the school system either. But the most damning thing has to be the statement I bolded above. The school freakin' psychologist didn't want his children to go through the school system either, and he had his pick of schools!

Maybe I'll cover my college career later. But for now, I need to get to the point for Reader_Iam.


reader_iam said...


Calling 'em as you see 'em is perilous work, indeed.

At least this time it apparently got out of a stifling system and into college ...

Icepick said...

The funny thing is that Mrs. Paine ran the most challenging class in school. (Well, perhaps Chemistry II was a little more difficult.) Her classes were very much like a combination Freshman Composition and Lit classes from college. I hated writing papers though; I doubt I turned in more than half of them.

But I read all the books, and then some. We were assigned Chaim Potok's The Chosen. I liked the characters well enough to check the next book out (The Promise I believe) and read it before the paper on The Chosen was due. I loved The Good Earth, and immediately read the two sequels.

I didn't like all of them, though. The Great Gatsby was just kind of irritating. I had more in common with Wang Lung than I did any of the jokers in this book. But the only book I couldn't finish was Solzhenitsyn's One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich. For some reason, I couldn't get more than halfway through this rather slim volume. Something about it just bored me to catatonia. I got many hundred pages farther into The Gulag Archepelago than I did Denisovich. I forget why I never finished Gulag (not assigned, just picked it up on my own), but I never did. Probably because I knew the ending: Everybody dies, or lives miserably ever-after.

When I did get to college and started taking the Composition classes, it was right back in the soup! But there, instead of Mrs. Paine, I had Professor Fear. No joke! And best of all I topped that off in grad school with a Dr. Sin, who was one my Analysis professors. Sometimes it feels like life has been scripted by Dickens.