Friday, December 19, 2008

I Never Enjoyed School

I never enjoyed school.

Kindergarten was an option but it was not free and I was spared incarceration for a year. A few days prior to first grade my mother took me to the school for a physical exam. We were segregated into girls and boys and stripped down to underwear. An old grey headed doctor did an exam in a hallway that included the indignity of pulling down that one last vestige of modesty. I looked down the hallway and saw the girls and was somewhat relieved that only one girl was looking in my direction. Given this beginning, it shouldn't be surprising that on the first day of class I went kicking and screaming, literally.

We lived on a street across from a river and rail road tracks. One day a hobo came to the back door asking for food. My mother told him to wait outside while she fixed a quart of coffee in a glass milk bottle, fried eggs and prepared some other items for him. She gave them to him and told him not to come back again. On another warm day I watched a car stall on the tracks with a train approaching. Two elderly couples got out of the car and moved to safety as the train hit the back of the car and knocked it off the tracks. The excitement never ended. A work crew replaced a pole along the street. The hole for the anchor cable to keep the pole from leaning was dug by hand by two shirtless men. During the two days they worked they came to the house with a canvas bag to get drinking water. I think my distaste for school was related to the regimentation and the knowledge that I was missing the excitement at home.

First grade was half-days. I went in the mornings and walked. The school was located on the far side of the tracks and river. The main street had a crossing guard (. an older student wearing a white belt) and there was a bridge that spanned both the river and the tracks so safety was never an issue. How far was it? I don't remember. A few blocks, maybe a mile. What I do remember was small store along the way that sold penny candy. I knew to buy, pay and buy more to avoid tax. Buy nine cents worth and it cost nine cents. Buy ten cents work and it was eleven cents. I didn't need first grade to teach me math and finance but one day I was careless. I placed my order and had miscounted so I paid a penny tax. I made sure that never happened again.

Third Grade.
Third grade class photo. I'm in the back right below the teachers elbow wering a black shirt and glasses. (Larger version)

Over the years I went to eight school buildings in three states including a one room school where one teacher taught eight grades. There were four of us in the fourth grade. My sister was in the second grade, the largest class. There were two gender segregated entrances into the one room. Girls used one entrance and boys used another. That didn't make sense to me then nor does it make sense now.

I made mediocre grades in school but with distinction. I have the distinction of being the only student to fail all eight senior book reports and the only student to fail the senior term paper. As a junior I scored highest on a competitive math exam and won the award that normally was awarded to a senior.

As a senior I won a state regents scholarship. The senior English teacher personally congratulated each winner then turned to me and said simply, "well, congratulations anyway". On the last day of school I arrived home and found my mother crying. The senior English teacher had phoned her and told her I wouldn't graduate because I was going to fail English. In my senior year I could have failed every class with the exception of English. I had enough credits to graduate but has to pass English. I sat down that night and tried to study. After about 30 minutes I quit. It didn't interest me. In the end I received a grade of 70, the minimum passing grade. Did I earn it or did the teacher give me a get-out-of-jail-free card. I don't know.

Class Night.
Class night photo with my mother and father. (Larger version)

I could write more about bad choices, my lack of motivation and my regrets. There are three major things I would change if I had the opportunity to live my life again. My education is one of the three.

It's ironic. My mother had ten years of education and my father had eight years. He went to the eighth grade two years in hopes of bus service to the high school. It never happened and he went to work in the coal mines. In contrast I had a free ride, all expenses paid, but wasted it.

I never enjoyed school until I became an adult. In the end I earned three degrees and paid cash, no scholarships, no grants. I believe in education. I've been on a college or university campus for the last 34 years and can't imagine working in another environment.


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I was also an uninterested student (a word which I use loosely) and have lived to regret it.

12/20/2008 12:43:00 PM  

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