I completed my Power Point presentation for history on European immigration to the US in the 20th century. It was graded yesterday and I received 100%. When I chose the topic, I knew I would have most of what I needed to complete it, as I had pictures and documents from family tree research, and of course I had my Dad available to provide the personal stories. What I have learned this last semester is a confirmation to me that my instincts in high school about the state of education and direction it was headed were correct.
From the earliest grades I enjoyed school and learning. I graduated from 8th grade as an A student. I took every advanced class available to me in middle school, except for algebra, as they were limiting the class to the highest achievers and I missed the boat by 1 point on my entrance exam in 7th grade. I actually scored high enough to get into the class, but from our homeroom, only 2 students were permitted and I came in 3rd. I didn’t take it well, and I suppose that would be the beginning of my slide away from caring.
We all experience discouragement from teachers and peers at one time or another and in differing degrees. I should have just applied myself to my studies, learning on my own, but it was also a time of social intimidation that sapped my motivation.The first path blocked to me at the time was athletics. It seems the window of opportunity for that was the 6th grade girl’s basketball team. I couldn’t join that year, and so the coach didn’t know me or notice me at tryouts the next two years. Maybe he would have noticed if I had been one of his science students , which I wasn’t. This also seemed to block me from help and encouragement in science. My projects at the science fairs were good, but there was always a crowd around Mr. J’s students’ tables. I stood alone. He was a jovial guy who talked up his students and everyone listened and followed and he was in charge of planning the science fairs. So, in science and math at this formative time, I was a party of one.
My favorite teachers tended to be the English, German and history teachers, in middle school. They were attentive and complimentary and encouraging and funny. It seemed like they were all those things to everyone, but who knows? Maybe they were just those things to me…and the athletic, science and math kids lost out. I can’t know the answer, but it doesn’t matter because the point is that this is the point. Why the false divisions between subjects? Is science really separate from art? or math? or English? or history? How important is language when communicating scientific concepts and data? Is it not imperative? It is. Look and listen to conversations and debates and consider how the separation of academic subjects has impacted our culture. Is one subject given precedence over another? Is one considered more truthful than another? What is being said and who is saying it?
I realized something was or had gone wrong with education when I got to high school. There were too many teachers who were striving for popularity among the students. It began with my English teacher. English was always my strongest area, but I couldn’t get anywhere with this teacher. I could not manage more than a C in her class. I talked to my parents about it and my mom at first was skeptical. I had just started high school… Give it more time…Talk to the teacher and I did all of these things, but I was 14 and growing more and more aggravated every day. At open house, about 6 weeks into the semester, my parents went to the school and got to experience first hand what I had been explaining. “Your English teacher is …” Yes. I know. She had a daughter who was a senior and a popular cheerleader. The teacher was popular as well, with the seniors. She was less than impressed with the incoming freshman, of which I was one. She disliked my writing and reading material, and rather than guide or instruct, I received snarky red comments. If I didn’t make too many mistakes I would get “fine” or a check mark that I did the assignment. In order to find acceptable reading material, I would have to guess. <“Stephen King?” It depends. “On what?” Well, what do want to read? “The Stand?” No. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption?” No. “Salem’s Lot? Carrie?” Um. No. Maybe choose another author. “The Thorn Birds?” O…Kaaay. > My memory fails me. I may have gotten a ‘B’ on this paper. But I was really getting annoyed and on all of my creative writing, I chose horror as a genre or some other thing that I knew would make the teacher purse her lips and flare her nostrils. Did I mention I was 14?
My English teacher was not the only instructor that had a poor attitude toward our class and as I saw it, they were stealing my joy of learning and smearing my academic record, which up to that point was excellent. My history teacher seemed to crab openly about our class often. One day in particular she took us to the in-school National Honor Society induction ceremony and announced to us that we were going as part of history class that day to show us what excellence we will NEVER achieve. There’s more of this mess that went on right up through my senior year. There were some good teachers and I’m sure they could write an article (or a book!) on the mess they had to deal with in regards to the students. I remember one day my choir teacher’s husband, who was the physics teacher, arrived in his classroom and found snow in all of his drawers as a prank. He said that would be his last year teaching and he walked out. That made an impression on me.
There were many incidents and opportunities lost that contributed to my confusion and dismantling of my education in high school, but I came out above average in the end. However, what is above average if the standard is Swiss cheese of an education? I left high school with a skewed and incomplete view of education and what I was going to do with it in college and beyond. It has taken me years to untwist the slinky of learning I came away with and there are more than a few kinks left over, but finishing up these last weeks of school, I realize this experience is smoothing and incorporating all of my collective learning, filling in the gaps and resulting in satisfaction that I have a firm grasp on what I should have understood 25 years ago.
I will talk more on this next time…