03 October 2007

"Observe Canine Locomotion" or "See Spot Run"

DCup has initiated a "Question of the Day" feature and yesterday's question was "What was your favorite subject in school?" I was my usual wishy-washy self and could only narrow my answer down to two subjects. Wev.

But it got me to thinking about my book larnin' days, most specifically third grade - when my family moved from one county to another, and I entered a new school. My old school was what I guess they called "progressive" back in those days (the late Hippie Era). Language Arts (aka English) and Math were not taught as regular subjects with textbooks and all that. Instead, there was a large cart in the front hall that had lessons, Math on one side, LA on the other, that progressed from "1st" through "8th" grade and which we students worked through at our own pace. By the time we moved, I had completed the Language Arts side and was mostly done with the Math.

My first day in the new school was memorable for three things. One, I couldn't understand what my classmates were saying. Although we had moved only one county over (less than thirty miles in a straight line), it was as if the students were speaking a foreign language. As it turns out, they sort of were. You see, most of the students in my new class were from "up in the hills" - as, indeed, I now was. They were the result of many generations of isolated life, and still spoke a derivative form of Elizabethan English (with a healthy dose of Scots dialect thrown in).

The second memorable thing about my new school situation was the fact that my new classroom was all white. It actually took a couple of days for this to sink in, but I will never forget when I asked the teacher where all the black kids were, and she replied, "We don't have any n*****s here." Even as an eight year old child, I knew her statement was wrong. Not factually, but ethically. The rural South in 1972... apparently, not much different from 2007, come to think of it. And that's sad.

The other thing about my new school was when the teacher, after introducing me to my new classmates, gave me my books to use for the rest of the year - including, of course, the third grade Math and English books. "Umm," I said, "I've already learned this stuff, Mrs. Wagoner." "These are the books we use," she replied. End of discussion. So, while at home I was reading Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, in school I was forced to plod along with the class, using a textbook that was barely more advanced than "See Spot run."

As a result of this, I became quite bored in school, and decided that if they were going to treat me as an imbecile I might as well act the part (yeah, I was a snotty kid - in fact, in high school, my friends - in the Gifted and Talented class - confronted me one day and said they were tired of me using words they didn't know, and would I please knock it off).

The result of this was that by the fifth grade [correction: it was sixth grade], I was placed in the remedial reading group - despite the fact that my 4th grade end of year testing scored me at college level in all categories. A fact that neither I nor my parents found out until almost twenty years later, when my fourth grade teacher attended a performance of a play I was in, sat next to my parents, and they got to talking. It turns out that the principal told her not to tell me (or Mom and Dad) because "it might have caused problems with the other students". Sort of a precursor or foreshadowing of "No Child Left Behind", I guess.

I often wonder how my life would be different if "the powers that be" at Mulberry Elementary School hadn't opted to take, what was for them, the easy route when it came to exceptional students (and I was not the only one affected by this, by any means), because what I learned in my formative years at school was to just do what I had to do to get by, and to not push for more.

Which, I suppose, is the purpose of public education in this country. Get the herd used to not bettering themselves.



ouyangdan said...



This is not what I want for my child.

I am frustrated beyond belief at the moment.

Thanks for the link, though, b/c reading this kind of helps me not feel alone.

Siobhan said...

That is EXACTLY the point of the public school system in this country.