I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them. I find myself trying to explain that school … well … wasn’t fascinating. That wasn’t the point.
School was dull. I remember being the one who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. I love science today, but in school? In elementary school, junior high school, and high school? It was boring. I remember in high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning. When I was, in any case, half asleep. The class went on for two endless hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but could not speak in anything but the most droning voice. She’d start to talk and I’d black out. Completely. Gone.
I did not do well in the class. A pity. I was actually interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.
Social studies which would today be what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader. I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures? I flunked coloring.
English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them duller than dirt too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.
If they let us write something, I was definitely good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My previous summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.
The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at entry-level jobs for the rest of my life merely because I was bored at school.
For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because as a child, there wasn’t another choice. I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure once I made it to the top — to college — the rest would follow.
I did learn a lot of things in college, but really, I learned most of the stuff which eluded me in school — math, science, statistics — while working.
When you are working, you learn things that make sense. You discover science has a reason. Numbers in context are not random forms on a piece of paper which you jiggle around until you either get the answer or sit there with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom. It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special thing for it ever figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They did the best they knew how.
College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough insanely wonderful teachers who opened whole new worlds for me. Out of all the courses I took, there were maybe a dozen teachers who were inspirational. It was enough. For each year, there were at least one or two each semester. Plus, I was in an environment where learning was a thing everyone did. We wanted to learn. We needed to learn. We chose it.
We had managed to stay awake long enough in lower levels to get to this higher one and we weren’t going to toss it away. I know many people dropped out into the world of free love and acid and all that, but most of us stayed. If we were going to mess around, we were going to do it outside of class. We hadn’t gotten this far to ditch it for weekends of fun.
We never properly explained the whole school thing the way it should be explained to our kids or grandkids. We’ve told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”
Except, it really is that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse than that bad. School comes with incredibly boring teachers, but also with brutal, cruel classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids are cruel. You don’t stay in school because it’s fun or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know in your brain and your guts that this is what you have to do if you want to have a real life.
If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s much better. But even if they are duller than you, duller than your dullard friends, you need to be there.
School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.