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.

44 thoughts on “SCHOOL. WAS. DULL.”

      1. Sadly, your piece is accurate.

        I recall my brief stints as a sub teacher in our local high school not that long ago. I chucked the scheduled curriculum and ad libbed real life scenarios. The students went from boredom to interest and shared family stories.

        The school “suits” weren’t thrilled with my improvisations. But I later encountered students who voiced appreciation for my classes. A few actually said were reading on their own.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. How odd! I awoke thinking of my own public school education and how the teachers were forced to teach to a middle ground much lower than my own– and the bullies ready to attack different thinkers. It was a dreary waiting game for the college years that my parents promised would be better. They were right, my college years were some of the most inspiring of my life. Finally being among people who wanted an education felt amazing.
    This was an awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always wonder what went wrong with OUR kids that they didn’t get that lower school was just a long, tiring prep course for the “good stuff” to come later. Maybe they had lost that yearning for a future with which we grew up. I still don’t know.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. There were a few for me, too, but so many of the rest were soporific. I wish I could bring them around when I need to sleep at night! No need for medication. They could make anything sleep like a rock.


    1. Yes. It really was. Some of it was pretty lethal. The worst part for me was becoming convinced I couldn’t do anything with numbers … only to discover when working, that … yes, I can work with them. As long as I understand why I’m DOING it. No one told me. Just gave me squiggly numbers and said “do this thing” and I did it, but I never knew WHY.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s the whole problem with teaching. Some teachers don’t get that students want to see a purpose to what they’re learning over and above the rather vague “so you can go to university and get a good job one day in the far and distant future”.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That was always my problem, that they gave us material that was functionally GAMES. Find X. Multiply this by that and divide it by the other thing and get A NUMBER. For what? Why?

          Decades later, turned out ONE number was good for figuring out how much rug i needed on the floor of my teepee. Pi times whatever and then all I had to do was figure out how to do the same thing, but for something a bit more egg-shaped. Which I did work out by multiplying the egg-shaped smaller pieces using another formula. Pity I had no idea in school that this information would someday help me decide how big a rug I would need on a teepee I was going to build 50 years later.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. There were a few interesting teachers back in my day, but they’re long gone. Coerced into early retirement around the same time I was graduating (I had more high school teachers in common with my parents than I did my younger sisters) to usher in a new generation of lower paid teachers who would “teach to the test” so the district would continue to get its state and federal funding. You are right about college, though… most of the really interesting teachers I had in my life were there. And while I wound up making a pretty decent living out of an entry level job anyway, I don’t regret those four “wasted” years since they did make me a better person…. I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved college. Classes even. A good class with a smart teacher who knew how to get us all “going” was fun. And best part, it was the kind of fun that sticks with you the rest of your life.

      They “teach to the test” here, too. Same boring crap. I think it makes my education which was dull and full of bullies look good in comparison. I had really hoped if we’d gotten someone into Dept of Education, that they would fix that mess. Finally. It’s just going to get much worse now.

      My son has made a pretty good living from what was an entry level job. But that’s not the way it usually works because no one hangs around long enough to see if there’s somewhere to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t go to college, was not encouraged to go, but did stay at my grammar school until I was almost 18 years old and added a year commercial with typing, shorthand, accounts and all the trimmings. I also found most of school stuff boring, so I read my own books, learned my own stuff at evening classes. I achieved my learning wants on my own, because there was no one around to put me on the path. One result being that I found a job in another country. Luckily I did

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mother never made it past 7th grade (age 14), but she read every book she could till the day she passed. She was one of the most intelligent women I’ve EVER known. I knew a lot of dumb professors and some brilliant never-went-to-collegers. Garry never finished, either. He got a call from ABC network and that was it for him.

      I was only 16 when I started college. I needed that time to settle down and have a brain in my head. I thought I was very mature, but i really wasn’t very mature at all. And I enjoyed college. Learning or not, it was fun. Especially back then. I don’t know that it’s like that anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The point of school is that it is a shortcut to learning a lot of useful things that we can use later. I don’t know why it isn’t marketed this way. Plus, it puts us in a world of adults who are not our parents. In my case, that was good. I liked school. I didn’t get the point of all the classes, and there were some droning teachers (more in college than before, I’m afraid) but for the most part I thought school was a great adventure. I had some great teachers who knew how to challenge and reward and not cut slack. And I wanted to do well. Something inside me said, “This’ll be good to know someday.” I wasn’t the brightest or the hardest working. I hated some teachers and so I hated their classes. I was a solid B+ student all the way through. I loved math but with discalcula (sp) it was impossible ever to do well. A lot of my success depended on how the teacher felt about students and about teaching. I could quickly assess which ones hated teaching and had no respect for us. That made a difference in whether I would deign to learn from them or not. Mostly, I wanted and needed bigger challenges than they gave me — but one of my teachers said to me, 11th grade, English. “You need discipline.” I thought she was full of shit but it turns out she was 100% right. That was a useful lesson and had nothing to do with social studies or biology…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I got the “You need discipline” in college. HE was right, too. The first man to see through the words and not see the subject. I’d beaten back the rest.

      My elementary school was not much of a much. There were two teachers that made a difference — one inf 4th grade, the other (sort of ) in sixth. The one in sixth made the unyielding point that my girlfriends who were appropriately boy crazy would never “make it” in the “real” world.

      As it turned out, ALL of them — five girls — went on to doctorates in psychology, sociology, education and I forget the other two. I was the ONLY one who stopped with a B.A. Apparently boy-crazy wasn’t nearly as fatal as he thought. Oh, and one of them turned out to be gay. All of us — living on one block in the middle of Queens — did stuff. Them more than me.

      But he did get me to settle down and stop going to the art room rather than occasionally listening in class.

      Our classes WERE dull. They didn’t NEED to be dull, but the books were from pre WWI and most of the teachers were, too. I liked school far better than my home life, but consider where I was coming from. Bored was great.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. It wasn’t very special for either Garry or me. It wasn’t. I know it is supposed to be or that’s what the mythology says, but mostly it was dull and the material was way below our ability to perform. Absolutely, it was what we NEEDED to do.Read, write, do at least simple arithmetic. A bit of history. But special? Not really. It was a plain and simple school, but that is ALL it was. Plain. Simple. And extremely basic.

          I know we pass along the “special times” thing as if childhood is inherently “a special time.” Mine was not. Some people did better than me, but no, it really wasn’t and that’s kind of my point. We pass this legend along as if it is always true and it isn’t. For many kids, school is a torment. Bullying and bruising. Bad teaching. There’s nothing particularly good about it for many many children and I think we should stop telling stories of how we think it should be.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. And with that, I agree. They are more than just formative. They are the years that turn our brains into whatever they will be … and for that, we REALLY need better schools. And if we can’t get better schools, then we need to impress on our kids that regardless, this is what they MUST do. It’s not an optional extra. This is IT. And that’s what I never managed to convey. That even if school totally sucks, you still have to go. And learn. Because you need to learn of you’ll never accomplish anything.

              Liked by 2 people

  5. It was different for me.., especially a couple of grade school teachers but, mostly, High School. They were a collection of characters dedicated to teaching, a profession chosen because they believed it to be important, and not because they couldn’t make it in the real world. Each of the teachers, I was lucky enough to have, had a seemingly real interest in US.., the kids. Also, I might add, that ethnicity and religion was not a factor. Yes there were bad eggs as well, but they only added to the excitement and served to teach us a little about the realities facing us after our school years.

    Surprisingly college… not so much. College was more a series of lectures given in a very mechanical fashion. I was bored to death most of the time. But one instructor stood out.., my Psychology professor, who was the epitome of the “Absent Minded Professor.” He wore unpressed and, I thought sometimes, unclean shirts, lopsided suits, hastily tied ties and the kicker, different socks on each foot. I was always surprised that his shoes actually matched.., but now that I think of it he may have had a “Matlock Syndrome” only instead of suits, a closet full of the same kind of shoes, so who would know?

    All in all, most of what served me best was from high school, the rest from life and the School of Hard knocks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think my teachers were only teachers because they couldn’t do anything else. I think they had simply been there a very long time and the world had passed them by. In New York city, teachers had tenure. They didn’t leave until they decided to leave. These people stayed. And stayed. And I’m sure … once … they WERE good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well even after school I never felt that I hadn’t gained anything from my teachers because they were outdated. Consensus among my friends and fellow classmates was we always seemed to learn something useful. So. some of them must have been actually keeping up with the trends. My Dad was a teacher and my mom had been. This was a good respected job for a black man raising a family. Motives are elusive things at best.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m pretty sure there were better schools than the one I was in. Ours was very outdated. The books were ancient … and I do mean ANCIENT. The courses hadn’t been upgraded since before the second world war.

          You know, everything changed dramatically after sputnik.

          Suddenly, they took a look at our schools and said “WOE! We need to do something about this!” and by the time I hit high school, there was a lot more going on. Special classes for bright students. Special courses for the college-bound. Tutoring. Lots of stuff. But in elementary school, there was NOTHING. Sputnik hit when i was (I think) in fifth grade and in about 3 years, they had done a lot. They could do a lot NOW too. But of course, we have morons running the country, so I wouldn’t count on it.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Why was school dull? Largely it comes down to “What was (is) school FOR?”
    Early on it was to prepare you for a life working under the industrial revolution: Showing up at a workplace on time whether you wanted to or not; have regulated hours to work and breaks when you were told; do only what you are told when you are told; learn your PLACE. It wasn’t a place you went to because you wanted to but because you had to. Not many of us are all that suited to such an environment even though back then few had much choice.

    Today some things are changing but it is still mostly one size fits all – you fit in or fail.

    Like in politics, the time is overdue for drastic changes.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is surely true, but do you want YOUR kids to fail? That is the way it is and I don’t see any likelihood of change … so our kids need to learn what they need to know to survive in this world. Revolution is a fine thing if you have the money to make it happen, Otherwise, you just have poor kids who never get a foothold in the working world.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I did 12 years of Catholic School, one year of Secretarial School (remember those), took some junior college courses along the way for many years, but finished my BA in HR when I was right around 45. I felt about school in my youth just as you described – work. When I was an adult, it was pure pleasure. Amazing how things change when you have ‘your’ time and ‘your’ money invested in ‘your’ education. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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