Childhood is a challenge.
Many of us struggled, had serious problems at home and lived with daily bullying at school. With the attention these issues get in the press today, things have not changed much. Bullying is as much — or more — of a problem as it was when I was a kid. Teachers ignore it. Parents dismiss it. Kids won’t talk about their problems because they (rightly) believe it might make everything worse.
These days, it’s all about awareness, as if knowing there is a problem is the same as solving it.
Awareness is not a cure. Positive public relations hype in the newspapers and television and social media does not make any difference to what happens to a child at home or in the schoolyard.
This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.
I was a precocious child with limited social skills. Inept at sports, lost in math. Among outcasts, I was an outcast. I was bored in class, terrified in the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloakroom hoping no one would miss me. I found a stack of books and read them in the semi-dark by the light of one dim bulb.
Punish the child for reading too much!
My teachers were furious. It turns out during my cloakroom hours, I had read all the readers for the next four grades. I would have read more except I ran out of books.
The principal called my mother. They made her come to school so they could complain I had read too much. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all those readers in about an hour, the work was way too easy. As far as she was concerned, the school completely missed the point.
They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much which my mother felt hilarious. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She retold the story at every family gathering.
I didn’t think it was nearly as funny because that teacher hated me. It made the third grade a special kind of Hell.
I started high school at thirteen. Although I was blessed by a few teachers who made learning exciting and fun, most of my teachers felt reading a monotonic reading of the class textbook was education. I chipped a tooth one morning when I fell asleep and hit my mouth on the desk.
Jamaica High School
I was off the charts in English and history while falling rapidly behind in math and hard science. I was in my thirties — reading Horatio Hornblower — before I realized trigonometry had an actual purpose. It was used to calculate trajectories and navigate! A revelation! Pity I didn’t know that when I was supposed to be learning it.
I survived school and had a life. We keep telling our kids that childhood is the best of times. It can be and maybe for some kids, it is. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t for most of the other children with whom I grew up.