I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

WHY I HATE SCHOOL

I am deviating from my usual posts about the Caribbean for today, I spent all morning writing the following piece for a book I am writing and then, incredibly, came across a video on a friends FaceBook page (you can view it at the end of this piece).  The serendipity of it caused me to want to use the piece as a blog post today (tomorrow I will get back to my Grenada trip - which is actually dated earlier than this post so is back a few as I date trips for when they happened, not when I wrote about it) - not what it is ultimately planned for, but here it is:

I come from a long line of school haters and I hated school as a kid. Not at first. I actually begged… BEGGED… my mother to let me go to school a full year before I was supposed to. I turned four in April and I had been reading for over a year. I devoured books, something I still do to this day.  I pleaded with my mother all summer to get me into school early until she finally went to the school authorities and suddenly we were off to the shops for my school uniform (this was in England where all kids wore uniforms), new shoes, and a navy blue satchel to wear on my back and carry my stuff. I was giddy with excitement that first day, walking fast so my little legs could keep up with my mothers strides, satchel bouncing on my back.  I remember walking into the classroom, a blend of scents filling my head that I’d never experienced before – floor polish, pencil shavings, old books – and seeing a wall full of kids books that I had not yet read. Oh the joy!


I had all of those books read before Christmas, and in the new year they let me go into the classroom of the next form (grade) up to start working my way through their shelves.

But there was a huge problem that had never entered my mind before walking into the classroom that first day; I wasn’t there to just read. There was other stuff I had to learn. I could already print but I was a lousy speller. This mystified my teachers for years, as they all knew I read way beyond my grade (tests showed I was reading at a second year college level in grade seven). So how could someone who read so much not know how to spell the words she was reading? I had no idea at the time, all I knew was I could not spell and memorizing spelling was painful for me. I have come to believe that I read so fast - I was not sounding out words - that I wasn’t paying any attention to the spelling of the word, I just sped right through them.  My grade three teacher was exasperated with my poor spelling and seemed to take great joy in calling me out in front of the class over it.  I shriveled up with humiliation.

And spelling was the least of my problems. Arithmetic. It was my kryptonite. I absolutely and completely hated it and did not understand anything beyond addition. Even then I would sometimes get confused.  Multiplication? Division?  LONG division???  Absolutely hopeless. The teacher might as well have been speaking Latin.  I was completely confused and efforts to explain it to me just confused me all the more. And if it was painful memorizing the spelling list for the week, the times table was pure torture. At least spelling was about words, something I understood and loved.  Math was a big black hole of mystery and that hole stayed black my entire education.  I did manage to have a weak grasp of the basics by the end of grade four but grade five was a complete disaster. That was when fractions were introduced and I was in a classroom that was completely out of control. The teacher was a really nice guy but he had no idea how to reign kids in and so the kids were loud and disruptive and I remember straining to hear him over the din. And thus it was in his classroom that my already fragile foundation of basic math, that foundation which all future knowledge of math would build on, began to start missing key elements, and in no small part because I could not hear what was being said.  From that point on, it was hopeless until finally, in grade eight, I failed math because it was all algebra. I barely understood how numbers worked together and now that the alphabet was added into the mix I was utterly lost.  Failing math led to a torturous correspondence course, which was supposed to last the summer but took two years and I never finished it. Meanwhile I passed Math 10 because it was geometry and that made some sense to me.

I did fine in science, I actually really enjoyed it, until Chemistry 10 where we learned to balance equations only I never understood how to do that because it involved math skills I had not grasped.  I managed to pas Chem 10, however, but only passed Chem 11 by promising not to take Chem 12, which I needed to fulfill my life-long desire to be a nurse and so, along with failing Math 11, that dream died. 

Don't even get me started on social studies and history. How I hated history; just a teacher droning on and on and on about people and dates and it was so incredibly boring. Turns out, I am a history buff. Who knew?! Certainly not my history teachers, judging by my grades. I love British history and am rather knowledgeable on the topic, if I do say so myself. I even considered, for a short moment, going to university in my 30's to get a degree in it. It is beyond me, utterly incomprehensible, how anyone can make history boring. But most manage it. And it is truly a crime against humanity.

I remember talking to an uncle as an adult about trying to learn math in school, and he used a metaphor to describe how it felt in his head that was the EXACT same metaphor I had used when trying to describe to a teacher how it felt. This teacher really wanted me to pass Math 11 and devoted all of his spare time at school to helping me. He told me to come in at lunch hour, after school and on my study blocks and he would tutor me one on one.  There were times while working with him that I actually understood what he was saying and then it would be gone. It was just as my uncle had described; like being in a pitch black cellar, not even being able to see your hand in front of your face and then, overhead, a trap door would begin to open ever so slowly and the light would start to come in; just a haze at first and then growing slowly brighter and brighter until the sunlight flooded in and it was amazing.  Then, without warning, just as you had moved to let the sun hit your face, the door slammed shut and it was pitch black again. Worst of all, for the door to open again - which was rare, I would have to start back at square one and it would repeat the first performance, slamming shut.  It was supremely frustrating to actually have clarity, to understand the concept before you for a few awesome seconds, then have it vaporize, vanish, poof, gone. Just like that.

So all that to say, I became another school hater in a long line of school haters.  I recall one aunt telling me that when she first went to school she had no idea why she was there and figured that it was to get her out of the house to give her mother time to get some housework done! Every one of my mother’s brothers and sisters (seven in all, well – there was eight but one died as an infant) are or were incredibly creative people, and I don’t believe your average school caters one whit to creatives. One of my aunts could draw any airplane from world war two in a manner that would be worthy of a history book. She was a plane spotter in the war, so really knew her airplanes. An uncle could replicate any drawing or painting he saw. He was an artist worthy of a job at Disney, his flowers and animals were exactly the same as what you see in all of the animated movies and he loved to copy Monet’s works and had a couple hanging in his home that were gorgeous. My mother was a cake decorator and her cakes were truly works of art. I recall a wedding cake she made with bouquets of flowers on each layer that were all hand made with sugar.  When the reception was over and friends and family were removing things to take home for safe-keeping, someone asked if anyone wanted to take any of the flowers from the cake as they would just wilt and die if left there – they completely thought they were real. She never went into it as a full time career though, she taught a few night school classes and made cakes now and then for friends and charged a pittance.  The only sibling that actually went to college and got a degree and made a living with his artistic abilities was my youngest uncle who studied art and, after much success in various companies, became a designer for Motorola and was the person who came up with the flip phone.  He was sketching out the idea when his boss came by and asked what it was. When he explained, the boss told him to take the drawing to the technology department immediately, and thus the flip phone was born!

My only respite in school was art class and creative writing. All others, even English, I despised. I hated learning about sentence structure, nouns, verbs, adverbs… blah blah blah.  Just give me a book and let me get on with it.  I hated that, once I had finished the required book, I then had to dissect it for subtext, premise, hidden meanings. Once I finished a good book, I just wanted to savour the story for an hour or so and then move on to the next. I regularly read three books a week in high school, aside from required reading.

This aversion to dissecting writing still lives within me today.  When I sit down to write, I have an idea – usually consisting of a topic or a vague story line – but nothing more than that. I don’t first do an outline. I don’t consider the story arc. I can’t bear to consider act breaks when writing a script.  I just sit down with my idea and start writing. This probably explains why I have about a dozen unfinished works in my computer files.  I just tell a story but I have no idea how to end it.  Most of my stories come from my life and it’s not over yet so how do I know how those stories will end?  But then, once that end is a reality, I won’t be here to finish them. It’s a mess, really.

I did take a creative writing course offered by the local college when I was in my 30’s.  It was about how to write comedy.  I don’t remember a single thing from that class.

Looking at this from the point of view of a woman who raised three really good kids, two of them bordering on brilliant, and now has an amazing granddaughter (she just turned two and has been fully conversant for over six months and she recognizes and can name every letter of the alphabet but two – J and Z for some reason elude her) it is heartbreaking that the school system and how it operates can take an eager, knowledge-hungry four year old and turned her into a school loathing child by grade three.  There is something truly heartbreaking about it.  I see my granddaughter, so smart and such a little sponge, and wonder if she will have the same anguish over numbers that I had and her mother had and if so, how will her teachers handle it.  I recall my daughter coming home from a day in grade four, bursting into tears and when I asked her why, telling me that her teacher yelled at her for asking too many questions.  She was having a hard time understanding fractions and had too many questions!!!  Will that happen to my granddaughter?  Will that eager wonderful little person be crushed by a school system that caters only to the middle of the road so that those who are struggling to understand and those little geniuses get left to themselves?  And so they end up get yelled at for asking too many questions or being so bored out of their skulls they either act out or, as in the case of my son, blank out and go somewhere else in their heads.

I hated school even more than when I was a kid, if that is possible, because it was wrecking my kids, not to mention how from the first day of kindergarten for my son, the eldest, I hated being apart from them for so much of their lives, I hated having to be on someone else’s schedule as a family, I hated how much homework they had each night – far far too much at an early age, I hated the never ending notices and paperwork the school sent home to litter my desk, I hated how some teachers treated my daughter with disdain or impatience because she wasn’t as quick to learn as others, I hated the peer pressure they were experiencing and the bullying they sometimes suffered.  I just despised the whole concept of school and how it impacted our lives.

I ended up homeschooling my kids after that incident with my daughter, that and my son getting straight A’s at the middle school purely because he was well behaved and polite, and my youngest in grade two getting no new knowledge at all, because she was in a grade one and two split where she was at the top of the class so was put in a quad of desks with three kids in grade one who weren’t even performing at a kindergarten level so that she could teach them and help them with their work!!!  Homeschooling was hard on me, let me tell you.  I won’t go into all of the why but suffice to say that at first I did too much and became overwhelmed and then, later, did too little and let them learn on their own.  Fortunately, they were all so intelligent that they learned a lot and have all gone on to very successful careers, one (the one that cried that day, no less!) getting into a college that did not want to accept her due to being homeschooled with no formal records; they let her take an entrance exam, accepted her, and she graduated at the top of her class.

I really hope that it turns out different for my grandchildren and we can break the history of school-haters in my family.  I hope school has come a long way since it turned me.  But somehow, I have this terrible sinking feeling that it has actually gotten worse.  Way worse.



All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.



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