Good lord, I hated school. This thought came to me courtesy of a younger friend posting about how irritated she is about her kid’s summer “homework.” I know there are solid arguments out there for a year-round school year (maybe especially in areas where kids need school to, you know, eat), but we don’t have that, and there are even more arguments about the importance of kids having down time. Big chunks of it. Of course, so much of education in this country is based, relentlessly, on bad info, increasing corporatization, criminal underfunding, and uncountable practices that have no basis in the actual needs of actual human children. Some of that long list is why I hated school. I also hated it because no one knew I had ADD, so every teacher and both my parents just thought my inability to remember that I had homework, let alone focus on it or remember to hand it in—it was just some sort of un-nameable character flaw on my part. Also, homework was BORING.
Practically every teacher I ever had shook his/her head sadly and said some version of “You’re so bright…if you’d only apply yourself…” Aside from this phrase (still in heavy use, I suspect) turning my “gifts” into a club to beat me senseless with, it also taught me a very valuable lesson: Adults LIE. I used to feel very sad and angry about the extent to which I loathed school—kind of pathetically so–until recently.
My earliest memory of school is of the taste of Ritz crackers and tomato soup. My second earliest is of sitting in the back of the classroom (where I could sit because I was such a “good” girl—something I’m hoping to fully get over before I shuffle off this mortal coil…) so BORED I cried. Specifically bored into anguish by “Dick & Jane” readers. I do not understand the weird nostalgia for those torture devices. My third memory is of getting fewer Valentines than other kids—not sure what that was about—I hadn’t gotten weird or fat yet in first grade. I don’t remember feeling especially bad about it, just befuddled.
Even in the years when I had good/great teachers, I loathed school. It was, for me, a criminal distraction from reading and drawing and making things, and looking at fashion magazines. It was where I failed, every day, in some significant respect. I was too something—too slow with Math, too fast with words, too big, too loud, too arty, too bad at gym, too quiet, and way too mouthy for a girl, even as I was awfully busy being a good girl. Sometimes I’m amazed that I didn’t simply explode from my own paradoxes.
So now I have a Ph. D. and am a teacher. I tell my students that college is the first place I ever felt normal, so I arranged to stay. I’m not joking about that. I also try very hard not to lie to them.
All of which is to say that I think it’s probably criminal to give kids homework for the summer (except for reading lists, which I know can be troublesome, but which have some actual purpose). And it’s another example of how adults mess with kids—you have the summer off, oh, wait, except you don’t. Pick one, people. Don’t write “Excellence is our expectation.” over the door of your high school and then change principals yearly and run an inhumane swamp. Don’t tell kids that what’s in their text books is the last word, or even the most accurate word. Don’t bloody tell kids that they’ll regret never taking trigonometry (not for a nanosecond, though I am sad about not getting to take more algebra).
Don’t tell them they have to graduate from high school to go to college—there are options. Don’t tell them college will fix EVERYTHING. Don’t tell them they have to graduate from college to go to grad school. I know that last one is fact because I ignored requirements at two colleges (Why I loved college: I took stuff I cared about, from professors who cared about teaching and ignored course I knew would torture me.), never graduated and went off to graduate school without even really figuring it out. And don’t tell them that folks who haven’t earned authority deserve respect. That one can cause real problems—it’s tough enough being 14 without having to live with the fact that a third of the teachers and more than half the administrators in your school are, at best, incompetent. But I remain convinced that it’s better to grow up questioning authority than blindly respecting (isn’t that an oxymoron?) it.
Hated/feared/despised school. But I learned early what mattered to me and what didn’t. I learned not to trust adults. I learned to tell which adults were actually paying attention to me and which weren’t. I learned that the world is too often made of lies. Along the way, Ms. Galloway taught me to read T. S. Eliot and Mrs. Harker taught me to read Faulkner and Shakespeare, and Mr. Prillman taught me to stop claiming to be “lazy” in order to excuse my lack of focus, and even though I nearly flunked the science exam, he read it to the class because the answers were so off-beat—and that kind of made getting things wrong feel right.
College (especially, bless its beating heart, Mount Holyoke) taught me a zillion things, among them that it was just damn fine for a woman to use big words, and that there were people who could actually develop romantic feelings for non-traditionally brainy humans—that me being me was sufficiently functional, perfectly do-able.
Not sure exactly how summer homework connects to all that, but I have faith that it does. Because along the way, I have learned to trust that connections will emerge.