My Own Experience With Public Schools

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10 mins read

Editor’s Note: Last Redoubt penned this back in January, but with the “school season” drawing near, and more and more parents are faced with the possibility of having to “teach” at home, we post this is as semi-regular reminder to #homeschoolordie.

Lector over at Men of the West recently posted on Stupid Teachers, and his experience getting placed in a remedial reading class. The highlight was the total inability of the school administration to believe their own eyes about his ability to read but instead believe a failed multiple choice standardized test that he had obviously answered one-off.

I’ve generally avoided tooting my own horn, but it echoed all too many experiences I had. That said, I didn’t deal well with school and it showed, especially in my overall grades / GPA. I didn’t pull some of the stunts he did,  such as pointing out mistakes in textbooks, or extending the teacher’s vocabulary, but a lot of the rest sounds damned familiar.

I won’t go into detail but the high notes featured teachers constantly getting on my case for reading something else in class, yet being able to answer the questions, and spending more time reading,  drawing, or designing ships/etc. for Traveller, Car Wars, and Battletech than listening in class. My happiest year had me spending two hours a day in the library for self-study in high school. With over 1400 SAT’s when that meant more than it does now, it took straight “A”s my senior year including better than a 4.0 in physics to bring me up to the rank of 375 out of 500 in my graduating class.

Yeah, I fucked up. Until that last year I would not spend the extra few minutes of the day for homework because it was boring. I especially infuriated a couple English teachers because they knew how much I read – easily 4 or 5 books a week minimum – but I wouldn’t read some of their assignments. Mostly because they were boring lit fic about how awful people were. Among those were that short story about the town that stoned people, and I got halfway through Lord of the Flies and quit in disgust. I was more interested in writing routines to animate graphics on my parents Apple ][ or figuring out constant-acceleration travel times for star systems in Traveller.

Frankly, I had more fun the summer I spent splitting wood from the trees cleared when my parents built a new house as I entered high school. Picking segments to slice out of logpiles with chainsaws, and fine tuning maul technique was fun. So was tiling in the basement, fixing the old pickup, and riding my bike.  

The most obvious immediate problem with the lack of challenges was that I was utterly unprepared for college or any course of study that required actual study of things that didn’t interest me enough to dig in on my own. While my skill with system interrelations made physics, statics, and digital logic easy, the grindwork of calc II caught me off guard despite having an easy time with the more conceptual stuff in calc I and II.

The biggest yet least obvious to me was that I was well on my way to gammahood, not helped by poor social sense and skills. Fortunately I ran into something that was a challenge, a career path that brooked few excuses, and a realization that I had to learn the people game. To both play along with or at least acknowledge the rules of the systems I was working in, and when to bend them. I didn’t learn it all at once. I learned it much later than I should have.

But that’s a different story.

In the end, despite an often – deployed father, the majority of what carried me through life after high school were my willingness and ability to learn, my willingness to work, and the lessons my dad taught me.  The constant fights and arguments with my teachers who hated that I had a book open in class or was figuring out military map grid coordinates instead of paying attention, yet kept passing the tests, did more to encourage my stubborn resistance than anything else.

A lot of this comes down to “schools aren’t made for smart kids” – even with the half-assed attempts at talented and gifted programs. That said, they also aren’t made for stupid kids, and my later experience with “mainstreaming” attempts leads me to believe that however much it may benefit special needs types, the disruption and slowdown from those who can’t or won’t learn harms those who will.

And for normal kids? It’s not any better. The same people who didn’t have the common sense to leave a smart kid alone for not meeting the form have proven themselves unable to see what’s in front of their noses. They are more concerned with molding Johnny than making sure he learns. These are the same people who tell you that they don’t trust their colleagues to both have a gun and not go on a shooting spree in a fit of rage at their students – and then are shocked when you suggest that they’re not stable or moral people. They care more about kicking a kid out of class for wearing a shirt with an american flag than making sure everyone learns algebra.

In short, to the extent that public schools, which have come a far way from one-room schoolhouses, ever taught normal, average people, they don’t any more. They are too wedded to process, and changing the world, instead of paying attention to empiricism.

Update: Comments from where this was posted elsewhere:

The Moral of the Story: There just aren’t enough jobs in Mainstream Media (like the Guardian), so these college graduates had to go somewhere. Ergo, present-day school teachers.

TL;DR Moral: #HomeSchoolOrDie

My reply to that:

Having people of average IQ, and in the case of car shop, etc. teachers, some experience, teaching the rudiments of arithmetic, reading, working with hands running off a script isn’t a bad thing teaching normal average kids.

When you have same script followers with tendencies towards petty tyrantism, it absolutely fails at teaching those who don’t fit the mold.

Having the script mutilated beyond belief for new teaching fads, not actually teaching math, hating the classics, and then further torn apart to mold johnny into the new [ soviet | trans | progressive | feminist | whatever it is this week ] “man” renders it toxic to everyone.

And the reply back:

It’s worse when you have people with no real world experience teaching. Coming straight out of college with a cert and teaching gets an “F” from Reality.

Amen.

In the classic small public schoolhouse, the teachers were part of the community, and had the skin in the game of answering to that community. And often had to deal with reality. More so than today’s cocooned college students cum teachers.

Of course in addition to the other hollywood formulas already noted, there’s one that also crops up quite often. There’s the “all it takes is one good teacher/teacher makes a difference” film, often, especially in indie films, of the “in the face of the ignorant bigoted community” variety. Dangerous Minds was the former, I’ve forgotten most of the purely latter, though Dead Poets Society had a strong strain of it as well. Even the former has a degree of “look what you could do with your life instead of stuck in a nowhere community / job” that is a bit condescending when it’s set in coal mining communities in West Virginia a la October Sky.

4 Comments

  1. I can certainly relate to this. I spent most of last semester’s Shakespeare class composing my own works in my notebook. I got an A on a “600-word response” I wrote on Titus Andronicus without reading Titus Andronicus. Despite the prof’s claims about how wonderful Shakespeare was, he stopped about every five minutes to remind everyone of the “environment of sexism and Islamic/homo/whatever-phobia these works were created in.” He also went on a 45-minute (I timed it) rant about how Elizabeth I’s white makeup advanced white supremacy, and refused to cover The Taming of The Shrew because it was sexist (guess what I wrote my final on). The only people in that class whose company I could tolerate were the Biology and Geology majors who didn’t want to be there. I have quite literally not studied since I was about sixteen, even for my SAT, and still have the 4.0 my extended family is so enamored with. That should not be possible in a program with any standards. College is a colossal waste of my time. Not sure what else to do, though.

    • It depends on your long-term goals. If you are intending to pursue a profession that requires a degree, then you play the game and get the degree. If you are planning to do something else, then do whatever helps you accomplish that goal.

      • That’s good advice, and pretty much what my dad told me. My problem so far has been figuring out what I want to do. My only concrete long-ish term goal is to make valedictorian, then not show up to my graduation, because I think it would be funny.

        • Young people rarely like to hear it, but to tell you the truth, there is something noble and good about doing manual labor. I do not mean you have to dig ditches all your life (though nothing wrong with it), but doing stuff like welding, mechanic, construction, etc. is good, honorable work, and when you are done, you can see something valuable that you accomplished.

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