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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What kind of high school student were you?

In a word? Indifferent.

It was partially my own fault. Partially the fault of an educational system that I know now, wasn't the best for me. I could have conformed, but didn't really want to. Here's the thing: in elementary school, I was identified as a "gifted" student and as such, was able to attend an alternative educational program two days a week through elementary school and one day a week through junior high. The alternative program absolutely rocked my world. That was the kind of education I responded to—very innovative for the time, very student-driven, very classical in nature. I can easily say that I learned more in those two days a week, than I learned in my "regular" classes. Which had the unfortunate result of boring me silly in my regular classes and also engendered a good deal of resentment in the teachers who were not pleased I was being pulled out of their classes. So when I did have legitimate issues with subject matter, like math (*spits three times and throws holy water*) I'd get a response along the lines of "You're gifted, surely you don't need my help."

So I learned early not to trust the system because the system wasn't helping me.

Now here's the interesting part: I had the opportunity—twice—to forego high school altogether and go to college on an accelerated program, which might not have been a bad idea, since that gifted education was a lot more like a college education than the standard high school education, that was ostensibly preparing us for college, was. So once in seventh grade, I was offered the opportunity to attend a local college, and then again, in ninth grade, I was invited to attend one of the Seven Sisters colleges in the Northeast. But I said no, because I knew it wasn't the right move for me. I wasn't ready and I figured college would always be there.

So off I went to high school.

Now, of course, in high school, there were Honors and AP classes, but after early experiences with those, I kind of threw them over as well for the strangest of reasons—the competitiveness. Which is weird, because as competitive as I am (and I am ├╝ber-competitive, trust me) the idea of competing for grades, to be deemed some intellectual "best," on what I saw as a false scale, in order to get into the "right" colleges somehow rubbed me so completely wrong. Even then, I knew there were all sorts of intellegences that couldn't possibly be measured simply by grades and test scores (the bane of a gifted education—having learned that a WHOLE lot earlier than most). And to be honest, I actually found more creative teaching and learning going on in the so-called "regular" classes. The Honors and AP were so tightly regimented because of what they had to accomplish in a set amount of time, there was very little room for intellectual exploration. Whereas the "regular" classes were far more freeform. And you know, I had a much bigger range of personality in the regular classes. I had punks, jocks, stoners, metalheads, immigrant kids, poor kids, rich kids, kids in the middle, artistic kids—you name it, we had it. The AP & Honors classes had a very homogeneous feel to them, with the same kids, in the same classes, with the same goals, year after year. There was a shiny uniformity to them that, in short, got on my nerves, especially with the sense of entitlement they seemed to wear, simply because they had been publicly anointed as "the smart kids". Tell you what, some of the smartest, most well-read kids I ever met were in those regular classes, whereas the AP/Honors kids didn't have time to crack a book that wouldn't help them with their grades or the AP tests. Reading for pleasure? Not so much.

I know that my ranting against uniformity must sound weird, given I spent so much of my time in high school involved in band and corps. But the thing about those pursuits is that yeah, we wore our uniforms and rehearsed for hours on end with a common goal, but in the end, beneath the uniforms, there was such a huge range of personalities in the organizations. So many different people with varied interests. It just wasn't something I saw that much of within the AP/Honors kids.

I think in the end, even though I'm not sure I could have articulated it at the time, I wanted to have time to just be and to dedicate myself to that which interested me, rather than put myself on someone's idea of the path that I should be on, in order to Succeed.

I never imagined I was that much of a rebel in high school, but looking back, maybe, just maybe, I was a little. It certainly provides a lot of clues to the person I would ultimately become.


Anonymous said...

I went to a high school that cared a lot more about athletics than it did academics. This was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it meant my education wasn't the best it could be. On the other hand, there wasn't a lot of stress in the AP courses to compete or conform because the school board just didn't care. The kids in those classes were just as diverse and interesting as the rest of the school. They were nerdy and funny and wonderful.

Even though I can't relate, your post was very moving. I hate that some people get overlooked or considered stupid because they don't learn the way others do. They could be so much if they were just given the chance.

Colleen said...

It's so hard to know what system of education is the best for everyone; in fact, I can't imagine that there would be just one.

It's also a shame that so many of us can look back only much later and be able to say what type of education that could have made a difference for them somewhere within K-12.

I can totally relate to what you're saying. I would have thrived in a creative, project-based environment but 25yrs ago there was not much of that around (in Mtl, QC) and if there was such a thing, I doubt my parents would have known that that is what I needed. I certainly didn't know at the time. I just felt bad most of the time for not 'getting' much of what I needed to learn.

The beauty of the past is that I'm now pursuing an MFA which addresses this topic with mixed-media. I'd love your input: http://wiredtolearn.ca

Thanks for the post!

Jennifer Echols said...

I think the needle has swung in the other direction and schools would be a lot more receptive today to a student like you. Not that this helps NOW.