1978. First grade. My teacher is pretty, but I really hate this school stuff. I stand outside my classroom and watch those huge people file into the room with the metal 6 on the door. Grade SIX? That’s FIVE years away. I can’t imagine such an expanse of time. I will never be that old.
|Our Christmas presents that year were the SHOGUN WARRIORS. (Check out this 1978 commercial. I don’t remember it at all, but I’ll bet I saw it a hundred times.) On the left is Pat, who got the Shogun that launches a big plastic fist. I got the one that shoots missiles out of his hand. When I say ‘missiles’, I’m not talking about a blinky light, or a sound effect, or a bit of missile-shaped foam. I’m talking about real, pointy bits of plastic that can be aimed at the eyeballs of children for fun and excitement. Good times.|
I hate writing. I enjoy composing the words themselves, but I hate the act of writing them down with a pencil. It’s very slow and uncomfortable.
I’m still going to special classes. “Special Ed[ucation]” they call it. Apparently, they are worried about my ability. I do not care at all. I do like being in special ed, though. The kids here are various types of misfits, so I don’t stick out quite as badly. There is a mix of ages and grades, and I feel less like a cog and more like an individual when I’m here.
I still make a lot of letters backwards, so I’m in here for help with “reading”. Although, I can read just fine. I just can’t remember which way letters need to face, and either way looks correct.
On the other hand, I am horrified at the practice of categorizing children in terms of disabilities. I seriously doubt there has been an increase in the number of humans who can’t sit still for class, or who have trouble orienting letters at age six. Those people have always been around. In previous generations, they just dropped out of school as soon as they were literate, and did something more suited to their talents and interests. And most of them did just fine.
I think the rise of ADD, ADHD, LD, dyslexia, and all of the other alphabet soup syndromes are just a rise in the number of square pegs being jammed into round holes. Some kids have exceptional mathematical ability and are weak with language. Others are good at language but fumble with numbers. Most are balanced between the two. School seems to be designed around the idea that everyone learns at the same speed using the same techniques at the same age, and everyone who fails to fit this model must therefore have some sort of “problem”.
To me, the number of kids with learning disabilities is a measure of the rigidity of the education system, not the students.
I hate writing so much that I hand in a lot of blank worksheets, especially anything the requires me to write out words. A lot of the worksheets are just busywork: Here is a list of words. Here are some blanks where those words go. I can sort them out, draw lines from the words to their assigned spaces and be done in ten seconds. But no, I’m supposed to write these words into these tiny little blank spaces? It’s so hard to write that small, and I don’t see any reason to do it.
I doodle instead. The teacher gets frustrated with me sometimes, but I don’t value this work and I’m not going to put myself through the hassle of filling out ALL THESE PAPERS. I mean, what’s in it for me? If I don’t fill out the paper, you give me another one. If I DO fill out the paper, you’ll still give me another one. There’s no end to this stuff. It’s hopeless. So why bother?
I don’t like teachers. They’re unjust. I’m bullied by some kids, but instead of helping me, all the teachers care about are The Worksheets.
One day I’m sent to the principal for the crime of not doing my work. I’m threatened with paddling. I cry a bit. But even as I go back into the classroom, tears on my face, I know I’m not going to be doing any of those worksheets. Just the thought of all of those endless, pointless, tedious papers fills me with dread. What they’re offering me is a punishment in the distant future if I don’t embrace the relentless punishment being offered on a day-to-day basis. That’s not a very attractive deal. The idea of being paddled by that man is scary, and adds to the tremendous list of things that are already filling me with anxiety. But no matter how much stress it puts on me, the idea of a paddling is less terrifying than the idea of SEVERAL MONTHS of paperwork.
So, I guess the principal did hit me for not doing paperwork? How odd that I remember the threat, I remember going back into the classroom all teary-eyed and snotty-faced, but I’ve forgotten the beating itself.
But in the end I was right. I didn’t do those worksheets. From a strictly cost / benefit analysis, I think this was the right move.
I’m allowed to roll along to the end of the year, occasionally filling out the first two or three entries on every worksheet. I manage to pass. People talk to me about my grades, but I never see any value in grades. Why do I care if you give me a D? If I gave you a D would you stop giving me worksheets?
My grades are terrible, although when I get to Special Ed I sometimes work. I don’t know what the teachers think of this. Maybe they think I do the work in Special Ed because it’s “easier”, but the only difference is that the work in Special Ed is engaging and stimulating, and the work in the regular classroom is stupid annoying endless paperwork that vanishes into a black hole. In Special Ed, the teacher is interested in what I’m doing. He talks to me about my work sometimes, and he even praises me. He’s interested in me and doesn’t just stick my hard work into a big pile with everyone else’s. In regular class, your reward for hard work is to be ignored.
If you wanted me to do something, you needed to make me care about the work itself. The central aspect of my learning disability was that I was immune to the currency of arbitrary awards and punishments. (Gold stars and bad grades, the school system’s primary tools for motivation.)
The year comes to an end. One of my favorite things is the Weekly Reader. (Which still exists!) Once a week we get this little “magazine” (four pages – a single folded piece of paper) with stuff to read. On the back is always a little comic with a cartoon bear and a sidekick. I like these guys, and I always look forward to getting a new issue. The last issue of the year has the little bear saying to us, “See you next year!”
Wait a second… I’ve seen the weekly reader that goes to second-graders, and this comic isn’t in that edition. It’s one of the reasons I’m regretting passing the first grade. I’ll never see this guy again, ever, for the rest of my life. Why is he saying “see you next year”? Is he talking to the kids who failed?
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