Autoblography Part 4: I Hate Paperwork

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Aug 30, 2011

Filed under: Personal 263 comments

I apologize of these entries seem grim and joyless. I’m trying to capture the mood of the time. I promise they won’t all be bellyaching about school. We have not hit the worst, but neither have we visited the best.

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.

I’m rather torn on the term “dyslexia”. I understand it’s handy to be able to describe the problems a child is having while learning. Any sufficiently complex discipline is going to have its own jargon, and teaching is no different.

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.

At this point the bullying was just verbal, and I’m sure the teacher wasn’t even aware of it. But this seemed like an injustice to me. Like a guy who is robbed at gunpoint, and the next day gets a ticket for jaywalking. Don’t you cops have more important problems to worry about?!?

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.

I originally had a paragraph here saying that they apparently didn’t paddle me, but my brother emailed me saying he clearly remembers being sent to the principal and being told something along the lines of, “I paddled your brother, I’ll paddle you too”.

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 the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” had been around in my day, I certainly would have been diagnosed as such. But my problem had nothing to do with my ability to pay attention to things. I was capable on focusing on things for hours if I found them interesting. My problem wasn’t my attention span, but my interest level.

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?


From The Archives:

263 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 4: I Hate Paperwork

  1. Darthricardo says:

    Really enjoying these insights, it’s pretty interesting.
    I think I have teh same “problem” with learning, to a lesser degree. I’m smart, but I won’t bother working at something hard unless I found it interesting. Case in point, I was best in my year at English Literature, but didn’t really try at much else.
    Part of the reason I’m looking forward to college so much. Taking courses I want to take are always nice.

    1. Maleldil says:

      Much the same for me as well. I would routinely get 100+% in math classes (extra credit) but classes like history and geography bored me to tears, so I was routinely sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving (i.e. entertaining myself). Oh, and I did get paddled too, in the late 80s and early 90s (private Christian school).

      Regarding college, unfortunately you do still have to take the general education classes to fulfill your degree requirements, so it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. I say get as much GE stuff out of the way during your first and second years, so your junior and senior year can be filled with all the fun upper-division stuff you can choose. Although make sure to have at least one class per quarter/semester that truly interests you. Otherwise it’s too easy to give up on the whole enterprise prematurely.

      1. TheAngryMongoose says:

        Do you really continue General Education into Uni? What does it entail?

        Unless he means a UK Sixth Form College. You get to choose your own subjects (usually 4) at age 16. It’s pretty sweet. If I had chosen Chemistry instead of Computing in the first year I could probably have chillaxed the whole year and come out fine. Longest piece of writing I had to do through the whole year was some 200 words for physics, as a small part of my first year practical, which was a small part of the course.

        Couldn’t stand English. I remember feeling physical pain trying to work out how to start a sentence. Then scribbling out hundreds of sentences ’til the scribbles filled most of my book.. Ended up doubling all my courseworks for both English and English Lit, so I’d only have to do half of thme. Only reason I took English Lit was because it was that or do Sports, “Sports Leadership”, or Art.

        Languages were my worse subject. The only one I can really say I was bad at. I’d just completely forget every single segment a few days after it was learned, making learning the later stuff even harder, and when it came to say, writing a paragraph about a holiday to my sisters supermarket to by school equipment for work, I just wouldn’t where to start. Didn’t help I was first put into the lower group, then moved up, missing out on half the course. No idea who thought that one through.

        As of next year, my Uni will require students to take a Modern Foreign Language GCSE if they don’t already have one. Gonna try one anyway, but so glad it’s not going to be forced on me.

        1. LadyTL says:

          Most American colleges and universities require three to four years of general studies requirements before you can do anything degree related even if you never plan to ever use that stuff again. It’s supposed to make you more well rounded or something but it only seems to lead to soft classes like history of rock and roll or german art movies.

          1. DCSnotty says:

            My experience at a major state university was different. I went down the business path, but everyone starts out in something called “Degree in Undergraduate Studies”. We did this for 4 semesters (Fall, Spring, Fall, Spring again), and in the 4th semester we ‘declared’ our major and school of study.

            In those first 4 semesters (~2 years), I took a variety of courses including Sociology, Anthropology, History, German and some business prerequisite courses such as Economics, Accounting, Comp Sci for business and Statistics.

            It was in my 3rd year that I got into the meat of my Finance/Economics Major. So for me, it was about 1/2 of my first two years that was dedicated to general studies.

            I have to say that one of my favorite classes was an Anthropology class that studied the Olmec/Mayan/Aztec societies and Inca society. You can find some gems in those general studies.

            1. Mthecheddar knight says:

              Story of my life. I am literally a genius but screw anything i dont like. Math is busywork that teaches me nothing except how to use a calculator. English is just stupid and useless and i never learn anything. Social studies and tech are the only classes i like, because unlike others I know exactly what my job shall be.
              In other words, the current schooling system eats ass.

  2. Principal, Shamus, not principle. Don’t ask me why it’s spelled differently, it just is.

    1. Veloxyll says:

      Principal is a rank, I guess; while principles are something used to establish a general rule.

      I don’t know why we have two different words that sound exactly the same with very similar meanings either :(

      1. StranaMente says:

        The difference stands a bit bettere in the etimology.

        Principle comes from the latin “principium” (beginning).

        Principal is from “principalis” (that means either “most important” or “supreme magistrate” or “prince worthy”).

        They both come from “princeps” (“prince” or “first”), which in turn (may) come from the verb “coepi” (to start, to begin).

        In italian we use “principio” with almost the same meaning of the english “principle”, but we use a different word to name the Principal (which makes for a false friend).

        1. burningdragoon says:

          No no. The reason it’s different is that the word ‘pal’ is part of principal, so students can think of them as friends.


          Now cue Simpsons joke and I’m done here.

        2. Rosseloh says:

          It’s “etYmology”.



    2. My experience mirrored yours in a lot of ways, only instead of initially being sent to “Special Ed” I went to TAG (Talented and Gifted). Why? I don’t know. I wasn’t particularly talented and gifted, just quick to pick up what they wanted me to do. So quick, in fact, that I found it boring and couldn’t be bothered to do most of the busy-work that came along with it. So later on I wound up with lousy grades and having to take remedial classes.

      The problem persists–I’ve tried to go to college what, three times now? Every single time was a colossal failure that destroyed what little self-esteem I’d managed to build up in the intervening years. I’m still as quick to pick things up as before, and when I can bring myself to do the work, I do good work and get all kinds of praise from the instructors.

      It doesn’t help. I keep thinking it’s a problem with maturity level or commitment or something, but I think at the end it’s that modern schooling and I just do not get along. This latest attempt has left me jobless, broke, and massively in debt, so I’m not going back again. I actually reached a point where I was so depressed, upset, and anxious, that I was cutting myself with knives *because that made me feel better*.

      Am I ever going to get out of this hole I’m in? Eh, who knows. I watched the Extra Credits video on game compulsion, and all I could think about James saying “life always welcomes you back” was “what a load of bullshit”. I’ve been trying to go back to life for 20 years now, and it’s never done anything but crap on me for my trouble.

      Sorry, this isn’t about me, but you’re not alone in being ill-suited for school. If I ever have kids (hah, yeah right) I’m not sending them to public school even if it’s completely illegal by then and we have to move to another country to avoid it.

      1. Heron says:

        They did the same thing to me (put me in their “Gifted & Talented” program) where honestly I only worked on a marginally higher portion of my assignments because they were interesting things like stop-motion Lego movies. Seriously, what fourth grader *wouldn’t* want to play with Legos instead of working? I also distinctly remember asking my teacher for *harder* math homework, because what they were doing during normal class time was too easy and I wanted to jump ahead.

        But, schools apparently stopped doing interesting things like that by the time I got to middle school, and by the time high school rolled around, they had thoroughly disabused me of the notion that there might be classes that don’t consist of large quantities of useless paperwork… I probably only graduated from college because computer science was actually interesting most of the time.

        1. Meredith says:

          I went to a gifted program too. It was a huge waste of time and put me seriously behind my peers when I returned to regular classes the next year. Schools really should stop labeling everyone and figure out some way for us all to just learn at our own speeds.

          1. Heron says:

            They know how, and they’ve known how since the dawn of time: lower the student-to-teacher ratio.

            They’re just not willing to pay for it. So unwilling, in fact, that they’ve been actively moving in the other direction. My mom ended up getting blacklisted by the local school district because she forced them to stop violating the maximum-students-per-teacher rules for my brother’s classes while he was in elementary school.

          2. Robyrt says:

            Fascinating! I went to a gifted program and it was incredibly helpful, not primarily for the content but because peer pressure from all the conscientious, driven smart kids helped me with my own motivation problems. Only when I got to college and started encountering normal kids with non-academic priorities did my grades start slipping.

        2. Ben says:

          I was in a TAG program from second through eighth grade. We studied more advanced math than the rest of the students and did a number of interesting projects, but we also placed a lot lower emphasis on homework, and were allowed to work more or less at our own pace. That was excellent! Except it wasn’t. It left me unprepared for the future.

          High school was not a problem, because everything was really quite easy. Even though it was no longer condoned, I still didn’t have to do much homework, and what little I bothered with I was able to get done the day it was due, just before class. A few low mid-term grades caused a lot of friction with my parents, but in the end I graduated with a solid A- average.

          This, too, was a problem. The bad habits I’d learned in TAG had not been broken by high school, because the work was too easy. When I got to college, I got a rude awakening. It took me nearly four years to learn the study habits and self-control my peers had learned all the way back in elementary school. By that time I graduated a year late and with an unspectacular GPA. Which is why I have spent two years trying to find half-decent employment and still don’t work in my field, or for anything like the money I’d hoped to be making after graduation.

          Fair or not, I feel somewhat justified in blaming my current situation on TAG.

          1. Heron says:

            I didn’t do so well my first two semesters in college for that exact same reason, and I graduated with a B average. Fortunately, I’ve been interested in programming since I was 10, so I had a long time to get passably decent at it before college, and I managed to get hired immediately after I graduated. Considering how ill-prepared I was for college, I’m pretty sure I was absurdly lucky.

            I hope you’re able to find a job soon :)

          2. Dwip says:

            That happened to me, too. I did really well in TAG, but never really figured out how to study or put in effort on my work, and while it kind of came and bit me in HS, that and an ability to show up to tests without studying and do well REALLY killed me in college, and I only sort of learned it in grad school years later.

            Not sure what they should have done with me, though, all things considered.

        3. Kacky Snorgle says:

          Re: Harder math problems….

          In third grade we had “time tests”. They’d give you a whole page of single-digit addition problems, and you had to do it in three minutes, so that it was pure memory work–you wouldn’t finish if you took the time to think.

          If you didn’t get a perfect score, then the next day, you had to do exactly the same test again. The students who did score 100% got to move on to Test #2, which was a whole page of basic subtraction facts. And so on, through the whole school year.

          Several months in, I was still on Test #4, while every other student in the class was far beyond me. One day, the teacher became so frustrated that she randomly gave me Test #22 instead. It was the highest one she had, since nobody had ever gotten that far–it was about exponents, and some of the problems asked for the squares of two-digit numbers. I easily got all the questions correct with time to spare. In the middle of the test, I’d spontaneously invented the formula

          (x+1)^2 = x^2 + x + x + 1

          and used that to work out all the squares I didn’t know from the ones I did know, using only addition facts rather than the multiplication facts I could never remember.

          The teacher looked stunned, and told me to go explain my discovery to the principal, and ask him whether mathematicians were aware that this formula existed!

          They never gave me any more time tests after that.

          Somewhere around ninth grade, I finally finished learning the multiplication table. By then I was taking math classes with students three years older than me.

          1. Heron says:

            I *still* do better if I have a calculator to do basic math…

            1. Destrustor says:

              I try to use the calculator only to double-check my mental calculations. To keep my edge.

              1. decius says:

                I use the calculator for every bit of math that I already understand. Sure, I can multiply arbitrarily large numbers on paper accurately, perform least-squares regressions by hand, and I can also open break the tape on cardboard boxes by hitting it with a knuckle. Why should I do any of those things when I have a calculator and box cutter?

        4. krellen says:

          I only graduated college because the head of the CS department was sick and tired of me being there (I graduated with half-again the required credits, because they kept changing requirements – I was at the maximum number of credits they allowed without graduating). I literally bluffed my way through the independent studies class (required to graduate) without ever actually doing any work.

        5. kmc says:

          This sounds so much like me. They called it GATE (gifted and talented education), but it was a couple of hours every Wednesday. We got bussed to a different school. The rest of the week was the same old boring crap, and my grades just plummeted.

          1. Mari says:

            That sounds a lot like my GT class in elementary school. They took us out of regular classes 2 days a week and bussed us to another school where we did things. And then we went back to regular, boring classes. Except we were expected to do all the classwork we had missed on the 2 days we were doing GT classes in addition to our other boring work.

            I rebelled. I was not going to do pages and pages of extra math homework that I had *already* demonstrated an understanding of just to be “rewarded” with harder math at a different school twice a week. The same with English and spelling. Why should I write a bunch of spelling words at home when I already knew how to spell them and had demonstrably far beyond it? It felt more like a punishment than a reward. I didn’t even stay for a whole semester before going back to my boring classroom 5 days a week where there was less work and I could at least use classroom instruction time to do the work the teacher was in the process of explaining to the rest of the class.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I don’t actually remember how often mine was. It was called ARC, and all I remember was studying Egypt in like 3rd grade and making a pyramid out of paper

            2. TheAngryMongoose says:

              I remember being so annoying that the primary school I went to for year 6 never put me in the higher group and the ship-off-to-secondary-school-for-maths-group. I knew I was good at maths. At the school I went to before I absolutely trounced everyone at maths. Hell, at that school I trounced everyone at maths. I repeatedly completed all the work, including extras and homework, that they had set for me. They just apparently decided that because they hadn’t known me for longer than a year (Or because I wasn’t tall and religious. Yeah, I went there. Fucking nazi christian schools), I couldn’t POSSIBLY be that clever.

              Not that I’m bitter or anything.

              Come to think of it, my childhood was filled with experiences like that. I wonder if it lead any deep seated feelings that being anything other than the best isn’t good enough, and people will look down on me for it…. Naa, can’t possibly have.

              Anyway, imana go play some LoL. I hope I don’t screw up this match…

      2. Wayoffbase says:

        Holy crap it’s like you’re reading my mind, except instead of cutting myself I self-medicate with alcohol, cigarettes, and food, so now I am in really awful shape along with everything else.

        I have a 10 year old daughter who is stuck with whatever my issues are as well as some of my wife’s ADHD; luckily Arizona has a pretty decent charter school program so she hasn’t had to go to public schools. Things aren’t working out perfect for her, but at least she is having a better school experience than I did.

      3. Shamus says:

        “I was cutting myself with knives *because that made me feel better*.”

        Wow. Having read your comments here for the last four years, and after reading bits of your blog now and again, I NEVER would have guessed this about you. If it makes you feel any better, you’ve always presented yourself as extremely stable, practical, and mature.

        I really hope things turn around for you, Jennifer.

        1. Mari says:

          Many of us who are cutters or otherwise self-medicate with self-destructive behaviors appear pretty “normal” to the rest of the world. Honestly, cutting was my way of dealing with the pressure to appear “normal.” The urge to cut to blow off steam, experience a manageable and controllable pain (compared to the emotional pain that was *not* manageable or controllable except by complete numbing and shutting myself off) and re-center myself mentally gradually subsided as I stopped trying to force myself to conform and stopped caring how that looked to the rest of the world.

          1. Felblood says:

            I cut myself with my thumbnail on a regular basis for years, before I realized what I was really doing.

            That addictive boost of endorphins can get into your subconscious and take your hands away from you, especially since depressed kids will often not realize that even little cuts like that should hurt, since they often don’t feel the pain since they are so numbed to their feelings.

            Recognizing my behavior for what it was was actually a major turning point in my life.

            Here I am, years later, a fairly sane man, who can laugh and feel pain, and has dreams other than killing all of humanity.

            Every high school in America has one of these kids, and nobody knows what to do but hope they grow out of it, before they start shooting people. Thankfully, I was never fargone enough to settle for dying to only kill part of the human race.

        2. ENC says:

          Apparently a schoolteacher of Lindsay Fox (a transport company) was invited to dinner with him after he had begun being paid to tutor his kids, and when they asked what their father was like as a student in school (knowing his grades were poor and Lindsay fearing the answer) said ‘Your father was a fantastic student. The problem was, the school’s didn’t know what to teach him.’

          Lindsay did poorly in school and dropped out, yet managed to create a multi-million dollar company, which is why schools need bigger budgets to better train poor teachers so they can customise the learning for individual students (as well as make smaller classes).

          This is in Australia BTW.

      4. Aldowyn says:

        Umm. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about that issue (I’m on the forum James mentioned in the video), and I just have to say that when James was talking about “life will welcome you back”, he was talking SPECIFICALLY about situations like his, where you were so totally involved in doing something else (games, in his case), you neglected your school work. This is entirely different from not working right with the school system. Which is its own entirely different problem.

        I don’t quite understand what kind of problems you had, though, and 1-12 are entirely different from college (at least from what I’ve heard). That’s your business, though.

    3. Eddie says:

      Oh, I know why it’s spelled differently; it’s because the English language is crazy bananas!

      1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        tru dat

    4. Mari says:

      My mnemonic for remembering the difference is that the principal wants to be your pal. Although I guess that doesn’t work so well for principals who administer threats and beatings to people who don’t want to do paperwork, huh?

      1. Abnaxis says:

        It still works, in a sort of ironic way…

        1. In an “A Wrinkle in Time” IT sort of way.

          1. Kacky Snorgle says:

            Utterly off topic, I know:

            Anyone who enjoyed “A Wrinkle in Time” as a child must read the new book “When You Reach Me”. It’s not exactly a sequel, but…oh, just find a copy already, you’ll be glad you did. :)

      2. Joel D says:

        However, if you remember “pal” instead as an acronym for “pitiless, authoritarian leader”…

        My principals were all fairly reasonable, though, so I’m not complaining about them.

        1. Felblood says:

          In my experience, high school principals are interested in what’s causing fights at their school and seeing justice and recompense dispensed.

          Elementary principals (and teachers too) think that violence is just what kids DO, and they see pink slips and detention notes as just another piece of paperwork to be moved from the “in” box to the “out” box. No wonder these people got a career that took them back to elementary school, where they could grade papers and treat people like paperwork, if that’s how they see all of life.

    5. Alexander The 1st says:

      Honestly, it’s better this way. Although homophones with hetrographic properties do lead to the confusion from “Spell it sounds”, this makes the written language much more clearer.

      Same with “They’re”, “Their”, and “There” – we don’t have different enough pronunciations for these, and one *could* make the argument that they really should just be one spelling so that we don’t make typographic errors, but then we’d have to always read it within context to figure out what it’s supposed to mean.

      Here, “principal” is a position, and “principle” is an atomic unit an ideology stands on.

    6. Soylent Dave says:

      Don't ask me why it's spelled differently, it just is

      Is that a Noah Webster quote?

  3. AngryPanda says:

    These don’t seem joyless to me. Harsh ok but it is comforting to see how people managed to work their way up from the same sort of problems you had yourself. I bet a lot of people here had some trouble fitting in. Plus a lot of the reasoning helps to put stuff into perspective. Not everyone analyzes the past so well.

    1. Jarenth says:

      I think the reason these don’t seem joyless to you (and me) is because we know where the overall story ends.

      It ends here.

      1. Kacky Snorgle says:

        Or, it continues through here. “Ends” sounds dreadfully final….

        1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

          Maybe it was meant to? Jarenth is a strange creature.

          1. Jarenth says:

            This is true, I am rather odd.

            What I intended to say was ‘Even though the story of Little Shamus seems a bit grim at times, it’s easier for us to smile at them, as we know that at the current point in the story, Shamus is happily married, enjoying the family life, and running a well-visited online journal that many people have adopted as a preferred internet hangout for its civilized discourse and quality content’.

            I thought my previous phrasing somewhat more succinct, though.

      2. Maldeus says:

        Glass crunches beneath Jarenth’s boot as he stands across from Shamus, his jacket ripped and torn from his entry through the window. Shamus lies on the ground, slowly struggling to pull himself towards the desk. “I’ve got a new post for your Twenty Sided Tale,” Jarenth says, pulling out a handgun with a twelve-inch barrel. “It’s simple. Succinct. Just two words.” He points the barrel towards Shamus. “The end,” he says, and pulls the trigger.

        Steel flashes in the light of the bulbs above, the bullet bisected by the katana Shamus has retrieved from behind the desk. “No,” Shamus says, “It has only just began.” Shamus charges Jarenth, slicing the bullets fired at him cleanly in half, the deafening bang of Jarenth’s oversized weapon filling the still night air. As Shamus raises his weapon high, Jarenth pulls a katana of his own. Just as the two blades meet, we cut to black, leaving the ringing metal as the only thing audible as the gritty, metallic words “IT ENDS HERE, SEPTEMBER 2011” fade into the screen.

        1. TehShrike says:


          +1 internets for you.

        2. JPH says:


          Incidentally, I had a hard time making a mental image of that because I still don’t know what Jarenth actually looks like.

          1. Tomulus says:

            I pictured his avatar. It seems I just assume Jarenth has glowing eyes in real life.

        3. Jarenth says:

          You just made my entire week.

        4. decius says:

          You, sir or ma’am, have won. Everything.

  4. Veloxyll says:

    Paperwork. The curse that keeps on giving. I am presently looking for a job and have to say cover letters feel a lot like those sheets you mentioned. Except with less feedback.

    Enjoying this series though, I look forward to reading what happens next!

    1. Kdansky says:

      Yes, totally. Cover letters are impressive in how stupid they are. You get punished for being creative, and you get punished for being bland. So in essence, you need to be as boring as possible while trying to appease to the company you apply to.

      I have also always had a hard time doing homework. After understanding how multiplication works, I do not need to practise it a thousand times, because the rules won’t change. It’s just insanely boring.

      That said, repetition and drill allows you to do the same thing faster. Which is very useful, but it does not get explained to kids, ever. In German, there is a saying “You learn for Life, and not for School.” which is true, of course, but would anybody please bother to give a few examples! By now I can offer some for pretty much anything.

      I never hated the concept of school, it was rewarding for someone who wants to know more about everything. I only hated quite large parts of its execution. Especially people. :P

      1. Halceon says:

        And what the drilling does, especially since the invention of the calculator, is make you spend huge amounts of time learning to do something in your head which you’ll end up doing ten times faster on your calculator/mobile/computer anyway.

        1. Chuck says:

          Until the calculator/mobile/computer breaks down.

          My Dad has lamented how cashier’s are stymied into uselessness by a broken register. Just playing devil’s advocate; I still think public education is terribly executed, and have the past to lend credence to my thoughts, though fortunately no one cares.

          1. LadyTL says:

            Cashiers aren’t stymied by the math. It’s the fact that a broken or locked up register will not go to the next point of the transaction, i.e. opening the drawer and ringing you out, without fixing whatever stupid step is broken.

        2. Alexander The 1st says:

          Unless it’s an algebraic situation, which you would use said logic within what’s being drilled into you to figure out a more efficient way of representing a formula, or a better way to understand it.

          Also, homework is done for a fairly important reason: it’s to catch those who think they know the work (Mathematics or not), but don’t, and try to catch them earlier before they go into the finals.

          1. Jethro says:

            Actually, homework is a giant steaming pile of Time Wasting. While it’s touted as necessary by teachers and school admins, it’s only because of several non-mandatory conditions that we have these ludicrous amounts of make-work being sent home every day:

            A) Constant additions to the curricula, without thoughtful revisions to reduce the overall amount of material needing to be covered

            B) Lack of funding for public schools to hire adequate teaching staff (AKA “Class Size and Composition”)

            C) Lack of training for teaching staff in classroom management skills (ie, time spent on task is steadily decreasing due to classroom management issues), and

            D) Lack of support for teachers by administrators.

            Homework doesn’t need to exist. And the small amounts of homework that MAY be academically beneficial ought to be thoughtfully handed out with a view to enhancing the education outcomes, not rote memorisation. My quite strong opinion is that homework is a tool of weak teachers, and I have seven years of working in public schools to back that up with- as well as two children who’ve been through high school.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Maybe in grade school, with arithmetic, but not so much in high school math. There just isn’t enough time to teach the subject AND allow students to practice the material themselves, which is necessary in actually understanding how to do something.

              1. Maldeus says:

                That’s still a classroom management problem, it’s just one outside of the teacher’s control. We need longer classtimes, and at the high school level we could probably stand to have one or two more hours of school per day. I’m hesitant to propose this to any education authority, though, because if they do extend the school day, they probably won’t make any of the other, harder reforms that would actually make the extension effective.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Like dumping homework, you mean? :D

              2. decius says:

                My best math teacher provided ‘recommended homework’ sets from the textbook. Those problems used only concepts that had been covered in class, and she would happily help any student with those problems during office hours. The work itself was never collected or reviewed during class time, but the start of each class was marked by a brief quiz on the concepts covered by the recommended homework.

                You could do it or not, and you got quick feedback on whether you knew the concept or not. Nobody complained that there was too much homework; they just did as little or much of it as they wanted.

        3. modus0 says:

          What about those people who can do non-algebraic math faster than someone using a calculator?

          Because I can often get the answer to a problem faster than my nephew can enter it on a calculator.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            That would be me, and that has less to do with practice and more to do with just being good at numbers.

      2. Nick Bell says:

        “In German, there is a saying “You learn for Life, and not for School.” which is true, of course, but would anybody please bother to give a few examples!”

        I struggled a great deal in Algebra 2, because the majority of what I learned had no obvious purpose. This was re-enforced when I went to trigonometry, and didn’t use a great deal of my Algebra 2 skills there.

        It wasn’t until I got into Calculus that I finally saw the use of all that Algebra. I instantly wished I had studied harder in Algebra 2. And I would have, had I known all the cool stuff we did with it in Calculus (and the cool Physics applications that Calc has).

        1. decius says:

          Right. I often wondered about the farmer who could count legs and heads, but didn’t think to count chickens and cows. I got in trouble once on that problem when I used the line from animal farm about ‘wings being instruments of locomotion, they should be counted as legs’. I got the numeric answers correct, but my answer involved a number of mutilated animals…

      3. Dev Null says:

        Cover letters make much more sense once you’ve been on the other end of the interview process once or twice. Basically, we put the _exact_ criteria we’re being forced to judge resumes on in the job app, and what we want is a cover letter that runs down the list and tells us why you tick the various boxes. Sure its in your resume, but its scattered all over the place in there, and I’ve got 30 of these things to read; if the other guys made me a list and you can’t be bothered, maybe I’ll just interview them. I won’t punish you for being creative, but anything that doesn’t tick the boxes on the list is pretty much pointless; I’m barely believing anything you say at this point anyways, and I’m planning to find out the things I _really_ need to know in the interview, so this is just to weed out the lazy and totally unqualified people so I don’t have to interview all 30 of you.

  5. AngryPanda says:

    ” In regular class, your reward for hard work is to be ignored.”
    This explained so much to me. Especially why I did all those tedious papers despite not seeing the reason too. I hated attention, and you got it both for being too bad or too good. Attention led to being noticed by others, being noticed by others let to bullying. Attention was ultimate punishment. Strange enough I had absolutely average notes in all classes no matter my talent or interest level for my whole time in school.

  6. And then they have the audacity to tell you to bring that paperwork home with you. God, nothing pissed me off at school more than homework. Just the CONCEPT of it I found insulting and oppressive.

    1. blue_painted says:

      Amen to that!

      I hated the way I had to sacrifice *more* of MY time to make up for “them” being unable to teach me in THEIR time.

    2. guy says:

      Oh yeah. And they love to keep adding more as a substitute for being more difficult as you progress.

      Fortunately, most classes allow you to blow it off without failing. Otherwise I’d either have failed or been reduced to a gibbering madman by now. Possibly both.

      1. Jethro says:

        Yeah. I personally didn’t do any homework in the last two years of high school. I passed (C+ or better) and was a LOT happier than my classmates who slaved away for 3 hours a night. When homework counted for 5% of your final grade, who would really go to all that work? It’s just arbitrary anyhow…

        Unfortunately for MY kids, homework today often counts for a much higher percentage of your grade. In addition, it’s used as practise, to demonstrate mastery of concepts theoretically covered in class (I say theoretically, because on many occasions I spent hours helping my teenagers with the initial introduction to a concept in order for them to be able to do the homework requirements- this was supposed to be the teacher’s job, but due to issues I mentioned in my earlier post, it was not done).

        Homework is foolishness, and I challenge anyone to show how it is in any way a Good Thing.

        1. Dev Null says:

          The concept of homework isn’t foolishness, just the way its mostly used. Reinforcing the lessons of the day in a different setting at a remove of time is good learning design, but if you don’t start the next days lesson by sitting down and discussing the homework from last night, how its done and why it works, then you’ve missed the point of the reflection. If it takes you more than an average of about 20 minutes a night to do though, then someone’s substituting quantity for quality.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            There are high-school level teachers that DON’T go over homework assignments? What? How do you learn if you can’t ask questions?

            I would say that it definitely takes longer to do my homework, but every question is different in a significant way. Before this year (I’m in AP Calc BC, which covers Calc 1 and 2), it wasn’t quite every question, but it was most of them.

        2. Alexander The 1st says:

          Re: Re-teaching the the initial introduction to a concept:

          That’s why we have homework – it’s very possible the teacher covered it, but perhaps it was not clear to your kids in the way it was taught – ask your kids to mention it during the evaluation at the end, and while your kids may still need the help from that class the rest of the year, the *next* year kids can hopefully benefit from that evaluation.

          Not that you have to wait until end of term – ask them to bring it up during break time.

    3. asterismW says:

      I graduated from college six years ago, and I’m still on a high from having my evenings be my own, and not having homework.

    4. Bryan says:

      If you think that’s bad, I had a grade school teacher who would give you ten pages of homework on Friday which was not only due on Monday, but had to be inspected, corrected and signed by your parents to be valid. THAT is insulting and opressive!

      1. asterismW says:

        When I was taking calculus in high school, our teacher gave us a 20 page packet of math problems that we had to do over Christmas break, which took me several days to complete. When we got back, there was so much complaining about it, that he turned it into extra credit. I didn’t need extra credit in that class. I would rather have had my wasted hours back.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          That. Would. Suck. I never have homework over christmas break. Never miss a day when there’s not a holiday, but when there IS…

  7. mandrilltiger says:

    Hey Shamus have you seen this . It touches on some of the points you made. Pretty genius.

    1. Falcon_47 says:

      WOW, that was… beautiful i guess. Very informative and it truly explains so much. I hope Shamus sees this! Great find, thx…

    2. That link keeps on popping up round here. :)

  8. froogger says:

    I hate writing so much that I hand in a lot of blank worksheets, especially anything the requires me to write out words.

    Heh, that was then and now you’re a wordfountain only a few hundred words shy of Stephen King. Odd how life turns out.

    Speaking of corporal punishment (hey, is that a wrestlers name? it should be=), I too grew up in the day before physically punishing children was rightfully disallowed. I remember well the feeling of helplessness when an adult threatened to do this. However, I can’t remember any of the actual thrashings (and yes, I had a few). Turns out the threat was worse than the punishment (or a part of it). Makes me think how careless we are with our choice of words around children.

    1. Mephane says:

      As I understood it, I think Shamus is specifically referring to handwriting itself and to text that in the end is worthless to everyone anyway.

    2. Mari says:

      Everyone keeps talking about corporal punishment as if it’s somehow a thing of the past. It isn’t. I assure you that one of my children attends a public school and use of corporal punishment is still used. In point of fact, I had to write a note just yesterday to the school to inform them that while they may be legally allowed to administer a board to the behinds of other students, I am asserting my parental right to not have my child treated in that manner. In Texas, that’s the requirement. Schools can paddle/spank/whip/beat/thrash/whatever term you want to use for a foreign object making swift and painful contact with a child’s backside unless the parent specifically sends a written request exempting a child from it. The letter must be re-sent every year that the student attends public school. Not a past tense at all.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Huh. I think I would have remembered that. Of course, I wasn’t paying much attention to, you know, other people, when I was in grade school. Too busy reading.

        Also, different state. Texas is… odd, sometimes, ESPECIALLY as education goes.

      2. kanodin says:

        Huh, news to me, I’ve spent my entire educational career in Texas and teachers hitting students is just unthinkable to me. Which is not to doubt you, I’m perfectly willing to believe our state would do that, just not where I live apparently.

  9. Xakura says:

    The overuse of the ADD/ADHD labels is one of the major problems with psychiatry/education today. (I’ve been talking alot with a close family member that entered psychiatry after a long period as a physician).

    One problem is of course that the diagnoses only describe symptoms, not underlying causes, but that is a whole other discussion. (It would be a lot like if your physician said you had a case of the coughs, not a cold/pneumonia/lung cancer..)

    But the main problem is that the schools are pushing these diagnoses on parents and doctors, because they mean increased funding and increases their average scoring, since they can just remove these students from the results, instead of having to make an effort to include them.

    1. Raygereio says:

      But the main problem is that the schools are pushing these diagnoses on parents and doctors

      In the Netherlands we also have the problem of parents who are pushing such diagnoses. The thinking in these cases generaly works as follows:
      Step 1: The child has some sort of issue. This can be not preforming in school as well as he/she should. Being agressive, etc, etc.
      Step 2: We can’t have anyone think it’s the parent’s fault! We need a scapegoat.
      Step 3: Some fancy disorder like PDD-NOS which is so damned vaguely defined that pretty much anything can fall under it? Perfect!
      Step 4: The parents can now breath easily knowing they can just say it’s the fault of PDD-NOS/ADD/whatever when their child comes home with bad grades or throws a brick to someone’s windows.

    2. PAK says:

      “But the main problem is that the schools are pushing these diagnoses on parents and doctors.” To add to this, and to what Raygereio added as well, you have the issue (at least here in the states) of the pressure exerted by the drug companies, especially when they provide kickbacks to doctors who prescribe their medications.

  10. Tuck says:

    I’m so glad I was homeschooled.

    1. StranaMente says:

      I went to public school here in Italy and I say I’m pretty happy with the results, even though you have to balance pro and cons.
      Pros: you learn social skills, and make friends outside the close circle of your neighborhood.
      Cons: some teachers won’t wait for you, or won’t understand your needs, you have to learn those social skills sometimes the hard way.

      Since our public school is still (in most cases at least) decent, I find it preferable to the family pampering (can’t find the exact translation for this but in italian when someone is over protected from the risks of life we say that that somebody lives under a glass bell).

      1. All the people I know who homeschool do plenty of activities with their kids like chess club or tai kwan do or horseback riding lessons where those kids interact freely with other kids. Being homeschooled doesn’t mean you never leave the house. In fact, it probably means you spend a LOT of time outside seeing what ADULTS do on a daily basis because your parents have to take you around with them when they do their stuff.

        I’m 100% in favor with children spending more time with adults learning about adult activities rather than spending all of their social time around kids learning nothing but kid activities. So many things are much more fascinating and instructive when you see them in action rather than purely as an academic exercise.

        What’s going to be more useful for them in the long run? Times tables and dead presidents, or helping you re-tile the bathroom, plant the garden, and build a barn in the back lot? They can read (and understand!) all they want about dead presidents when they’re 20 and politics actually mean something to them.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          I…don’t know about that one.

          I took my licks in school. I constantly got in fights with bullies and never fit in all that well anywhere really. If you had asked me after my senior year in high school, I would most certainly agree with at that time.

          But then I went to college. A private college, where the vast majority of students were either home-schooled or went to a private grade/high school. And I could not believe just how ignorant these people were of anyone outside of their bourgeoisie click. They did not understand that there are, in fact, disadvantaged people in this world (or if they did, they blamed the disadvantaged for being too lazy). The college itself was at least 90% white–good for them, since over half of them had prejudices that I thought we had gotten past as a society thirty years ago.

          Children don’t just need exposure to others, they need exposure to different others. People from different social classes, different races, different philosophies. And I can tell you from experience, they just don’t get that from studying at home or from homogenized private schools. I personally got it from being locked in a room with twenty to thirty other kids hailing from all around my county. I counted among my acquaintances (I never really had any close friends) blacks, whites, immigrants (of multiple nationalities), kids who lived in mansions, kids who lived on the streets, Catholics, Mormans, Jews, Baptists, Hindis, Muslims…you get the idea. You can’t get that sort of exposure in St. Jean Baptiste Academy for the Gifted–the premiums private schools demand filters students, as they are designed to do. Neither can you get it from home school–by definition, your only exposure is to your family or to extracurricular activities. Your family is going to be similar to you (they’re your family) and the people in your activities will be too (by definition, they already share an interest with you, and activities filter people out the same way private schools do, though to a lesser degree).

          1. Firstly, to satisfy my inner Grammar Nazi, it’s spelled ‘clique’, though I can see how you would be confused given the American pronunciation of it (over here it’s clee – kah, like bleak)

            As to the point – yes, being forced to see other people’s culture is a good thing. But does it balance out all of the issues that accompany that if you just don’t fit in? Not an easy question to answer. I went to private school, and I’d like to think I’m tolerant of others views despite the more privileged people around me – but I can see it happening to other people in that circle. So yeah, I dunno.

            1. StranaMente says:

              When I got to the secondary school I ended up in a extremely competitive environment, a thing that was often exacerbated by inept teachers and socially aggressive class mates.

              Even though that was one of the worse (if not the worst) experiences of my life, I can say that, without a dout, it formed me and prepared me for college and work.

              For example when I said “some teachers won't wait for you, or won't understand your needs” this thing isn’t changed while working.
              Almost all the lawyers I worked with don’t have the patience, time or will to wait for you and teach you what you have to do, follow you or correct you. If you can’t work in this condition you’re fired. But I do know how to react properly, and work even in a “hostile” environment, and this because of all the s#!t I’ve been through.

              On one hand I wouldn’t have survived secondary school without some prior experience of that kind of behaviour in elementary and junior school, on the other it’s necessary to see with your eyes the ugliness of the world outside the safety of the house as there’s nothing that can prepare you for that.

              As I said, you live in a glass bell, it shelters you and help you grow, but sometimes this can’t be a good thing.
              And you have to balance pros and cons.

            2. Atarlost says:

              To satisfy my inner semantics nazi you’re being a spelling nazi, not a grammar nazi.

          2. Shamus says:

            My public school was populated by my neighbors. My high school was 99% white.

            Anyway, you don’t NEED to meet other sorts of people to not be an ignorant classist racist. You need good parents.

            And you’re making the mistake of assuming homeschooled = stay at home.

            My kids are gone CONSTANTLY. They certainly see more of the world than I ever did from the inside of that madhouse.

            1. Alexander The 1st says:

              Well, this is going to sound mean, but did some of the fact that your kids see more of the world then you did have anything to do with the possibility that you have asthma and they don’t? <_< :p


              As an aside though, elementary schools aren't the main focus of that – yeah, those are usually single neighbourhoods. Then you end up with high schools, which is neighbourhoods of neighbourhoods and other neighbourhoods. Then you may get into post-secondary, which is neighbourhoods of neighbourhoods of neighbourhoods you've never heard of.

              We don't just lump all sorts of kids into a pot and stir it, cackling madly.

              Just as the same way that you don't lock your kids in the cellar.

              1. Shamus says:

                “Well, this is going to sound mean, but did some of the fact that your kids see more of the world then you did have anything to do with the possibility that you have asthma and they don't? <_< :p"

                No. I was raised by a single mom and left at school. My kids have a two-parent home and their mother dedicates a good bit of the day to their development. It's a class size of 3 and the ability to take as many field trips as are needed, at a moment's notice. NOBODY in public school can beat that.

                1. Alexander The 1st says:

                  Ah, fair enough.

                2. Steve C says:

                  I’m looking forward to the part of your Bio that talks about your wife. Not only does she sound awesome, but so far it doesn’t sound like you would have had the best of opportunities to make a good impression given that you’re a self proclaimed introverted autodidact that goes into anaphylactic shock when you interact with the environment.

              2. StranaMente says:

                About the allergy it depends, some are developed by environment that are too clean (this happened with my older brother when my mother used to wash everything with higly disinfectant detergent: he couldn’t be touched without having a rush, it passed as soon as my mother lowered the hygiene standards a notch), some others are triggered by overexposure; some others are congenital.
                So it’s hard to tell, even though it’s demonstrated that the number of people with allergies is higher in cleaner environment.

                About having to live with others in classrooms and racism.
                You’re partly right about being a raised by a “normal” family or not. Sure the family is always your first source of knowledge about the world, even when you’re in a mixed classroom. On the other hand having to experience only your family education surely worsen the problem.

                And I’m not entirely sure that forcing kids doing tedious work is always a bad thing.
                For example I’m currently studing for a competitive examination. The amount of things I have to learn is staggering, and often monotonous, but my will grew firm and strong and now I can cope with it fine.

                About the teachers.
                The experience vary depending on the person you meet, but even the worse ones thought me something (and it was the most important lesson of my life: don’t let idiots bring you down ever, simple to say, but it bears all the weight of rebelling to the authority and believe in yourself when no-one else does)

                About Classrooms of neighbors.
                This may depend on the town/city/school of choice, anyway it won’t be true for long. At some time you’ll be exposed to different people and backgrounds. People with interests completely different from yours. The comparison with this people brings dialectic (that good or bad for me is always better than stasis that brings stagnation).

          3. Mari says:

            Well, I guess my kids are screwed then. One is being homeschooled for the first time this year, the other is in 8th grade at the public school they’ve attended their entire lives. It’s a single campus for students from 3-18 (pre-K-12). It’s populated with a little over 200 students. Of those 200 “diverse” students, 57% are white, 41% are Hispanic, and 2% are African-American. 63% are considered economically disadvantaged. 89% speak primarily or only English. Less than 1% are in special ed classes for all or part of the day. In 2008 they conducted a school-wide election where students from 2nd to 12th grades were all required to vote for one of the presidential candidates. The winner got 99% of the student vote. If public school is required for kids to learn about diversity, mine are pretty much screwed.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              200 kids in a 12 grade school? That’s a TINY, TINY school. At least you don’t have to worry about large class sizes, which are a big part of why public schools suck.

              1. Mari says:

                LOL That was pretty much exactly our thinking when the kids started there. And class size is nice. But there are a lot of drawbacks that offset that plus. There are very few options open to them. The “turnkey” solutions to the arts? Yeah, not at a school that small. They all take the same classes in the same order. Got a kid with a musical talent? You’re welcome to get him/her private lessons in the community but there’s no music class at school. Kid doesn’t want to take ag? Tough luck. Ag is the “elective” course offered. Want to learn Japanese, Chinese, German, French, Russian, or any language other than Spanish for the 3 required course credits? Wow, sucks to be you. High school math is Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Consumer Math. There is no calculus or trig. No chemistry, no anatomy and physiology, no geology or astronomy.

                The one option the kids get is they can choose to take general phys ed or go out for athletics. Athletics for boys consists of football then basketball. Athletics for girls is basketball then track. If they take general PE they do general PE stuff in a less competitive way. They also aren’t allowed to use the locker rooms since those were paid for by a decade worth of athletics boosters (aka the parents of the football team). They also aren’t allowed to do their general PE indoors because the gyms are reserved for the athletics kids who *need* that space.

                Also in the “no options” category is a distinct lack of GT curriculum. Kid does well in class? Great, more free time to read while the teacher explains it all to the rest of the class again. It’s all very “lowest common denominator” education; even moreso than the classes in larger schools.

                Plus there’s really high staff turnover. The school doesn’t pay all that well and frankly they don’t value staff all that much, so we tend to get teachers for a year or two and then they move on to larger, better paying districts. We never keep coaches for more than a year and coaches make up 2/3 of the teaching staff. Presumably if we ever had a winning football team maybe the coaching staff would be allowed to stay but it hasn’t happened since my kids have gone there.

                The kids are cliquish and having fewer of them means having fewer opportunities to find people with whom you might have something in common. Believe it or not, one of the reasons we moved to homeschooling the younger one was to give her more opportunity for socialization. That’s one that everyone always brings up about homeschooling, “But what about socialization??” At least in our experience, this kid is having more and better social interaction as a homeschooler than she ever did in public school. It’s not for everyone as Patrick pointed out just below me. But it’s not nearly the unthinkable crime against children that it’s sometimes made out to be. More than anything I hope that’s what some people reading this will conclude: there are a lot of options for educating children, no ONE solution is right for every kid or every family.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  I personally ended up going to.. 2 different schools, one public, one private, then homeschooled, before I finally ended up in public high school (in one of the best high schools in the state. Go rich white people). Luckily I turned out okay.

                  That science situation seems particularly sucky. What if a kid wants to be a doctor?

        2. Patrick the Dangerously Caffienated says:

          Schooling vs homeschooling is, to me, and I tread lightly here, a choice that is never a clear cut right/wrong as we would like it to be.
          Public schools have bullies, drugs and violence.
          They also have orchestra, multiple language classes and organized sports.
          They have unhealthy meals, questionable teachers and even more questionable motives than education at times.
          They also have Calculus, Chemistry, Physics and other advanced subjects which may or may not be available to home-schooled kids depending on the parents.
          And many of the programs I mentioned aren’t available in every school district. When I lived out west the local school district had no advanced classes, no language classes and only ONE sports program, boys basketball. It isn’t ONE thing, it’s everything you think about when you keep a child home or send him to public school, and alot of that depends on the school district. Where we live public schools are a great place to send your child if they want to grow up to be arsonists, heroin users, heroin dealers, or the lawyers that represent or prosecute them.
          Any of those things may or may not be important to every individual. It isn’t one thing, its many things.
          I for one haven’t spoke to single person I graduated with in 3 years, so I hardly value any relationships I made there.

          1. Shamus says:

            This is the best defense I’ve seen for public education so far.

            You CAN get a lot of those things (drama, orchestra, sports) outside of school, but it’s not nearly as seamless or as turnkey.

            1. BenD says:

              Not to add even more cynicism to an already very cynical discussion of modern education, but personally I think the best defense of public education is that it’s an extremely thorough introduction to public society and public policy. Do I think we should be introducing 5-year-olds to our dysfunctionally regulated social structure? No… but by the time they’re 12 (varying by student), then, yeah. Actually. I do.

              Well, that, or fix the society we live in and the government that runs/is run by it. If we did that, we could have schools that reflect a better society – and they’d be better schools.

              1. Maldeus says:

                But the real world doesn’t actually work that way. The government is not terribly efficient and your boss is frequently unreasonable, but those are separate entities and personally I find that an extremely important distinction. If I don’t like my job, I can look for another one.

                And the “grades are like a paycheck” thing will never be true until schools think up a system that allows you to spend your grades on something.

          2. StranaMente says:

            I can see the problem with public schooling in America.
            It saddens me that Italy and many contries look at you as a shiny example to imitate.
            In Italy the difference is more in the money they can spend on extracurricular stuff, like computers or gym, or being able to keep a low teacher/student ratio (which is, for me, in some reguards a bad thing).
            Then I want to add that in Italy over the 90% of the private schools are run by the Catholich Church, which is for me a big let down.

            So I can see as the trade off here (for me) is more in favour of the public school, having less disadvantages to be counted in.

          3. Warstrike says:

            Unfortunately, all of those “extras” that schools have the infrastructure to provide are being almost universally cut for a diet of more math and basic reading due to 2 things – funding and the standardized testing rating (which is a source of funding, so as usual, it’s all about the $$). Once you can pass the standardized testing, they don’t care. The current elementary school cirriculum in CA, as far as I can tell, pretty much has forced all other subjects out of the classroom, except as much as they can be squeezed into the big 2. In my Day (1980-93) we had Science, Social Studies, etc. in elementary. Right now, (my wife started homeschooling when we moved here from MN) they are adding science articles and SS articles to the reading material because the standards mandate sooo much time spent on reading you can’t devote it to other subjects (which helped reading skills anyhow).

            1. Patrick of the Wu-Tang says:

              Agreed. The only school districts keeping the “extra” programs are the districts with cash, the districts with people who make enough to send their kids toCollege thus making the high school diploma they earned meaningless. Its a system feeding on itself.

              My solution??

              Eliminate the federal element. We have become sophisticated emnough as a society that the federal government is unneccessary. It is an extra step. We pay taxes to a federal government, only to have them give them back to the states they originated from, after taking a hefty cut off the top of course. Rather than adding another middleman, eliminate the federal element and pay the taxes directly to the state. Employees of the federal government can be absorbed as employees of the states they reside in. While there are no hard figures for the level of inefficiency in the federal goverments oversight of public schools, if we use other government agencies such as Medicare and Social Security as a measuring stick of inefficiency, there could be an estimated savings of 36 BILLION dollars per year for public schools. Without raising taxes or cuttin funding to anyone….jus’ sayin. That would be an average of 4.8 million dollars for every school district in America.

              1. krellen says:

                Schools in America are almost exclusively funded by local revenue – almost always a property tax. Expensive neighbourhoods have more money for schooling. Most curriculums are also decided locally.

                And incidentally, Medicare’s overhead costs are 3% – by far the lowest overhead cost of any medical plan in the country.

              2. decius says:

                Do you really want to put decision making on border patrol policies in the hands of Texans?

                Federal issues should be handled federally, and local issues should be handled locally. The state Departments of Education need to focus on helping the local districts, rather than regulating them.

            2. I noticed something like this at my stepdaughter’s 6th grade open house night last week. I listened to her Reading class teacher, and then I found out she had Language Arts the next class. I immediately thought, “Why are these children taking two English classes? Why isn’t one enough?”

  11. StranaMente says:

    I am really skeptical about the diagnosis of ADHD.
    If you read the symptoms ( you could say that any child who DOESN’T have them is sick.
    And surely I’m not the only one thinking that:, let alone the estabilished risks for the lives of the kids.

    For me, even when those symptoms are serious, is more a case of bad parenting than a medical condition.

    Anyway, you were certainly a riotous kid back then, ain’t you?

    1. Xakura says:

      You are not alone; there is an increasing movement in the field of psyichiatry to severly limit their use. Studies show that having the diagnosis does not improve peoples lives in the long run (As opposed to “going undiagnosed”), and the positive effect of medication disappears after approx. 3 years. So you’re back where you started, except with a dependence on amphetamines.

      Still, the progress is slow, with phsychiatry inexplicably one of the few fields of medicine where continued education is not a requirement to keep your license. (Atleast here in Norway)

      1. Fuji says:

        I’m not an expert so don’t quote me on this but I’ve heard that over in the US, the proportion of children being medicated for psychological problems such as ADHD, depression and bipolar disorder far exceeds that of any other country.

        There was a documentary in the UK a while ago about bipolar disorder where a US doctor stated that some children as young as 2 years old (or was it 18 months?) would be diagnosed as being bipolar. I’m not sure if this is just a small case but, in my opinion, if this were the same for other psychological disorders then I think the number of false positives would be ridiculously high. It’s one thing for a parent to notice a problem and nudge it a bit to make it better and quite another for a child to be labeled with a disorder and giving them various treatments and medication.

      2. Methermeneus says:

        In the U.S., we have two different fields: psychology and psychiatry. Psychologists are the people for whom you sit on the couch and talk about your life, and then they help you figure out how to be a happier, more productive member of society. (Sometimes they call themselves “therapists” instead.) In most places they don’t require a license, although that can change based on state or even municipal law. Many people get degrees in psychology, but they’re about as likely to become psychologists as psychologists are to have a degree (that is to say, far less than 100%).

        Psychiatrists–the ones who can prescribe medication, suggest you go to an institution, etc.–do require a degree, even a graduate degree. In theory, extreme measures like medication are more limited by being doled out by people with more qualifications, but having more qualifications isn’t the same thing as being more qualified. To make matters worse, often a psychiatrist, for whatever reason–I suspect that having a larger workload within a region due to being less common is at least a part of the problem, though I can think of several less benign reasons–instead of sitting with a patient and getting to know them and their problems, will meet the patient rarely just so he or she can legally call them his or her patient, then medicate at the recommendation of the psychologist the patient actually sees on a regular basis.

        The point, I suppose, is that we have legal safeguards to make certain that at least people with degrees are handing out the prescriptions, but in the end in practice our situation is just as stupid as yours in Norway.

        1. Every state I’ve checked has a State Board of Psychology and requires psychologists to be licensed and registered if they’re going to practice. (I have a friend who does not practice because he has a Masters and is not licensed.) In fact, you get that license as part of completing your Ph.D. program. If you don’t claim to be a *psychologist* you *may* be able to get away without being licensed–up until somebody sues you.

          Psychiatrists are MD’s (they *have* to be to prescribe drugs) and if they’re practicing they’ve graduated from medical school and done an internship just like your family practitioner. In fact, the psychiatrist I went to years ago WAS a primary care physician who specialized in a more holistic health path that incorporated mental health as well as physical.

          In general, though, if you’re going to a psychologist you’re getting therapy and if you’re going to a psychiatrist you’re getting medication. *Usually* one will recommend that you also visit the other in order to get the most out of your plan. Good professionals are well aware that the outcomes from medication alone and therapy alone are rarely as good as if you combine the two. If you go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist and they DON’T recommend that you either a.) get a physical checkup or b.) talk to a therapist, GET OUT NOW.

          That being said, ADD/ADHD may have more to do with DIET than anything–children put on a high-fat, low-carb diet with few processed foods have shown marked improvement in their ability to focus and stay on task. (There’s also some anecdotal evidence that this may alleviate or even eliminate childhood seizures.) Your brain and nervous system use a lot of fat, and a *lot* of modern food has had the fat intentionally removed or reduced. And it’s LOADED with sugar. You wouldn’t BELIEVE what I had to go through to find some full-fat, sugar-free yogurt locally.

          1. StranaMente says:

            In Italy is pretty much the same.
            You begin studing psychology at college and on the 3rd year you chose to specialize in either being a psychologist or a psychiatrist.
            If you branch in psychiatry, you have to take many exams that belong to the medical course (such as pharmacology, biology…).

          2. methermeneus says:

            Maybe I’m confusing “therapist” with “psychologist.” The problem, of course, is that so do most people who aren’t in the profession who may well go to an unlicensed “therapist.” My comment on how the psychiatrist/psychologist relationship doesn’t work out so well is based on secondhand experience from a couple of friends who experienced exactly what I described, but I will admit that my sample size is severely limited.

        2. Meredith says:

          Um, you need a PhD or PsyD and to pass a state licensing exam to be a Psychologist, including a school counselor. It’s quite regulated. It also takes longer to get a PhD in psychology than to complete most medical specialties. The field gets dumped on enough without rumours like this spreading.

        3. PAK says:

          Others above have basically covered this, but you have slightly confused the general term of therapist with psychologist, when they are not quite synonomous. Arguably, all psychologists are therapists, but the reverse is not true, and using the term “psychologist,” specifically does require licensing in every state in the union. However, in many states anyone can call themselves a “therapist” without a license. In fact, one can call themselves a “psychoanalyst” without any kind of training, which may be part of your confusion. (Psychoanalyst is an arguably archaic term referring to schools of thought with regard to the structure of the mind that are strongly influenced by the work of figures like Freud and Jung.)

        4. Xakura says:

          I just want to make sure I made myself clear, of course psychiatrists have an extended education, beeing in essence a specialized doctor, what I am talking about is, and I don’t know the correct translation, continued education after your degree, to stay up to date on current developements.

    2. lurkey says:

      By those symptoms, I totally have an ADHD whenever I’m forced to be present at weekly business meetings.

    3. Robyrt says:

      I think you missed the severity clause at the end of that list of symptoms. There’s a difference between boredom and near-total inability to concentrate or remember mundane tasks. My brother (who has seen no benefit from medication) is barely able to remember a list of 3 unconnected items. He needs to be reminded to check his email, although he is at the computer multiple times a day. Filling out a form and turning it in basically requires someone else to be present for the entire process. Arbitrary facts, like math symbols or history tidbits, require constant repetition to “take”. Video games are fine, because they repeat concepts often and frequently enough that he can learn them at a normal pace. Real life, though, just doesn’t transmit enough of whatever chemical says “Pay attention!” to the rest of us. He is otherwise a well-adjusted, wonderful person.

  12. Sem says:

    The central aspect of my learning disability was that I was immune to the currency of arbitrary awards and punishments

    I have the same problem. I got high grades until I was 15 because could just coast by. After that, I saw that I needed to do real work to get those A’s and I realized that most courses didn’t interest me all that much. Even worse, at the same time I received my first computer and that did interest me a lot more. As a result, my grades started to plummet until I got into college and started studying computer science.

    At my current job, I explained that I’m only going to stay as long as they provide me with interesting problems and that if they dare to promote me, I’ll quit (Promoting here usually means less programming and more meetings & interacting with people. If there is a hell that would be it IMHO.)

    The only external motivation that worked was money but only to a certain extent. Once I reach enough to provide myself with a modest house, food, a minimum level of comfort and be able to amuse myself with my hobbies (who are all fairly inexpensive (books, internet, games, etc)), more money isn’t going to do much for me. So, at this point, a raise is also a fairly weak motivator.

    1. Kdansky says:

      Money is known to be a bad motivator. People react to it much less than they believe. Go ask someone “how much harder would you work if you earned n% more?” and be astonished that nobody would, yet thinks everyone else is motivated by money.

      Sheds light on this.

      1. Sem says:

        True but as you said yourself People react to it much less than they believe so I expect it’s an important factor in choosing a job while in my case as long as I reach my limit I don’t care all that much. What I’m going to do in my job is much more important to me.

        Admittedly, because of the correlation between job status and wage, it could also be that people choose a higher-paying job not because it’s pays more but because it’s higher status. I read one study which I found baffling. Giving fixed prices on the market would you choose getting a raise of 100$ and all your colleagues 200$ or getting a raise of 50$ and your colleagues nothing. Most people choose option 2 indicating that the status difference between people is important to them and not the value of raise in itself.

        1. Daimbert says:

          My objection to all studies like this is that the explanation — ie, status in this case — ignores issues of justice and injured sense of justice. It doesn’t seem fair to give me a raise that leaves me actually behind everyone else in terms of having a raise. My sense of justice is more important to me than $50.

          1. Atarlost says:

            There may also be an instinctive understanding that rarity contributes to value. Certainly the proposed situation is impossible. If more currency is available without an increase in products for sale inflation is unavoidable.

            Thog value rare shell. Thog trade rare shell to Gru for new spear. Thog not value common shell. Gru not trade new spear even for many many common shell.

          2. Susie Day says:

            I wonder how people respond with an equal option. 100/200 or 50/50 or 25/0 .. or possibly the other way around: 100/200 or 50/0 or 25/25.

            I know logically, I would choose the 100/200 … even though it would suck to be paid less than everyone else, I would still rather have the cash. The again, I’m dirt broke right now, so $100 extra sounds really good! the study should ask monthly income as well so that type of thing can be accounted for.

            gah! I would love to do psychological studies on people! :D (also the reason I should never be allowed to have children ;-))

            1. krellen says:

              $50 might not make a difference – but what if the choice was (assuming prices do not change) between you making $50,000 and everyone else $100,000, or you making $25,000 and everyone else $10,000?

              1. Timelady says:

                The first option. I wouldn’t want all my coworkers to have to try and live on $10,000 a year. :P

                …Assuming I like my coworkers, of course. But even then, there would be a certain amount of guilt there.

              2. decius says:

                Would you rather work somewhere where you made $50k, but everyone else made $100k, or somewhere where you made $25k and everyone else made $10k?

                That’s a very slight change in the phrasing, but a huge change in the question: Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond, or a tiny fish in a huge pond?

  13. Rodyle says:

    Argh. This somewhat reminds me of my own days in what we Dutchies call ‘basic school’. I didn’t enjoy any minute of it. I did not have much homework, but I really disliked doing anything for it. I most of the times just stared out of the window daydreaming and was punished for this from time to time, and I couldn’t understand why. I disliked doing the work.

    Worst things for me:
    – Writing lessons. Somehow, you were supposed to be rewarded for doing these by getting stickers, and if you got enough you could drink a cup of tea with the teacher in the break. But why would I want that? I hated tea at the time, and I liked to hang around under the trees in the breaks. I started doing the worst job possible just so I wouldn’t get those stickers
    – Book reading. After you were done with your regular work, you were supposed to sit around, read a book, and when you were finished with that, write a bit short synopsis and what you thought about the book. I loved reading, but I didn’t want to write about them. It’s bloody busywork, just let me get on with my next book in stead of punishing me for reading!

    The bit with the backwards letters hits home for me as well, though in a slightly different way. I did not put the letters in the right order at the time because I didn’t see a good reason to do so. I knew what I meant and I did not see how the order was so important. And I was punished for that.
    Apart from that: the bit about bullying went somewhat differently for me. I was bullied (verbally) for quite a long time; nobody did something about it. And when I finally stood up for myself, somehow I was getting punished for doing so. It just wasn’t fair.

    Man, when I’m able, I should look into some of my old reports, to see what my teachers wrote about me.

    1. Raygereio says:

      in what we Dutchies call “˜basic school

      For reference: the Dutch “basis onderwijs” can be compared to the US “elementary education”.

      Apart from that: the bit about bullying went somewhat differently for me. I was bullied (verbally) for quite a long time; nobody did something about it. And when I finally stood up for myself, somehow I was getting punished for doing so. It just wasn't fair.

      Oh dear Ao. Bullying. I was bullied so much (verbally and physically) as little kid that at a certain point even the mearest thought of going to school made me physically ill. At my school some of the teachers actually did try to help me, but there was just nothing they could do.
      It finally stopped in the last year of elementary school after I just snapped and made my displeasure of being bullied known via repeatedly hitting five of my bullies with a metal pipe.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Google Translate offers ‘Elementary School’. I’m fond of ‘middle school’ myself, if only because our ‘Middelbare School’ is pretty equivalent to American High School. Again, the Googles seem to agree.

        [insert Old World Blues joke here, once you think of one]

      2. Kdansky says:

        I’ve made the experience that nothing but completely over-the-top violence will stop bullying. I did that three times in my life (which are the only times I ever fought back physically, because I really dislike violence), and it always stopped the bullies for years. Make them cry, try to break a nose. That will scare them.

        If the bullies are afraid of you, they won’t bully you. Because bullies are cowards. They do not stand for ideals, they are not motivated and they hide in their crowd. Which makes them crumble as soon as they lose their support and face real danger. The only problem being, you will always be in a disadvantage to begin with, so you need to resort to more than just playful punching, or else they will just get their friends to pile on you. But if you hit them with all you’ve got, bystanders will be too afraid to stop you.

        I will certainly explain to my children that they have to fight unfair and give it their all. If you hold back because you don’t really want to hurt the other, you’ll lose the fight. Kids are sturdy and not really that strong. Chances of serious injury are small (and I do not pity bullies). I hope there will be a point in my life where the principal calls me, because my son/daughter has just bloodied a bully, and I can then say in a stern voice: “Of course I will discipline my child!” and then go and buy ice cream as a reward instead. :)

        This might seem strange to someone who has never been bullied, but believe me, it works like a charm.

        1. Halceon says:

          I’ve openly dealt with bullies only once. And it all ended with me holding the guy in a corner, his head in my armpit. And since that was after some escalation of hostilities between my friend group and his, there were enough spectators to see the message I was trying to get across – I was not a threat so they wouldn’t feel the need to take me down, but there was nothing they could do to me.

          And I think that’s the optimal thing to teach your kids – to disarm and disable, not to crack skulls.

          1. StranaMente says:

            Where I studied (secondary school) they weren’t as much as bullies, but small criminals. More often than not they had knives with them, and they usually walked in groups/family.
            So the best policy here was to “mind your own business”.

        2. Alexander The 1st says:

          I’ve been bullied before, and I’ve never had to resort to the Magneto route. I’ve always gone Prof. X route. Always took the high road, which, while it did lead to me being bullied a bit more and at one point led to them throwing ice balls at me unprovoked at the end of winter while I was walking home, I actually did go through official channels of help (Teachers, parents), and what eventually happened is that the principal made sure that the bulliers never were in the same class as mine again.

          Though maybe I can take the peaceful route because of the culture of our country, Canada – we generally think that if anyone were to try and take us over, the U.S. would get involved, so they keep others off our lawn for us. And if the U.S. try to take us over, Britain gets involved (What with, you know, the whole “Governor General” thing and all that. :p).

          Still, I’ve never had to resort to violence. Paragon Shepard for the win!

        3. Jethro says:

          Yes- my being bullied in high school didn’t stop until I went Postal one day and almost put my bully in the hospital. Fortunately for me, the teacher who witnessed the event supported me to the administration, and I was not disciplined. After that, I was left alone by the bullies (and admired by the girls, so anothee positive outcome!).

          The sadly ironic fact is that I am now a pacifist, and have to explain that philosophy to my own children.

        4. BenD says:

          I agree with you, but I must caution you that your child will, in this day and age, probably be suspended or possibly expelled for a no-holds-barred show of violence. Obviously this doesn’t matter in the long run, but be prepared to do some home lessons so they can keep up when they return to school!

        5. Jarenth says:

          I suppose that would depend on your local bullies, though. In the few years I was bullied, I never responded much (if at all) because I literally didn’t know how to respond. This made me a boring target, and the bullies just moved on, I guess. I can’t remember them actively picking on other kids afterwards, though, so that might’ve been just a lucky-timed change of heart.

        6. Susie Day says:

          I wish my parents had given me such advise. My mother is an extreme pacifist, and drilled non-violence into my head to a point where I didn’t feel like I could stand up for myself. I would be openly physically abused in front of the teachers. I was stabbed with pencils once to the point of blood, and when I went to the teacher, she did nothing. I had to sit next to those bastards every day in gym class, and they made life hell for a year.

          And people wonder where I get my passionate hatred of bad teachers. :-)

        7. Felblood says:

          This only works if you can actually win a fight with a bully.

          I solid boot the ballsack has saved me many an hour of torment, but lost fights have earned me many an hour of detention.

          Lesson learned: the witnesses belong to the winner.

          1. Kdansky says:

            Exactly. That is the reason why you cannot ever hold back in that situation. Only if you risk hurting them you stand a chance. You have to demonstrate that you have a sociopathic edge and put the fear into them. Play it up, use theater skills, bluff and fake it. But make them believe it.

            As for detention: I’ll gladly trade a minor disciplinary punishment for not living in the hell that is constant bullying.

            Expelled? No. Just no. If you overstep once every few years, no sane school system could expel you. And where I life I don’t think they can expel anyone. Schooling is mandatory.

    2. Alexander The 1st says:

      I did not put the letters in the right order at the time because I didn't see a good reason to do so. I knew what I meant and I did not see how the order was so important. And I was punished for that.

      Hey, you remember how Captain America was the result of a single dose of a serum that some German scientist managed to perfect, but his notes were of only use to himself, and nobody else could re-produce his results (After the scientist himself and the backup serum was all destroyed) because nobody could read his notes?

      Yeah. That’s why you were punished for not putting the letters in the right order.

      1. Rodyle says:

        But they never explained to me what I did wrong, or why it was wrong of me to do so. I now understand, but try telling a, what, six or so year old boy that, which is kind of integral to learning why it’s wrong.

        1. Alexander The 1st says:

          Simple – give them the origins of Cpt. America comic. :p


          Seriously though, what I’d say is that writing stuff down isn’t for your own sake – it’s for you to become the giant that others stand on.

          Also, collaboration.

    3. decius says:

      I had a weekly assignment once where I had to write a brief summary of something I wrote. After I figured out that the teacher couldn’t possibly read and think about the sheer volume of text coming at her, I started reusing old summaries. If WordPerfect had a better cut/paste interface, I never would have gotten caught…

  14. Jjkaybomb says:

    I remember getting Weekly Readers!! Though… I cant remember what grades we got them in. I dont think we got new ones, though. the teacher just handed them out, asked us to read, then hand them all back in. Some teachers just had issues they thought were especially relevant to a subject they were teaching, and kept the copies so they could hand them out each year.

    1. kmc says:

      Yay Weekly Readers! But yeah, now you mention it, I think they used to make us give them back. I definitely don’t think we got them every week. I was always disappointed about that. But I remember liking the way they smelled.

  15. Patrick the Moderately Effervescent says:

    Not that anyone cares, but I tried tirelesly to hit Shamus in the face with the flying fist from my Shogun Warrior( BTW. Greatest. Christmas. Ever.) and never succedded. He conversely took perverse pleasure in shooting me in the head with his tedious missle-fingers, whenever I wasn’t looking of course. Usually when I was reaching under the sofa to retrieve my poorly aimed Shogun fist. Believe me when I tell you his frustration at adults, showers and worrksheets manifested itself into a daily beating with pinkie sized missles shot from the hand of a plastic Godzilla nemesis. Accursed missle fingers……

    1. Shamus says:

      While reading up on this, I also ran into a page that talked about Stretch Armstrong. Remember him? Remember how he broke open and we assumed his insides were toxic? They weren’t! It’s like, corn starch or something mundane like that. We could have repaired him with a band-aid. (According to the webpage.)

      Ah, farewell, Stretch.

      1. asterismW says:

        What, didn’t you ever try to eat the stuff? That was, like, the first thing I did when I broke him apart. It was sweet, like corn syrup.

        1. Shamus says:

          EAT it. Man, I TOUCHED it and went and washed my hands.

          Although, history has vindicated you. It was pretty much food.

      2. Patrick the Moderately Effervescent says:

        I do remember breaking him open. I remeber it was green or something? And I thought it was toxic, or at least bad for you? I vaguely remeber some kid dying from eating it…or something? Maybe that was schoolyard rumor….
        I also remeber Mom being furious that we broke it. I think she paid a good amount for it.
        I also remember Mom being furious when we stretched it all the way out and whipped each other with it. I distinctly remember now being spanked for whacking you in the back of the head with a fully stretched Stretch Arm Strong whilst you were Lego-ing. Good times….

        1. Dev Null says:

          Stretch Armstrong had a Godzilla-like enemy, didn’t he? And Shogun warriors were totally awesomed; like Star Wars figures but 2 feet tall…

          1. Pweent says:

            Yes, Stretch Armstrong’s counterpart was called Stretch Monster. Stretch Monster was an awesome toy for about a week, at which point my dog bit him just hard enough to puncture the skin in a couple of places, resulting in a leak just slow enough that I didn’t notice it. Stretch Monster was placed on the top shelf in my bedroom where he bled out over the next few days, leaving a truly ridiculous glue-like mess all over everything.

            Somehow my parents did not see fit to grant my wish for a replacement.

  16. ccesarano says:

    Your rants on the public education mirror my own in a lot of ways. It is contradictory every step of the way, too. Originally set up so everyone could have the basic education necessary to be a suitable cog in the machine, now public education exists for the single purpose of sending bodies to College. But for what? Who cares, as long as they’re good at everything.

    Which is impossible. Jack of All Trades is frequently followed by “master of none” for a reason. Yet the public education system insists that you must be good at math AND writing AND science AND art, even though for many their skills will only lean one way or the other. The number of teachers that actually pay attention to your abilities are few and far between as well. They just want their students to get A’s (and I wouldn’t be surprised if their paycheck or job security is tied to this little fact as well).

    The only people that seemed to stop and recognize my abilities were my art teachers in high school and a couple grade/middle school teachers. My sixth grade teacher was enthralled to see me reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, The Lost World and Sphere all in one year, and completely voluntarily as well. She was subtle about it, but she recognized that my talents were more in writing and art than in math and science. Unfortunately, most teachers didn’t care (in fact, the number of teachers that chewed me out for having a book in class far outweighed the ones that were excited that a student was actually willingly reading something beyond his grade level). In high school, my two art teachers recognized I had artistic talent, and looking back I can tell they were disappointed that I wanted so badly to get into video games and thus chose Software Engineering as my major (that didn’t last long). I kind of wish they tried to dissuade me from that path more, but then again, I was a teenager. Still, it was good to know I had teachers that cared.

    This goes back to what I said last time, where the number of teachers we’re getting shouldn’t really be teaching. They’re following educational classes with constantly changing rules of child psychology, and they ignore some of the most simple answers and reasoning.

    In terms of “special” classes, sometime around 4th or 5th grade I started having to take a “special needs” math class. I couldn’t keep up with multiplication and division could just go to Hell as far as I was concerned. Yet this class focused on students more individually, and the teacher was (thankfully) very kind. Yet the big breakthrough for me was in something no one else tried: pattern recognition. It may sound silly, but one day I realized the pattern that the 9 times table increased in incremets of (10-1). I saw 9, 18, 27… and going backwards I saw 90, 81, 72, 63… This pattern persisted in 8, only -2 in every 10s place. So 8, 16, 24, 32… Same with 7, only -3. I didn’t need much help with 6 or below.

    So next thing you know I’m suddenly excelling at my multiplication and my division sees improvement, and the teacher asks me what happened (instead of just assuming her methods worked). I explained it. In hindsight, it makes sense. Someone with a more artistic centered mind can grasp a pattern better than the silly rules of mathematics.

    I still use those patterns today, too. And I refuse to use a calculator for most multiplication and division. Which is funny, because I’m able to surpass or keep up with friends of mine that are masters with Calculus when it comes to doing basic math in one’s head and have frequently corrected them when they’ve forgotten to carry a 1 or something simple like that.

    1. krellen says:

      As an economist I follow is fond of pointing out, America’s education system fails largely because it fails to attract good teachers. America’s top students become lawyers, businessmen, occasionally doctors – they almost never become teachers. We as a society simply do not value teaching; it is low-paid, high-stress, long-hour work. Is it any surprise we have a dearth of talented teachers?

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I imagine a lot of the issues of US public education could be fixed rather simply: pay teachers more. Then, more people will be teachers, and more people will be GOOD teachers.

        1. ccesarano says:

          Don’t tell that to the people in New Jersey. I said it previously, but living here is awkward now that the Governor has tried to make villains out of them. Most of my friends are making as much as me, possibly more, but my family keeps saying stuff like “I actually contribute to society!” I think the assumption is all teachers just read out of the teacher’s planner, and thus all teachers must therefore suffer.

          Honestly, even if teachers are just a babysitter while mom and dad go to work, handling that many kids in a single room is hard. Especially since parents seem to be getting worse as time progresses (or maybe that’s just my assumption?)

  17. KMJX says:

    Ah, yes… the first years of school. Good times. I think. I don’t remember much.
    An old classmate -actually she was one grade higher than me, but we had two different grades in one class due to lack of students… or teachers, who knows – told me, when i met her 15 years or so later, with an admiring look how the teacher pulled me up by one leg once, because i’d find any number of excuses, like “I was at my brother’s birthday party, and didnt have any time left”, for not doing my homework. I frustrated them teachers to no end.

    I do remember hating homework. I also remember that i’d (seemingly) never put any effort in anything, and didn’t seem to pay any attention either. Last part wasn’t true, i was always listening, even if i didn’t look it. Sooner or later they stopped the routine of asking what they’d just explained to check if i’d got it. Besides, my grades were awesome… for someone who wouldn’t put any effort in aything if his life deended on it. Had i made the tiniest amount of effort, i’d top the class without breaking a sweat (not that i wasn’t always way close to it anyway… i was usually quite okay with being number two or three out of twenty-ish, as long as it didn’t take me any extra effort).

    Funny enough, later in life i’d get the worst grades for the few classes i’d actually put some effort in.

    I dominated math and sciences for a long time, but in junior high when the more complex algebra came up, i’d run out of time on tests. There’s not much that i didn’t get, it’s just that i’m way slow in putting things to paper, and never did until i was 100% sure i was doing it right.
    I hate writing stuff. I hate it even more so if i have to do it by hand.
    Whait what? Time’s up? but i hardly even started writing down the obvious solutions. Give me another four or five hours so i can prove to you i actually got it! Really did! Just need to cross-check it another two to five times, because i suck at numbers, and i can barely read my own handwriting, so i might have snuck an error in somewhere right around there…

    I’d put all my effort into most of phys ed, but was quite inelegant and clumsy due to overweight… wtf is the matter with grading based on results anyway? Actually grading phisical ed for any reason -.-‘
    Whoa, that worked me up a sweat, but it was fun, i guess…

    Languages -except the main language (Italian) in which i was always just a step above average, because obviously the classes went into more detail and i suck at remembering how this and that rule is called and how it is applied, and how you analyze that stuff out of text,i just get how it has to be “by ear”- on the other hand, i couldn’t care less, and would scribble and draw stuff i found funny during classes instead of paying attention to the uptenth explanation of the same damn two rules, and then just write that almost perfect to perfect score in the way to easy and short test sheets.
    Yay i was busy for 10 minutes, now what do i do for the next 40 minutes of this class?

    Later i figured out (ain’t i the smart one?) that i always put in 110% effort and have an unbreaking concentration right this moment while i’m doing it, but when i think i’m done, or lose interest, there’s absolutely no way i can care about it. Even if i wanted to. Which i usually don’t. That’s why i never ever did homework, and that cost me some credit for final grades too.
    By the way, i just forgot what i was doing right now altogether, so you tell me what it was, if you think it was something important.

  18. lazlo says:

    I think about your square peg and round hole situation a lot, and I’m always torn on it. Civilization and trade have made it valuable to be specialized, so there’s some value in focusing all of your efforts in the things you’re best at to make sure you do it awesome enough that you can trade your awesomeness at that one thing for everyone else’s awesomeness at everything else. But on the other hand, I greatly admire (and aspire to be in some measure) the renaissance man who has put great effort into improving the things that he sucks at in order to have a broad swath of abilities.

    In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important thing that school does, perhaps the most important thing it can do, is to expose you to enough things that you have the opportunity to find the ones you’re awesome at. So they have to force you to do things you don’t like for two reasons, one being that they need to determine (or they need you to determine) if you don’t like something because you’re getting over a novelty hump or if you really don’t like it, and second because some skills you may be awesome at later on have prerequisite skills that you may hate.

    And last, my son is in school now and has some issues with writing. For a while he especially had a problem with freeform composition. I finally figured out that he could write OK, and he could compose OK, but that they were both a little hard and he had trouble doing them at the same time. So I had him do his work in two phases, first typing out what he wanted to write on a computer, then printing it out and copying it from the printout to paper. I remember as a child our family had one typewriter. I think that if I had had access to the ubiquity of keyboards that’s available to my sons today, I would have been *so* much happier and more productive.

  19. SolkaTruesilver says:

    And thus we know why Shamus is not a bureaucrat. Such a promising cog gone to waste…

    Okay, kidding (about a promising cog).

    I do remember the bores of paperwork. The worst of all was the numeral practices. Dude, I know how to count up to 1000 since I was about 4, I mastered multiplication, divisions, additions and substractions after a month of classes, and you want me to practice 5 + 4 = ?

    Not only once, but 5 whole pages of such boring tests?!


  20. RCTrucker7 says:

    “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.”

    Well to be fair, ADD and ADHD aren’t really Learning Disabilities. They are Developmental Disorders, that happen to affect the learning process. I agree with you that those who fail to fit the model must have a problem, but I’ll give a little credit in that the model isn’t as closed or strict as it was in the 70’s. But, the other side of that is the classic school response; “There are X number of students in Shamus’ class. It’s not fair to them to take away from their learning time\ability because the teacher has to put that extra time into making sure Shamus is engaged and keeping up.” It’s a trite and wrote response, but is also, to a point I’d argue, a valid response.

    “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…”

    Totally and completely describes my entire school career.

    “If the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” had been around in my day, I certainly would have been diagnosed as such. But my problem had nothing to do with my ability to pay attention to things. I was capable on focusing on things for hours if I found them interesting. My problem wasn't my attention span, but my interest level.”

    The word “Attention” in ADD goes both ways. It does mean what it says, in that “But my problem had nothing to do with my ability to pay attention to things.” but it also applies the other way, “I was capable on focusing on things for hours if I found them interesting.” That’s the problem that comes into play. It’s not that all ADD peoplpe can’t pay attention, but that it’s hard to pay attention to that which doesn’t capture their interest, which makes it very easy to focus onto something that does, when it comes by. Therefore, “He\she has a decifit in the ability to pay attention.” My reply is that in the case of all ADD’ers it’s a case of not being able to pay desired levels of attention to a desired number of topics, and in the case of children, they may have that as well, but the other side is that the teacher has a decifit in the ability to work around that and engage the child in a different manner. But again, at a certain point, I’d refer you to my first statement.

    “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.”

    I had forgotten all about that “magazine”. I used to love the hell out getting my hands on it.

    By the way, I was diagnosed by three different docs (I wanted multiple opinions) as being ADD about 7 years ago. I took a couple of hours one Saturday, and after sitting down and thinking about my school life and some of my behaviors and choices in non-school life, I saw how ADD was right there along side me all that time.

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      I think that the part about ADD being also about attention to stuff that interests them more is why you have the stereotypical “Oh look! A butterfly!” jokes. It’s not that they can’t keep attention, it’s that they’re overly willing to change their attention to something that is disrupting their current focus of interest because something shinier came by, and now they’ll focus on that.

      1. decius says:

        I never hear of an ADD person watching a butterfly and suddenly saying “Oh look! A math test!”

        It’s not that we aren’t paying attention, it’s that we aren’t interested in what you want us to pay attention to.

  21. Arno says:

    I remember a lot less from my early years (and I’m only 18). I only have 3 or 4 memories of kindergarten and I guess it isn’t a coincidence that they are all embarrassing.

    In elementary school I had mostly troubles with reading. There were tests were you had to read a paragraph out loud and a teacher (that I didn’t know) would grade you on how fast you did it and how many mistakes you made. For years I scored very poorly on this test. The problem was not that I couldn’t read well but that I had troubles pronouncing words and reading fast out loud. And so during ‘reading time’ I was forced to only read way too easy books which were boring. This left lasting remarks that I still mumble a lot while speaking today and that I looked at reading for most my life as a stupid chore devoid of any fun.

    1. Rodyle says:

      ARGH. Thanks for reminding me. Even at the time I was vexed about how they thought reading out loud and ‘stil lezen’ (literally: silent reading) were even remotely comparable..

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I don’t think I had any problems with reading out loud, but it is DEFINITELY different. Some people (not me) have trouble managing to read something and figure out how to pronounce it at the same time, not to mention all the other subtle pauses and stops and all that. It’s not that they’re stupid or anything, it’s just that it involves a lot more than just knowing what the words mean.

  22. Robert Conley says:

    The proportion of students with special needs is simply staggering in today’s school. You have to wonder at times what is going on.

    As mentioned in a previous comment I have a son with aspergers who is high functioning. He is my first born there was a long period of time where I had some doubts if I was doing something wrong and that I may be taking more than my share of special services for him. But after the birth of my second son, who developed more normally, help to throw my firstborn’s issues into sharp relief. Which helped me to be a better parent for him and also helped understand better the issues he was facing.

    There is no doubt that some kids are getting special services because of overzealous parents. I seen some situations where I was wondering why the kid was here. But on the flip side I seen kids greatly benefiting from special services and medication. Including my own son. The rub is figuring out the line between the two.

    There is really simple answer to resolve this other than it up to the parent to educate themselves and make the best decision possible. It helps to be honest with yourselves.

    What I don’t want is return to the 50’s and 60’s where these kids would have been expelled, paddled, or any number of horror stories that were endemic to kids with special needs of the era. The 70s, Shamus and my era, were a little better but only a little.

  23. Friend of Dragons says:

    One of my few memories from early elementary school is bringing up negative numbers in math class only to get rebuffed because you couldn’t provide a physical representation of them.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      you mean like… a number with a minus sign in front?

      Did this teachers ever get past 5th grade? I’m starting to wonder.

  24. Robert Conley says:

    Paperwork sucks and for a child that thinks on different lines or does things differently the standards of public school can be a royal pain in the ass. My own particular issues were that I could read like a speed demon with ability to retain 90% of what I read, and that my hearing loss also nailed my language center leaving me a poor writer.

    Now nearly forty years later, I am the flip side with my two sons. One of them with aspergers, a form of autism. He is high functioning but has numerous issues. The younger boy is in elementary school.

    My conclusion is that while the paperwork sucks you have to do it. Or at least the 21st century equivalent of it. To anything interesting intellectually you need to master the basics of reading, writing, and math. In today’s age it is possible to get away with becoming a good typist if you are a poor writer. I had the school add regular typing to my eldest curriculum because of it’s importance.

    And no matter how it boiled down it involves repetitive and boring work which only a very few like. I hated it, my kids hate it. But the difference is that forty years later I can see the benefits of having solid fundamentals so I make sure they practice and do their worksheet. Often I will sit with them and coach them along. When a parent does this it helps the kid in the same way a coach will run with his football players or a boss helps on the shop floor with his men.

    Because I want them to have choices as they get older but to do they they need to master the fundementals no matter how much it sucks.

  25. HeadHunter says:

    “The central aspect of my learning disability was that I was immune to the currency of arbitrary awards and punishments.”

    I can see how that mindset applies to your outlook on gaming, as well.

    1. “Achievement Unlocked: Complete 50 vocabulary worksheets.”

  26. Methermeneus says:

    Once again, I read your life and see a less-fortunate mirroring of my own. It’s interesting to think of my own life through the lens of someone who had similar but not-quite-parallel experiences.

    I had the disadvantage of being able to see a very good reason for the stupid busywork at my school, at least at the age you’re on here: My mother had rather lovely handwriting (a unique script/print hybrid that has influenced the mode of my own handwriting, though unfortunately not the quality thereof), and I could easily see that my first-grader and kindergartener letters—overlarge, blocky, crooked, with sloppy capitalization—were not up to standard. I knew I needed practice, and I was willing to do things I found easy and beneath me to give me the chance for that practice. Not that it helped, particularly, as my handwriting continued to be substandard. (And, to stave off the inevitable comments, no, it’s not because I was a lefty being taught as a righty; I actually did learn both ways and prefer and use my left hand. Made learning Chinese calligraphy impossible, let me tell you: When you’re using a brush, using your left hand makes everything come out tilted wrong, and when you’re used to writing lefty, everything you do with your right hand comes out shaky and blotchy.)

    I was also fortunate that my first schools at least let me do my own thing to some extent. Writing exercises were my handwriting practice (I was delighted when they finally got around to introducing script, although no one ever enforced it like they kept telling us the next grade up would). Reading was relatively free, and unlike my later schools, no one minded if I finished the assignment and read something else. If a Social Studies lesson was boring, the teacher didn’t mind me reading so long as it was from the text (which was too big for our age group, meaning large swaths were skipped and thus new to me). And, finally, a lot of the writing assignments were fairly free, testing our ability to maintain good grammar (something I did well at) rather than to write something specific, a break from handwriting exercises.

    As I mentioned in my comment on your last post, it was later, after I moved to a new school, that the stupidity of the busywork set in. Largely, the school, in spite of being in a wealthy area and flaunting itself as advanced and high-scoring on standardized tests, was behind the one I had left, which meant I had nothing interesting to distract me in Math or Social Studies. (I still don’t know why History is called Social Studies below the junior high level around here.) I hated the new math classes; I had gone from just using multiplication and division when it came up (multi-digit multiplication! long division!) to speed drills in multiplication tables. (Goal: 25 random flash cards in 60 seconds, up to 12*12. I’m still not fast, but the long multiplication I learned in my previous school got me through Calculus, so I think I know which was more useful.) Teachers didn’t like me reading anything other than the assigned passages in Reading (this rigid method probably did help on standardized testing, I suppose), Writing assignments were usually the dreaded Five-Paragraph-Essay. (I was awesome at them. I also saw their complete uselessness, and I rarely completed any assigned during class anyway due to the fact that I still had to write slowly if I wanted my handwriting to be legible.*) Science, something I’d breezed through before, was so far behind my old school that even at that age I wondered how the kids around me functioned, and once again I was not allowed to read ahead in the book (if there was anything in it I didn’t already know; I doubt it), but had to pay strict attention to the teacher.

    *It never really ended, either. My college had a required class for freshmen called “Expository Writing,” in which you basically had to hand in a five-page essay every week, based on BS prompts from seemingly randomly-chosen passages. I had the class in the morning, and I still tended to write the essays the same day. (Luckily, by this point everything was supposed to be typed, so my still-slow handwriting wasn’t an issue.) We had to hand in multiple drafts, so I’d write my essay, then go back and mess it up a bit for a “first” draft. The style of writing required for that class was basically the next evolution of the five-paragraph essay. The style was not used in any college assignment in any other class (believe me, I was in a very essay-intensive major; never came up), nor was it useful for grant applications, resumeés, nor, well, anything else I can think of.

    Worse, there were new segments introduced: the Wordly Wise vocabulary lessons, as I mentioned in my reply to your kindergarten post, which seemed even more pointless than anything else because, don’t you learn words from books and talking? And these new “advanced” words that everyone else was learning were commonplace for me. The only good thing I can remember about two years of these lessons (before my family moved again, to what is quite possibly the best school district in the state, which I unfortunately didn’t figure out until partway through high school) is that the Reading lessons were tied into the Wordly Wise lessons, and we read one good story: Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt (although don’t ask me who thought that was appropriate for fourth graders; I loved it, but I can’t imagine my classmates even came close to understanding it). I even actually did learn a new word in that section: “veldt,” of course. I suppose I can thank Wordly Wise for my current love of Arsenic and Old Lace.

    The other new segment was Computers. (I can only recall ever seeing computers in the brand new science lab in my first school district; I was told we’d use them in fifth grade. Like I said, I moved in fourth. >.<;) Typing was the thing of the day. I didn’t need to learn to type. I had a DOS computer at home (Leading Edge, massive 256k hard drive, two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, state-of-the-art CGA monitor), I had to know how to type. I tried out a typing tutor at home once and got WPM numbers that would qualify me for a secretarial job. Is there anything more boring than being sat in front of a typing tutor for a half hour a day when you already know how to type? I tried to switch out of the lesson to see if there were any games on the computers, but they were Macs, which to me were these weird picture computers with a mouse next to them. I’d used a mouse before, but not to actually make a computer work; how do you tell it to do things without the console? I was stuck with the damn typing tutors. I can’t imagine the teachers were impressed with my accuracy ratings when I spent most of the class typing stories instead of what was on the screen.

    One other thing I just remembered was that this school had this reading competition thing. Books in the school library had point values associated with them, based on difficulty and length, I suppose. I recall that Goosebumps books were worth no points in spite of the fact that they were at the very least advanced for the younger kids. (I’d’ve made them worth one point each, at least, possibly more if I were a qualified teacher and knew exactly where they stood.) The reasoning behind that was to get kids to read different things. In order to get the points, you had to fill out a very small book report: Give a synopsis, talk about the main conflict and theme. I actually participated in this because it was my first introduction to literary analysis (although having a single line marked “theme” and a single line marked “conflict” isn’t very analytical), but I don’t think anyone noticed. I didn’t care about most of the high point incentives (I don’t remember most of them, but I think “pick the day’s lesson” and “extra credit” were among them), and when you spent points, you literally spent them rather than having separate gross and current totals. So, I never really went above twenty points, spending ten points for a candy whenever I could. I don’t think the teachers noticed that I had the kind of massive sweet tooth that could only be satisfied by reading three or four books per week far above my grade level because most of what I read was “frivolous” stuff like fantasy, worth four or five points each. (The Hobbit was worth six points. The school library didn’t have the rest of the series, even though it went through eighth grade.) By comparison, I recall a girl who was consistently praised for reading books worth huge points. (She even tackled the dreaded 19-point Little Women and the 16-point Heidi. I flipped through both, found them boring, and declined to borrow them.) She also saved her points; I don’t think she ever spent them on anything. The teachers loved her for having ninety points at the end of the school year. I was ignored for having accumulated and spent at least 160.

    Worse, there was no way to import books to the system. As I mentioned above, the Lord of the Rings trilogy wasn’t in the school library. I read the whole series in fourth grade. (The Two Towers was my favorite, especially the beginning. Seriously. My friends have no idea what’s wrong with me.) It took me… about a month, I think. While reading other easier books in bits of free time, enough to keep up with at least a candy per week. Not a thing did I get from that except the (admittedly heady) reward of having read the books. I’m told that’s impressive for a fourth grader. Certainly, it’s a lot more than just reading Little Women, especially if you think of it as one book in three volumes. Cyrano de Bergerac didn’t come to anyone’s attention either. (Still one of my favorite plays. Reading it in French had to wait about a decade, though.) Nor did The Lightbearer a fantasy epic I explicitly remember as being the first thing I read over a thousand pages (1,011, iirc). There’s not really any point to this paragraph except that I’m still a bit bitter that even the system in place for acknowledging accomplishment in a field in which I continued to excel even in that horrible, boring school brought me no acknowledgement.

    This thread seems to be a good place for remembering and venting about my childhood, regardless of whether something you said reminded me or something in the comments set me off. Now that I’ve gotten started talking, however, I promise to work on being witty and frivolous in more game-related posts!

    1. Sean Coner says:

      Odd, I never found Chinese calligraphy difficult to do left handed. The teacher was amused that I did it left handed, and the results I got were as good as, if not better, than the rest of the students doing it right handed.

      What I did find impossibly silly was the method of writing “term papers” forced upon me in 11th and 12th grades. It was a *very* rigid system using two different sets of note cards, outlines, several rough drafts and a final copy that required the use of a ruler to ensure your text never strayed more than X inches to the edge of the paper, all made worse because I was forced to write literary term papers on writers I absolutely loathed.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      What? The hobbit was only worth 4 points, and Little Women was worth NINETEEN? Gah. I hate classic literature, most of the time :( (I wonder what my current book would be worth. Atlas Shrugged. Longest book I’ve ever read)

      And no Lord of the Rings? This… makes me sad. The founder of THE most common read genre… and it’s not in the library. What is wrong with people :(

  27. Lalaland says:

    I agree Shamus that there appears to be a real bias towards medicating kids who don’t conform to some crazed mythical ideal pupil but the rise in diagnoses is mostly because we now actively look for these conditions and teachers are taught to look out for them.

    My own father has severe dyslexia and didn’t learn to read until 22, growing up in 1960s Dublin there was no attempt made to even try and help him. Instead more effort was put into finding reasons to just give up on him. In the end he was told he had an ‘inferiority complex’ because he kept getting asked to read text and would then get roundly abused and told he was stupid, “If you have brains, you’ll learn”. His fear of this was apparently his fault and once the school had the diagnosis that was the end of their efforts, as to why his own parents used this excuse too, that is another far sadder story.

    The truth is that it seems that while ‘most’ children can and do learn well in standardised school systems a significant proportion don’t. I’m glad that schools at least recognise this now even if given the chronic underfunding of primary (K-12?) education in this country it tends to mean that they merely know why the child is having problems. I think this is the issue with public education in general, it is a public good worth delivering but for significant portions of the population that education is a lot more expensive to deliver(special needs assistants, higher pupil/teacher ratios, medication, etc) possibly too expensive for a public system to actually deliver well.

    1. Heron says:

      possibly too expensive for a public system to actually deliver well.

      I don’t really buy that (um, no pun intended). It’s a matter of priorities, not ability; the government (both state and federal) has plenty of money it *could* spend on education, but it chooses not to. When they do a round of budget cuts, do they cut the shiny expensive golden-toilet programs? No, they cut the education budget.

      There’s one glaringly obvious way that schools could improve their ability to teach students: reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. The problem is, to do that you need more teachers, and to get more teachers, you have to offer more money. Most of the people who would make good teachers don’t teach, because they can make a lot more money doing something else.

      But offering higher salaries runs contrary to the apparent goal of running the education system on zero income.

      … Then again, maybe I’m just bitter about my middle school opting to buy new air conditioning for the administrative office, rather than (say) new textbooks.

      1. Jonathan says:

        We are spending a very, very large amount of money on the school system, and not getting better results. The industrial Prussian worker-bee creation system needs to go.

        1. Heron says:

          If we’re spending a “very, very large amount of money” on the school system, then we must be literally pouring it down the drain, because my father-in-law-the-high-school-teacher hasn’t seen any of it, and in general we’re paying public school teachers about as much as you’d pay an illegal migrant worker to pick leaves out of your rain gutter.

  28. Hitch says:

    I had similar problems, but from a different angle. I’ve always tested well on standardized tests. I did less well in classroom environments. The issue for me was, on the standardized tests there was a right answer. That’s all I had to worry about. In a classroom, particularly in subjects like English, I had to give a “pleasing” answer. The correctness took a back seat. Even in more ridged disciplines like Math, getting the right answer shared emphasis with “showing your work.”

    It always annoyed me to lose points for not showing my work on steps I considered trivial, even though my answer was always right. When another student would get an answer completely wrong, but filled a page with steps and transformations which he then used to get the wrong answer because his basic math was off and ended up with a better score. No one’s going to forgive an engineer when the bridge collapses because his formulas were good even though he couldn’t multiply correctly.

    As a result, despite the fact that I got decent grades through most of school. A “B” average, or sometimes a little higher. Ever report card seemed to include the notation, “Kevin is not living up to his potential.”

    I still don’t believe I was the one falling short.

    1. Funny Money Guy says:

      “Me too”. (At first, I hated showing my work and “having” to show it.)

      Luckily, for me, in the classes that had right and wrong answers like math, physics and chemistry, my teachers would accept the right answer for full credit, always.

      I was told that the showing your work is only there as an option to get partial credit for the Q when you ended up with the wrong answer.

      Since I make a lot of silly arithmetic errors, and I noticed that one such error with no backup nets me a 90% on a test, but one such error WITH backup nets me a 98%… that was enough motivation for me to show my work. (especially because I needed that extra 8% to pull my englishy scores up from the mid 70s where they were, so that my overall average was pulled into the high 80s where I would get rewards from parents and grandparents – like ice cream or toys or money instead of the low 80s where I got nothing)

      Incidentally, showing my work made me MUCH better at teaching it to others, later on. And then I found out that teaching the subject to others (especially while I was a student in the selfsame class) was my BEST (and PRIMARY?) way to learn.

      1. Hitch says:

        Showing your work was not optional for me. The presumption was always that if you didn’t show complete work (including trivial steps), you must be cheating. If the teacher was feeling kind, they might give half credit for a right answer with incomplete work shown.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Yeah, kind of necessary. I CAN do it without showing the work, fairly often, but most of my teachers haven’t cared if I skip really simple steps – like basic arithmetic. Mostly I always just needed to do the steps relevant to what we were learning that year.

          And teaching others IS one of the best ways to learn something, especially science, because it makes you try and find other ways to do things.

        2. decius says:

          My worst point was when I said “I got the right answer, and I’m the only person within three desks of me who got the right answer. How, exactly, do you think I cheated!?”

  29. Meredith says:

    “If you wanted me to do something, you needed to make me care about the work itself.”

    This is still me. I do a really half-assed job if I don’t know why I’m doing it or I’m not interested in the project.

    I don’t remember it, but I apparently got my first ever detention in first grade for refusing to take a maths test. I had to stay after and do it.

    All that stuff you said about the education system is so true. It’s so broken these days. I don’t even have kids and it upsets me to see all the failure in the system. (And no I’m not blaming the teachers, things are tough for them right now.)

    1. Funny Money Guy says:

      “This is still me.”

      Isn’t this everybody?

  30. webrunner says:

    Shogun Warriors were basically imports of japanese toys based on japanese giant robot series. Most of them were originally unrelated: the one in the picture is Brave Raideen. I assume the fist one is Mazinger Z.

  31. James says:

    Due to only recently leaving school, well i suppose you’d Americans would call it collage, but lets not argue over semantics.

    i can only say the problem with rigidity in the school system is still their, you work hard, without making a fuss or issue and your reward for not being a loud annoying, constantly disrupting ass, is to be completely ignored, you hand work in it disappears mostly to never be marked. where as the disruptive children (not the ones who genuinely find no benefit in the work like you did,) gain all the attention, and when they do a tiny smidgen of work, something i did over a hour ago they get praised, i did that an hour ago, i’ve gone on to do far more that hour then they have all year and i get nothing. as you pass into collage this is less of an issue, cut to get into collage you need good grades and to stay you need to work. i cannot tell you how hard A-Level Physics is, i couldn’t do it at all i failed so badly i didn’t get a grade.

    And i agree the Idea that everyone learns the same and everyone learns at the same speed it stupid, i am quiet proficient with numbers and and pretty good with words, though my grammar can be abysmal, and without a spell checker i’d be screwed. i was one of the average kids, and according to an IQ test i did for fun i have above average IQ so thats nice, meaningless but nice. but yea i agree, i know one person who is very good at Literacy, but awful at Maths, he had to retake his exam.

    i’d like to add to the idea that everyone learns the same way, this is crap, personally i gain more knowledge for actually doing work, solving equations problems, looking up info and applying it, then being told it, just telling people this is how this works, and asking them to write it might work for some but not for me, it goes in but doesn’t stay ‘cus i haven’t used it, or applied it to anything.

    a good example would be my A-Level English class as apposed to my A-Level Politics one

    A-Level English was allot of this is how this works. now some of the times we applied this new knowledge, but some times we didn’t we just copied it down, the result after two years of study, and failed peice of coursework in a subject i had zero interest in (the development of language(which centered around children) i got a D.

    A-Level Politcs, we were given information, and then we did a test exam, on it or were asked to go away and do soem question on it, having to find some info ourselves, the second year was better. as in year 1 we did maby 6 mock exams, in year 2 we did maby 20-30. the result was a C, much better.

    the course was interesting and suited the way i learn. if schools and just accept that sudent are different and treat them as indivuals instead of a group the education system can really improve

  32. Chuck Henebry says:

    This autobiography is interesting as a record of how much primary education has changed in the last 40 years. I think I’m about 5 years older than you, Shamus, and I remember many of the same practices you record here. My son (now 15) didn’t get taught penmanship or spelling or anything, really, that required tedious worksheets. His writing is atrocious, and his spelling is just now starting to approach something decent. But he’s doing all right. I guess we’ll have to see what this new generation is capable of…

  33. What I’m surprised you and your brother haven’t considered, Shamus, is that the principal LIED to your brother in order to induce compliance. At that age, sure, if he’s caught then he has credibility over a child, but in hindsight? You’d remember getting paddled, he lied about it to your brother.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Unless said paddling counted as a traumatizing experience, and he blocked it out. Which I think is entirely plausible.

      Entirely possible he did lie, though.

      1. It’s much easier to create a false memory than to erase a real one, if such a thing is truly possible.

        1. Vi says:

          Incorrect. Dissociation is a recognized phenomenon in the DSM-IV, while researchers SUCK at creating false memories. They’ve gotten fairly decent at tweaking the details of existing memories, but for new memories it tends to require prolonged and deliberate gaslighting to create a tiny fragmentary memory of an extremely commonplace event in a modest proportion of test subjects.

          Here’s an overview of what they’ve studied at length and what they haven’t
          And from the same researcher, an experimental comparison of trying to plant, erase, or change non-dissociation-worthy memories
          And finally, an unaffiliated archive of corroborated memories that had been buried through trauma, including Holocaust experiences

          I’m sorry to put all this heavy stuff on your blog, Mr. Young!

  34. Dev Null says:

    I’m amazed by how clear your recollections of childhood are – and particularly your motivations at the time – Shamus; you articulate yours better than I can even remember mine. I wish I’d taken the time to do what you’re doing – write them down – back when I had the chance.

    Your reflections on the school system mirror a few conversations I’ve had recently. I’ve been involved in the theoretical side of learning a bit and particularly the idea of _motivating_ people to want to learn (learning games design, primarily.) I think the entire system of “grades” (meaning years of school, not ratings of success) is at the heart of a lot of the problems in the modern school system. To my mind, you shouldn’t be learning geometry in year 9 (or whenever they do it) you should be learning geometry when you have enough algebra to understand it. Some people would never get there, and do algebra all through high school, but at least there’s a chance that they’d come out understanding that much; as it is they get dumped into the successor whether they understood the basics or not, so they come out knowing nothing. And in the current system, if they do truly fail and get held back a year, they frequently get held back in all their subjects, instead of just the one(s) they’re having trouble with, and also they suffer the ridicule of their peers. If progression in each subject was individual and progress-based instead of yearly and automatic, you could follow each at your own pace, and there would be less stigma because repeating things would be far more common.

    Of course aside from that you also need to motivate the students by giving them short realistic useful tasks instead of hours of makework, and all of this would require more individual attention from teaching staff, which might require our schools being given a budget to hire more well-trained teachers. But thats a whole different argument I won’t get into.

    1. Irridium says:

      Speaking of Geometry, I took it after year of Algebra. Algebra I was great at. No problem with it, I enjoyed the class, and yeah, basically it was a grand ol’ time. What really helped me in that Algebra class though was my teacher was awesome. When I hit Geometry, it was like hitting a brick wall. I just couldn’t grasp anything for some reason, and struggled most of the year.

      I barely managed to pass, and got into Algebra 2, where I fared much better in. Though I still didn’t do so well, since due to scheduling errors I had to switch classes halfway through the year, which means I had to switch teachers and teaching styles, which messed me up. Both teachers were fine, but I just wasn’t engaged.

      I hated that school. The scheduling sucked, and piled too many classes at you at once. It was 8 classes, each 50 minutes. And it SUCKED.

      Then my senior year, I moved to Vermont and took trigonometry for some stupid reason. Right when that class started I knew I would never pass it. I didn’t understand anything, and just dropped it. I spent 5 hours at home trying to do the homework. I just couldn’t do it.

      That school was MUCH better. Instead of giving you all subjects at once in 50 minute increments, you choose what classes interest you and you spent longer on them.

      It was 4-5 classes, each about 120 minutes. Much better. More time spent on each class, more time to learn in class, and you can pick what classes your good at/want to take. Which, has the effect of getting you to pay attention more, since you pick what classes your interested in. Instead of being told to take a class you have no interest in/are not good at, and then people wonder why you don’t pay attention or don’t/can’t do the work.

      1. Dev Null says:

        My point exactly; there was no purpose in pushing you on to trig when you hadn’t got the fundamentals to grasp it; frustration for you, and no doubt the teacher too.

        The longer classes and fewer of them I like, because it gives room for more meaningful activity. I’m not so sure about just doing what you’re interested in – sometimes the fundamentals are boring but necessary. But I expect they didn’t _really_ let you just chose whatever you wanted, every semester of every year of high school.

        1. Irridium says:

          Well, I joined my senior year and already had pretty much all the credits I needed(all the math/science/english/gym stuff), so I was able to basically choose anything.

          They do still require you to take the base math/english/science/gym stuff, which many do their first year or two, and after that you’re more or less allowed to choose what to take and when.

          Basically, you have a set amount of credits you need to graduate(18 I think it was, can’t remember, it might have changed in the past 3 or so years), which include extra-curricular stuff and the base stuff. But you’re allowed to go about getting them your own way.

      2. Bryan says:

        When I was in high school I did OK in algebra, then failed geometry. When I went to college, I zoomed throught algebra, geometry and trig. The real difference to me was both the atmosphere and the teachers. In high school, the teachers would spend 40 minutes quieting down the class, 5 minutes glossing over a concept, then expect you to understand it completely. In college, the students wanted to learn and the teachers engaged our minds with real-world applications and interesting hypotheses to explore. That made all the difference for me.

        I’ve always done ok in reading, but my dyslexia problem always showed up in writing. In college, there was a computer lab for language students, and typing beats writing any day, so I did much better there as well.

        What is really interesting to me is that my dyslexia was overlooked for a very long time because it was misinterpreted by grade school teachers as stupid, idiotoc spelling errors instead of writing upside-down letters. (Vertical dyslexia was also unheard of, compared to horizontal dyslexia.)

  35. guy says:

    As an ADHD sufferer, I’m pretty sure it actually is a thing because it responds to medication-which I keep forgetting to take- but is considerably over-diagnosed. I think that the distinctive symptom is not being able to concentrate on things you like in general but are at a boring part in, like hitting a boring 5-miniute patch in an awesome video game and quitting. ADHD sufferers can concentrate on things that interest them for long periods, but only if they interest them right now. It’s part of why I don’t watch much TV; invariably I get distracted by something and wander off. Eg. I got distracted while writing this comment by thinking about a browser game.

    Given that you’ve managed to keep up this blog for many years with decent reliability for updates, I can say you aren’t currently suffering from it with reasonable confidence. Which isn’t to say it wouldn’t have been correct to diagnose it at the time, since apparently it sometimes fades in puberty. Or maybe the supposed fading in puberty is a result of false positives, I dunno. I guess you could try finding out if a large chunk of your extended family had similar problems, since ADHD is somewhat hereditary. My siblings have it, one set of cousins have it, my cool unmarried uncle seems to have it, etc.

    The thing with developmental disorders is that the only way to properly diagnose them without high rates of false-positives requires a CT scan or MRI, and that’s just not practical. Also, they’re an easy scapegoat for poor parenting precisely because they’re hard to diagnose. Also, everyone wishes they had a pill for their particular problem.

    I had an immense hatred of handwriting when I was younger, and was also terrible at it, to the point where it was nearly unreadable. Now, since I was and am really good at tests, I didn’t go to any sort of in-school special class because my grades were too high. I went to an occupational therapist outside of school instead, to work on my hand-eye coordination and muscular control. In the end, it was decided that I should write in ALLCAPS because it was easier, and now my handwriting is sufficiently legible. Of course, that resulted in me being terrible at capitalization when typing for a while.

    I also got to use a thing called an Alphasmart, which was a keyboard with a tiny screen that I could type things on. Unfortunately, it kept turning on in my backpack and filling with gibberish, so that didn’t precisely work out.

  36. ngthagg says:

    I think this has some relevance to some of the comments in the article.

  37. JPH says:

    “Why do I care if you give me a D? If I gave you a D would you stop giving me worksheets?”

    Best. Logic. Ever.

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      I’m pretty sure it would backfire though:

      “Oh! I guess that means I’m not challenging him enough! So I guess I’ll just get you MORE worksheets! If I give enough of them, that number is sure to go up!”

  38. Jakale says:

    So Shamus, what kind of work did the Special Ed class have you all doing? Clearly not worksheets.

    1. BenD says:

      Or, perhaps the teacher gave feedback and help on the worksheets, and praised good/focused work, etc. I loved doing worksheets for my (truly outstanding) 2nd grade teacher, but simply boycotted worksheets for my 3rd grade (so bad several parents filed complaints) teacher. They were basically the SAME WORKSHEETS XD Eventually my dad ‘assigned’ much of my 3rd grade work and reviewed it with me, then sent it back with me to school.

  39. Ayegill says:

    I think the public school system is a joke pretty much everywhere. I remember once in… middle school?(the sixth year of public school – in Denmark, the first ten years are all one long drag under the ill-omened name Folkeskole, or People’s School. Yes, that makes us sound like communists when you say it in English), in the Danish class, i was reading a Danish translation of The Fellowship of the Ring. You’d think my teacher would be amazed that i was reading a book so high above my grade level, but no, i get berated for not following the class. What were we currently learning about? I shit you not, the epic fantasy (or something similar).

    Though, when i read the English version in my English class the next year, my teacher just went “What are you reading?”, and i answered “the first Lord of the Rings. In English.” And she was like “Well, OK, go ahead.” My English teacher was the only person who did this sort of thing – later, i earned the right to sleep in the English lessons(no, really)

  40. xXDarkWolfXx says:

    Iv only ever been in 2 special ed classes, one was in elementary school and it was just a way to insure id actually do my freaking work. The other was in junior high/high school and i was mostly put it in that program because teachers thought “this kid has terrible writing and is doing bad in school LETS PUT HIM WHERE HE DOESNT NEED TO WRITE” and they were probably still confused as to why i was still failing.

    Later on it was discovered that i have a low processing ability, namely while other people can hear the instructions to do a specific thing in say science and understand it immediately it would take me a little while to process it and understand which lead to alot of teachers assuming i wasn’t paying attention.

    That’s also the reason that if you see me on Xbox Live and see me doing the same suicidal tactic and dying in any online game its because my mind hasn’t told me “no you should do something else now” it just hasn’t caught up yet.

    The worst part of all this is several times in junior high and elementary school the schools were all “oh we’re gonna get your son to an individual teacher type thing so he can do better” but more often then not it ended up being “oh its the end of the school year maybe we can do it next year” which lead to alot of annoyance towards the school system.

    It might be all the bad experiences iv had in school that lead me to automatically view the school systems as corrupt and terribly staffed.

    Needless to say the fact that it took around 14-15 years from when i started school (yes i did fail a few years and have to keep attending, hell im still attending to try and graduate) lead to me just assuming that i just couldn’t do any of this stuff that was so easy for all the other kids to do and that it was because i wasnt trying hard enough even though i was trying as hard as i could definitely contributed to some of my episodes of depression.

    After all this time i can only look at all the previous school counselors ive dealt with and view them the same way someone views the crime scene investigator who instead of actually INVESTIGATING and finding out what occurs just makes assumptions based on what he says right away and never changes them and it instead takes a different CSI to come along and find out what really happened.

    1. Ayegill says:

      After all this time i can only look at all the previous school counselors ive dealt with and view them the same way someone views the crime scene investigator who instead of actually INVESTIGATING and finding out what occurs just makes assumptions based on what he says right away and never changes them and it instead takes a different CSI to come along and find out what really happened.

      Sherlock Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has all the evidence. It biases the judgement”

      1. Dev Null says:

        They say that in all the CSI shows too… out loud. And then they go ahead and make random assumptions with no basis whatsoever, bias their evidence gathering around their theories, collar someone with almost no real evidence and wait 30 seconds until they confess (which they always do.) And whats worse, they always turn out to have been right because the writers are on their side, so they never get called on it, and people get indoctrinated into the idea that techniques like that work. I don’t really watch much TV, but it makes me so furious I can’t even be in the same room while someone else watches those style of shows; they pretend to be about the scientific method, but then show people total bollocks and call it scientific.

  41. BenD says:

    OK, so apparently my theory that spanking was out of date when you went to school was wrong. Or maybe you were in the gap where administrators could spank but teachers couldn’t.

  42. Jeff says:

    I don’t find these grim or joyless. We know there’s a happy ending, after all, so it’s interesting to see the journey.

    The most epic stories are about the journey, after all.

  43. Kyte says:

    I strongly suspect I’m gonna be the unpopular opinion, but you honestly sound like a nightmare to teach. I mean, a degree of independency and such is great, but you come out as basically a teenager in kid form, with all the rebellion and “I think I know more than you” attitude that usually comes then. Sure, the teachers failed in not explaining you the point in these, but you didn’t ask either, and nobody explains what nobody asks about.
    Of course writing is gonna seem slow & cumbersome, you refused to practice it! The work itself was meaningless, the endpoint for the journey that needed to be traveled.

    But this happened I-forget-how-many years ago and there’s not much point in arguing now. But y’know, so others realize teachers aren’t as evil as they seem.

    My mom’s one, y’see. Was my teacher more than ones, even. Can’t stand how many people think their teachers were evil. It’s saddening. Sure, many, many teachers are underpaid, mediocre and sometimes downright bad, and humans that can’t read the kids’ minds and figure out their problem (particularly hard when you’ve got any amount over 15 (my class was tiny, never more than 20, and even then teachers missed stuff. It’s inevitable), but the perception’s that most are as such, and this perception (plus the shitty pay), in turn, scares potential teachers away from education, which simply perpetuates the problem.

    Of course, this leads to the second issue: Parents. If the teacher fails, the job falls to the parent. (I always see “I was horrible at school/my teacher didn’t understand me/blah blah blah!”, and they never mention what did their parents think about that.) A good parent should ask why a kid got a bad grade. (Grades aren’t for the kids, they’re for the parents to know how the kids are doing. Grades don’t motivate, consequences based on those grades, given by the parental set, are the real motivators)
    For instance, I’ve got my little sister. She at first had trouble at math, so we asked her why. I don’t recall the specifics, but it was basically a lack of interest because she didn’t see the point of the subject. (Sound familiar?) So we explained it to her, she got it, she studied, and her grades went back up. Easy-peasy.
    Kids are pretty bright, explanations work wonders. If the teacher’s not giving them (unsurprising, because most kids just do their stuff and they can’t put their full attention at any individual), then it falls on the parents to take up the slack.
    In worst-case scenario, they should pick up on the fact their kid’s simply not fitting into the system and find a way to remedy the problem.

    Of course this is entirely my own opinion, based on how my parents raised my big sister & I, and how they (and I) are raising my little sister.
    “Parent” includes mother, father, stepmom, stepdad, older sibling (say, over 10 year difference), uncle, etc.

    1. Shamus says:

      I don’t pretend that I was an easy kid to deal with. The teachers weren’t happy either. They were miserable. I was very miserable. That’s just the way it happened. I am an introverted autodidact with a narrow focus and a lot of min / maxing in my stats. A classroom is about the worst possible environment for me.

      But I wasn’t a nightmare to TEACH. I was a nightmare to MANAGE.

      1. Michael says:

        What the school needed to do was send you to the “Special Ed” teacher all the time. You seemed to be doing good there – hell, you even enjoyed it.

        Or, perhaps, fire Mrs. Hardmaster.

        Reading these posts made me realize how much luck I’ve had with public schools. All of my teachers were people I genuinely wanted to hang out with outside of class.

    2. Bryan says:

      I agree that parents are also responsible for their kids’ education, but they have to be careful how they approach it. Unfortunately, my mother decided the way to motivate me was to whip me repeatedly with a belt until my grades improved. When that had the opposite effect, she increased the duration and strength of the punishment. I think that this is also a factor of my slow development before college, as well as my depression at the time. Somehow, the pain never increased my ability to learn, but sent me spiralling into depression.

      EDIT: Her always telling me how stupid I was didn’t help either. Don’t tell your kids they are stupid, because eventually they will believe you and give up.

  44. Riggaburtos says:

    So Oskar, when did you meet Eli

  45. Mom says:

    Shamus, as you are raising your family I want you to know that when you are much older one of your children will write a blog with thousands of readers. When that child turns 40 they will blog much about their education and growing up. Their siblings will jump in with their own comments about their shared experience. No one warned me that this could happen so I am doing the right thing and giving you a parent’s loving warning about your future.

    1. Patrick of the Wu-Tang says:



      *sobs and shakes….


      1. Ayegill says:

        Poor Patrick, always the guy with the shooting fist, left behind in the snow by his brother’s missile fingers, no-one to give him a Pepsi.

  46. Ambitious Sloth says:

    In third grade my teacher had us start to learn cursive. To teach she used a big pile of hole punched work sheets with a couple pages for each letter. On each page would be an example of a letter in cursive then a space below where you’re supposed copy the letter several times and then it would move on to words and sentences that used the letter. Each week we would start a new letter and then for 30 or so minutes everyday we would spend the rest of the week steadily completing the rest of the letters section a few lines at a time.

    I didn’t enjoy it, I just saw it as repetitive busy work, “I already know how to write and now you want me to learn this new goofy style?” as far as I could tell the only difference was that this cursive was just a bunch of pointlessly fancy loops. So by the time we finished “D” I was feed up with the whole thing just stopped writing on the worksheets entirely. I was in the middle of the class room, fairly unnoticeable since i didn’t really speak up, and my friend who sat next to me was also tired of writing cursive and stopped along with me.

    I don’t remember if I had any tricks to keep my quiet rebellion secrete from the teacher but this went on for months. It was the middle of the week and we were learning to write the letter “R” when she came over to find that both of us hadn’t written anything for months.

    Our punishment was to go and have the whole alphabet finished by the time the class finished “Z” and though my friend gave up and started doing his worksheets I never complied and continue to not do my work. It was about me winning at this point and reaching my goal of not learning cursive, though if I had seen the big picture I would have known it was hopeless to fight the teacher. Her final threat as we neared the end of the alphabet was that if I didn’t do my work I would be forced to come back to third grade to learn cursive; but then, lo’ and behold I moved to Canada over the summer and in midst of the grief of leaving friends behind there was a small victory for me as I would never need to go back to third grade.

    Years later I would have to learn some cursive so I could scrape together a signature for a drivers license and whatnot. But for me at least, though I do sort of regret never learning cursive now, roughly decade later, there’s a sense of beating the system.

  47. It’s amusing Shamus that you consider yourself as having “Attention Deficit Disorder”.

    Do you know what the positive equivalent of that term is?
    “Desire to do something meaningful” *grin*

    Yup, finding meaning in life is a disorder. *facepalm*

  48. wumpus says:

    Howdy Shamus,

    Your story looks to me like the road not taken; I placed into the ‘Advanced Program’ in the local public school system the year after we moved to Louisville, KY, which was the first opportunity. I’d spent pretty much all of second grade in the library, as I apparently either completed all my regular work spectacularly quickly or was given a pass on it? The former, probably. I was small and years behind my peers socially throughout high school (finally stopped growing about junior year of college). But I was ahead of even the kids in the Advanced Program’ intellectually, being both very smart and the son of two college professors. I occasionally had to take ‘Regular Program’ classes in high school and they were just hopelessly boring, so I’d do the work as quickly as possible and then read or work on more advanced projects. It helped to be the teachers’ pet, as they would generally facilitate the advanced study.

    There were three ‘tracks’ in the county public schools, ‘Regular’, ‘Advanced’, and ‘Learning Disabled’. Everyone seems pretty down on ‘tracking’, but I really don’t know what I would’ve done without it. Friends of mine went to an ‘experimental’ school where they could take classes at whatever level was appropriate, which seemed to work well for them, and that seems to be more how my kids’ schools approach things – tailoring curriculum to the students as best they can (with too many kids per class). It still seems to me like some sort of range of challenges/approaches is probably the way to go.

    I could easily see boredom having pushed me down a similar path to yours and many others who have posted here. I was extremely deferential to authority, though, and would never have considered letting down my teachers and especially parents. Did your Mom not guilt you about your bad grades? To me disappointing my parents was why I was the answer to, “Why do I care if you give me a D?”

    I should point out that even with several credits worth of college courses at the local public university under my belt to go with my ‘Advanced’ education, I was still completely unprepared, both intellectually and socially, for the private university education I qualified for. It very nearly broke me, and certainly completely destroyed my former image of myself as ‘the smart guy’. Having professors who really didn’t give a damn if I learned or not and peers who were as smart and better prepared was quite the wake up call to the eternal teacher’s pet.

    In the end, here I am, a 40-ish software engineer and gamer. Different paths to a similar destination. Interesting to hear your perspective.


  49. Krissy says:

    My husband is one of your devoted fanboys and he occasionally sends me links. This whole series you are doing right now is awesome. My husband told me I needed to come read this set by saying “Shamus has a real gift for writing, and it’s the sort of gift I could imagine many people returning, receipt carefully stapled to the box.” It made me happy. I think you are a great writer and I’m glad you are out there. :)

  50. Kevin says:

    Growing up I had very similar problems as you, writing my letters backward not understanding normal structure in schools. Luckily my mother picked up on this quickly and yanked me out of the public school system, early in first grade and home schooled me for one or two hours a day until I was ready to enter high school. I imagined I would be very behind my peers, because I missed out on nine years of school and spent about 10% of the time they did in structured learning. I was quite shocked to find that not only wasn’t I behind but I was winning tons of academic awards without really trying very hard. I believe the reason I really have no trouble assimilating into society and working fine is I was given the space I needed to grow as a child without being forced into a cookie cuter. These are very interesting to read Shamus and I look forward to more.

  51. Aldowyn says:

    So, unlike everyone else here, I didn’t have a horrible time in school – my issues were mostly about things like getting in trouble for reading while the teacher was explaining an assignment. An assignment, of course, that I was done with, probably before she STARTED explaining it.

    But, I acknowledge that grade schools suck. The problem is, is that the gap between smart kids and dumb (or normal, for that matter) kids is HUGE, much bigger than that between those same kids in high school (at least comparatively. The smart kid may be two years ahead, but he was those same two years ahead in 1st grade. Or was quickly). This is IMPOSSIBLE to teach, and I honestly have no clue how to fix it, other than assigning different assignments (which would inevitably lead to less for smart kids, if the teachers had any idea what they were doing, which would inevitable lead to outcries of “preference”)

    High school and middle school, when you can finally start taking advanced classes (which, until you get to Honors or AP classes in high school, are pretty much just classes where smart kids go, resulting in a better learning environment, not actually harder classes), it gets better. Not so much of the 50 minutes quieting down, 5 minutes teaching thing.

    I think I’m lucky in that I actually have a really good school. I’m in probably the oddest district in the state – we’re not affiliated with a particular town or city. We’re in a (mostly. It has its ghettoes) wealthy section of the city, resulting in better funding. The result: Better EVERYTHING, except for languages (… I’m really peeved about the foreign language thing. It’s a school with a THOUSAND kids in a grade, and they can’t keep up more than one language past sophomore year?) and the computer classes (some of the basics might be okay, but whenever I’ve tried to take an advanced one, the teacher has NO idea what she’s doing. The programming (in java only) teacher I have now teaches using a powerpoint and curriculum by one Leon Schram, and has no clue how to actually do it herself.)

    The math and especially science departments are still shorted, because not enough kids want to take a challenging course, and people think math and science are more challenging (they just require more busy work, really. REQUIRE, for a reason.) I have issues with a school with 2000 kids in it and ONE physics teacher.

    Those are relatively small gripes, though. For the most part, the teachers know how to teach and they get the job done. Not to mention the large community subset of smart kids, and classes for them, means that I’m always (always) among peers (or relatively peers), even if they’re interests are completely different than mine.

    Whoops, that was long.

  52. Lisa says:

    It’s interesting seeing how they dealt with you, and you dealt with them, Shamus. A lot of this is so familiar.
    I went to a small country school so there wasn’t much in the way of different classes for those who didn’t fit. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, since I learned to pretend to fit and didn’t shake myself out of that till my early 30’s!
    Not long ago I found my old school reports in a box and you can tell what relationship I had with subjects and/or teachers as comments range from “a joy to teach” through to “disruptive. Is not achieving their full potential” (How do you know what my potential is? Seriously.)
    I gave up questioning adults (as in asking questions, not wondering what the heck they were thinking) early on, as they either never answered the questions, or gave me some very strange answers that simply provoked more questions. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
    I’m not sure much has changed there, even though (in theory) I’m an adult now.

  53. Long Time Listener, First Time Caller says:

    Who here hasn’t heard of Khan Academy? It’s a pretty interesting non-profit organization that teaches and delivers lessons at people’s own pace, primarily math and science related, for free. It seems to pretty successfully address some of the issues people have railed against here.

  54. I am truly enjoying these bio posts (actually I enjoy all your posts), I know your writing them mostly for your own edification, but just felt like sharing.

    I was a C-D student from a family of A-B kids…often meeting teachers who had taught my older siblings.
    I learned pretty early to not take grades serious, which lead my parents to adopt the “bribery” method
    A+ would get you like five bucks, and F would get you nothing and so on
    But even that was not good enough to make me see the value of being evaluated, I still got Cs and Ds.
    For me the reward was learning something I didn’t know
    Which if you look at the work load of a typical student, is not as often as I would have liked
    School work is probably 8% learning and 92% proving that you learned something
    “Wow, I didn’t know that about George Washington…wait…now I have to write a 4 page essay about what I just learned…and then I have to read my paper to the class AND listen to everyone else’s paper too!”
    And if I didn’t write in a proper format, or if I never took my eyes from my paper during my reading, or if the last page only had one paragraph, the reward was a low grade.
    Thanks, but I got my reward early, I learned something before all this memorization and busy work
    After that what else is there?
    I have 2 college degrees, and this whole time I’ve still never cared if I failed or passed
    I get a better endorphin rush from learning then I’ve ever gotten with exercise and sports

    All hail the “Nerdorphins” !!

  55. Stupidguy12 says:

    I had this exact problem, of not being able to care about the useless sheets. I got slapped in the Advanced (supposedly better) classes which turned out to have a negative effect, because it was just more sheets on top of the other ones. Once I moved up in the education system, I still was just doing the sheets because I had to, but in exchange I was burning the will to live. I wound up not turning in anything at school for about half a year until someone did something, but I know what you mean about wanting to be told WHY you should fill out the sheet.

  56. mookers says:

    This is such an awesome series, and it should be required reading (including the comments) by anyone with an interest in teaching or education.

    I hope you don’t mind if I share it far and wide.

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s like a boss saying, “I hope it’s okay if I pay you extra this week.”

  57. Susie Day says:

    I HATED homework. I would skip it whenever I could. Parent teacher conferences involved the teachers angrily displaying stacks of “pink slips” to my mother.

    I might have been a candidate for “special ed” or a gifted program of some sort, who knows how that would have gone, but my family moved so much that the school never really got a grasp on me before I was gone. I attended 10 schools by the end of 6th grade.

    The ability of my teachers had a huge impact on my grades. I remember my first science teacher in 6th grade made us think, we did cool things like roll bowling balls down the hall. I had straight As in science … when I moved I got a science teacher who emphasised writing long lists of vocabulary words and lots of stupid homework. I remember learning about tectonic plates, and we cut out a map of the world and had to fit them back together or something like that. Antarctica was a long thin strip at the bottom. I went to the teacher and said, this isn’t what Antarctica is shaped like … what is the point of this project? There was no relation to reality, and that really bothered me. She basically told me to shut up and sit down and just do the work. That was when I totally gave up trying to do her homework. I listened during class, and got 100% on all the tests, but had an F because I refused to turn in any work.

    Add to that all the social awkwardness that comes from being a geek. In middle school I couldn’t even hang out with the other geeks because all the guys had suddenly gotten shy and wouldn’t talk to girls any more.

    It’s interesting how many smart geeky types do so poorly in school, and it’s always attributed to the busywork that they couldn’t be bothered to fill out.

    1. mookers says:

      It's interesting how many smart geeky types do so poorly in school, and it's always attributed to the busywork that they couldn't be bothered to fill out.

      This is why I am following this series closely. I see a lot of these comments applying to my kids, currently aged 6 and 9.

    2. Michael says:

      I HATED homework. I would skip it whenever I could. Parent teacher conferences involved the teachers angrily displaying stacks of “pink slips” to my mother…

      …That was when I totally gave up trying to do her homework. I listened during class, and got 100% on all the tests, but had an F because I refused to turn in any work.

      My teachers realized I wasn’t going to do my homework. Eventually it even got to the point where, if I did well in class, they’d give me some random passing grade for a homework average come end semester. My teachers were all really cool about the whole thing.

      I said it before, but reading all this makes me realize how lucky I had it with public schools.

  58. You’ll be interested to know, Shamus, that when they’ve done studies on people with the ADHD gene in societies like pre-agrarian herding societies, ADHD is POSITIVELY correlated with success. It’s one thing to say, “Someone doesn’t have this skill” or “This person exhibits this behavior”. It’s another thing to say that that’s a problem. Certainly, our society talks about freedom but tends to teach conformity and obedience.

    As for myself, I actually got along well with other kids (at least in middle school and high school), distinguished myself academically, etc. It’s odd that there is this idea that nerds have to not fit in…

  59. Dwip says:

    Penmanship was always my special bane. I eventually got to so my printing was relatively legible, but cursive was hopeless. And yet every year it was always “But they’ll make you use cursive all the time next year!” Yeah, no they won’t, and all those things you told me about cursive and pens in high school were lies too. And in any case, I like making my f’s with the bottom loop around the back and not the front, and what’s wrong with that, anyway?

    My mother is forever complaining to me about how schools are abandoning penmanship for keyboarding and what a crime that is. To which I always point out that you know, I use cursive to sign my name to checks once or twice a month, but my late arrival to keyboarding always slows me down, so what did those SIX years of teaching me cursive ever do for me?

    Apparently it’s supposed to teach you something or other about rote learning and muscle memory. I’d rather have had the spelling practice, to be honest.

    In my day in the 80s, we didn’t do the corporal punishment thing, but we stood in corners facing walls like bosses, or at least I did. Got to where I had a sort of strange relationship with the principal at the time. He liked me (teachers always did for some reason), so I was always showing him my Lego helicopters or Transformers or whatever, then a couple hours later he was scolding me and sending me to stand in the corner, and the next day it was like it never happened. I still remember the paint really well. The joys of memorization. I was probably the biggest discipline problem in the school for a couple years.

    Had to wait on the corporal punishment for a few years until my crazy sixth grade teacher started using stress balls as crowd control (but not on me, I had to settle for getting locked out in the snow with no coat). Strange year, and the resulting several years of infighting between teachers, my mother, the grade school, and the high school made for a very interesting adolescence.

    It’s amazing how easy it is for me to relate the experiences of very young Shamus to very young me. Slightly different spin, but that whole school sucks and makes no sense and why are you bothering me thing? Oh yeah.

  60. Ross says:

    It would be interesting to see how many of your readers suffer/suffered similar learning ‘problems’. I think it’s clearly a part of why most of us here spend our days in front of a PC and not in front of people.

    I remember when studying COBOL (COBOL! for goodness sake). We were given endless practicals that involved nothing more complex than extracting data and creating reports in various formats. In retrospect I suppose I can appreciate that there were intrinsic lessons involved such as good control-break coding principals or what not.

    I couldn’t make myself care though. I would look at the spec and get a report out in the required format with the absolute least possible amount of coding. Caused me to clash with my lecturer constantly. But really, what was the point. I already understood the principles and had more important things to learn with my time!

    Very cool autoblography by the way.

  61. silver Harloe says:

    GAH. I remember the square peg round hole thing well because in fourth grade I was failing math and was put in “special ed” classes. In the regular class, the teacher would put problems up on the board, and I’d totally flub them every single time. They were so busy trying to fit me into a round hole that they didn’t take a few seconds to ask me enough questions to determine that the problem was that I needed glasses.

    In 5th grade, instead of special ed, I was in the “Gifted and Talented” classes. And I got a degree in math. But clearly the problem was that I was “slow” and not that I couldn’t read the board.

  62. Alex says:

    I cannot “Like” this article enough. The educational system in Canada and the US is a travesty. It’s just rotten down the bone. For some reason I had it in my head that it was a recent thing, with my generation. Reading this, it looks like teachers and school-work bureaucracy have been failing kids for a long time.

  63. rrgg says:

    Hrmm, this looks like a good place to tell life stories. . .

    I never liked writing much either, I was always too slow at it. Combined with the fact that I liked thinking and daydreaming a little too much every time a sentence was taking too long I’d drift off and wind up staring at a wall for long periods of time. Taking hours to complete simple assignments wasn’t very fun so I eventually learned how to do the absolute minimum to get by: not taking notes, ignoring the least-important homework, etc.
    That worked okay, right up until college when everything sort of came crashing down. As it turns out, the problem I’d ignored that over the years had sort of festered into a full blown fight or flight response. And not the logical kind either, it was the “I literally can’t fill out this form because my brain will seize up and scream at me to run if I try to think about it” kind. Instead I wound up watching all the Spoiler Warnings, so, yeah.

    As for whether or not you have some form of autism Shamus, I would direct you to this informative Cracked article:

    1. rrgg says:

      Come to think about it, I actually was interested in learning as a kid so it was pretty easy to pay attention to the teachers and do well on the tests, so much so that I easily got straight A’s up until Jr High. (Actually there’s a funny story about the ISATs, a standardized test in my state that all middle schoolers have to take twice a year to see how much they’ve grown, partway through my schooling I started to notice that many of my scores were actually going up over the summer and then down over the school year)

      Anyways, the point is maybe it’s for the best that you got your bad grades early on when they don’t matter as much. Assuming they did get better eventually of course.

  64. Vect says:

    I was one of those diagnosed with Aspergers early on. Forgot when, but it also meant that I was stuck in Special Ed for pretty much throughout my school. Mostly what it meant was a class where I did homework and after that, I goofed off or such.

    Similarly, I mostly got pretty unimpressive grades. Usually never bothered to turn in work. I might actually finish it, but I never actually bother turning it in. Mostly out of a strong disinterest in doing work. Teachers often do tell me how I definitely was a “smart” kid who would do great if I actually applied myself.

    Most of the time I had no problems with teachers. I remembered a substitute back in grade school I had issues with and disturbingly enough, a fifth grade teacher that I remembered as a friendly old guy who when I asked another student about in the sixth grade I heard apparently got arrested for sexual harassment. Mostly I hated gym teachers since they always thought of me as the lazy fat kid (I’m flat-footed so I really can’t run/jog much without a lot of discomfort).

    Spent most of my school years with limited friends due to the fact that I moved around a lot. That and I always had trouble with others. I tend to get along better with people older than me since I guess I was a bit ahead of my age at the time. Mostly because I was really interested in talking about video games and found no one else to talk about them with until later in my life.

  65. bob says:

    from the school sucks project:

    1. The twelve-year process of an American public education has a dramatic effect on the mind of a child. When we first enter school at age six, many of our best personal attributes are already in place. We are curious, innovative, unique, creative and hopeful in ways that we will rarely be able to replicate throughout the rest of our lives. But over time, school sucks those essential attributes out of too many of us…and replaces them with predictability, obedience and apathy.

    2. The public school system sucks off the productive capacity of hard-working people. The system is funded through taxation. In other words, whether public education succeeds or fails (spoiler alert: it fails) at providing real education to the public, the cost goes up every year. There are no refunds.

  66. Julie Casey says:

    Fantastic observations, Shamus. It appears you actually did learn something valuable in public school – what’s wrong with it. Your thoughts are very similar to mine; I even wrote a book about the subject: Stop Beating the Dead Horse: Why the System of Public Education in the United States Has Failed and What to do About it. If you are interested, you can find my book here:

  67. Leah Spooner says:

    If I learn the same things over and over I don’t like it. I like worksheets when I am learning something new, because then I get to think about it.

  68. Charlette says:

    I like it when it’s summer because then I don’t have to do any school work.

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