Monday, January 23, 2012

A Joy and Pleasure to Have in Class

It was my most common report card comment: a joy and pleasure to have in class. Second to this one were comments about being too social, and comments about not working up to potential. Last week, in the midst of trying to teach Kieran statistics, I admitted to him that I only made it through half of what was then Sequential 3 math, also known as trigonometry.

I dropped out after I got a 50 on the midterm. It was really abstract. More so than any math I'd had. And while I wasn't opposed to abstraction -- I probably preferred it -- I just couldn't make my head pay attention.

Also, I had a novel to write.

I spent the 40 minutes of trig every day writing. I was working on my first attempt at a novel, and some stories that were really exciting to me. That year -- 11th grade -- I was reading Lolita and The Great Gatsby. I was immersed in French language and culture and wanted only to take more art than my school could possibly offer, or than I would be allowed after I'd filled up on all my requirements.

I remember going up to the teacher on the day I dropped and he said, What have you been doing all this time?

I said, Writing.

Really, he said. He was smirky. Smarmy. He used to tell us if we wanted to sit there and be stupid we could go right ahead. I'd told him I was writing so that he would know I wasn't sitting there being stupid.

Good luck with that, he said.

What might have happened? If I'd been immersed in writing back then, instead of taking math, instead of finding something to fall back on, something to make money with: a job teaching, a job at the bank, as a nurse. How much time did I waste, trying to be something that would earn a paycheck instead of something I loved? I did it again and again: in high school, in college, in graduate school. Any step I could take to get away from writing I would.

It probably matters less why now than it does that I have recognized it and stopped it. I gained something in the stalling, mostly in the form of people, especially in the form of children.

But get this: I wasn't outwardly subversive. I was a pleasure. A joy to have in class. I had learned early on not to be a thorn in anyone's side so I kept my rebellion to myself.

For too long.

What's to do now but move forward? And make sure that my own kids don't repeat the same pattern and shelve what they love for what's practical, for what an administrator tells them they should do, because that's what everyone does, everyone who wants to be uniquely just like everyone else.

There is no report card comment that says: this kid is crazy driven to do something we're not doing here, so we're encouraging her to do so. There is compliance and non-compliance.

I'm not suggesting a free-for-all, do whatever you want curriculum. I'm a huge supporter of the liberal arts education, especially when it's integrated.

But I'm just also a fan of what Nietzsche called "a long obedience in the same direction," because "there results, and always has resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."

And that has nothing to do with compliance. I want that on my report card.

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