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School Lessons We Never Forgot

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School Lessons We Never Forgot by Linda Dobson

It was a balmy, Florida late afternoon; just perfect for my guests to gather on the patio and leisurely enjoy some wine and appetizers before we eventually headed off to the Mexican restaurant in town.

Several of us hadn’t seen the snowbird couple from Canada since they returned north last spring, so there was plenty to talk about and catch up on. It didn’t take long before the conversation was flowing smoothly, casually, openly.

Friends

Forty – even fifty years later – and we can recount school-related humiliation as if it happened yesterday. We haven’t forgotten.

I can’t say for certain as I was busy playing good hostess, but I think the topic came up as a result of some good-natured ribbing among the mid- to late fifty-ish male guests who are, as a note important to the story, what you might call upstanding citizens, and people who volunteer in care of their greater community. In fact, we’d all originally met in our various roles related to a national non-profit organization located in this neck of the woods.

When the topic surfaced, I was suddenly less interested in playing good hostess and sat down to listen.

“It started with learning to write as a left-hander,” remembered Bill. “My teacher kept insisting I use my other hand, and then she couldn’t read it. Next thing I knew, I was in the special class.”

“I was in the special class, too,” Roy confided like a long lost fraternity brother. “Wasn’t that awful? Everybody knew what it was, and I spent a long time feeling stupid.”

“Yes!” said Bill. “I clearly remember the rest of the class reading aloud about a hundred words a minute, and they could plainly hear my group stumbling with the dummy books.”

“You know,” Roy said, “I was always in trouble. I think if I was in school now they’d be feeding me Ritalin.”

“I really liked learning,” continued Bill, probably the most optimistic person I have ever met, “but I don’t think the teachers realized how much they were teaching me to hate it. The thought of going to school each morning made me physically ill.”

“Did you guys ever tell your parents what was going on?” I asked. Both answered no.

“When I was in first grade I was talking to another little girl and we got caught,” piped in Melissa, who had been her typical quiet self to this point. “The other girl had to sit in the closet, and I had to spend the day sitting under the teacher’s desk. For someone whose face turned red when somebody even just looked at me…I must have been beet red the entire day. I was far too embarrassed to ever tell my mother.”

“One day I was talking in my fifth grade class, answering a classmate’s question about the book we were using,” I confided for the first time in my entire adult life. “The teacher had a piece of chalk in his hand and threw it at me. Hit me square in the cheek. I, too, was too embarrassed to let my parents know what happened to me.”

Forty – even fifty years later – and we can recount school-related humiliation as if it happened yesterday. We haven’t forgotten.

I realize some may read this and say, “It wasn’t the end of the world. It sounds as if you all turned out pretty well. All kids go through this in school.”

This may very well be true. But isn’t it also true that we never know what may have happened on the road that wasn’t traveled? Might this little gathered group have turned out differently, even better, had the early years not included such treatment at the hands of those to whom our parents entrusted our care and well-being? Would it be a better world if school horror stories weren’t fodder for cocktail conversation four and five decades later?

As life goes on, we may never know.

As part of my current job I had cause, along with one of my board members, to visit a second grade class this week. We were delivering to them a coconut that they will paint and enter into a contest for a prize. The class of 20 (yes, I counted) was excited.

I’d noticed the little boy sitting on the left. He’d made several comments and so, in educationese, would be considered quite “engaged.” He then asked what, to the teacher’s ear, must have been a stupid question.

“Well, Todd, I guess you’re not going into the gifted class anytime soon,” was her response.

Todd never said another word as long as we were there.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Originally appeared in Home Education Magazine in Linda’s column, “Notes from the Road Less Traveled.”
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3 Responses to “School Lessons We Never Forgot”

  1. Kim H says:

    Oh no! Poor Todd!! What a huge mistake that teacher made!! Ugh!!!!

  2. Kim, broke my heart to walk out of that classroom – wanted to bring him home for some homeschoolin'. 🙁

  3. mary says:

    poor kids! I have a bizarre theory that many people become teachers because they themselves were bullied and ridiculed. Like abused children who become abusers, abused students become the abusive teachers. And there are way too many of them. After seeing a schoolroom set up in a museum, I decided that's where all school rooms belong. Public school is a relic of the past that needs to be modernized, something that hasn't been done since – what? – the early 1800's? the entire system is irrelevant now.

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