School then

1/2

I never saw the point of school. And I still don’t.

I know right? How trendy and anti-establishment I sound. And how ironically uneducated too, mind you.

But still. I came away from the dreadful experience of attending school every day for twelve years with a basic knowledge of the “three R’s”, just as I ought to;

Reading, ‘riting and resentment.

But other than that, I self-taught pretty much everything else I have needed to survive the rest of my life so far. Which explains so very much.

Dammit, I should have used that at the reunion.

Doctors and similar: “What are you doing now? (this should be interesting, tall, lost and not particularly academic or sporty person I once knew)

Me: I’m a Life Autodidact.

D&s: “A what? That sounds AMAZING!

Me: Right?! It’s sort of a little bit like a Life Coach…anyway, just topping up, must do the rounds…back in a sec etc. *vanish*

emma-stone-amanda-bynes-scream

Many years prior to my starting at the school as a gawky Grade 1 pupil, the school was run by nuns.  Whatever nuns were still shuffling around by the time I arrived however, were quietly stashed in convent in Durban somewhere. I know this because apart from the name “Sister Mary Margaret” being bandied about on Speech Day – as matrics about to embark on the important decision of choosing our life paths, we were taken off to meet them on A Special Outing. I imagine it was in an effort to instil some sort of reverence in us and a sense that the simple life of a nun was all we need aspire to in order to be listed as “Most Successful Old Girl” for time immemorial in the school magazine. This didn’t happen to a single one of us, but I speak only for myself when I say there have been occasional tinges of regret that I did not at least consider it.

Like now. As I sit across the table from lawyer #4 in as many years, trying to understand why my ex-husband can refuse to pay fees for the high school I have chosen for my youngest son to attend next year, when surely…..just surely you can tell him he just….MUST. (More on this later because although you can’t tell, it’s relevant).

School was a battlefield for me. I had ADD, was painfully shy and extremely self-aware. This meant that being called out in a classroom meant snapping back from wherever my mind had raced off to and absolutely cringing at the eyes on me, and the silence as I frantically tried to remember which lesson I was in, what we were discussing and what question had just been asked. These moments were my nightmare and so typical of old-school teaching. I couldn’t actually hear what the teacher was saying in that moment because on the outside I was in shock and on the inside I was shrinking myself into a teeny, tiny matchbox.

If any one of those teachers had an inkling of how getting my attention without the rest of the class knowing would have changed my high school experience for the better, I like to think maybe they would have tried it. Instead I spent my entire high school “career” trying to blend in to the closest inanimate object. Anyway, I think “non-compliant” was sternly hand written next to my name somewhere and therefore in defiance of my defiance, I was constantly being called on with questions I couldn’t focus on answering.

I was also very, very terrible at sport. This did not bode well with the academic and/or sport ethos of this prestigious establishment. Not a bit. But I still am (unsporty) and refuse to apologise for it. The only sport I did was swimming. That was because one sport was compulsory and that one didn’t require co-ordinated bobbing and weaving around in close proximity to sweaty others, and then not only having to manage that successfully but also to achieve something on top of it, like connect that minute sized ball onto the end of a narrow stick and then correctly aim it into a box. No. I had bent down and tied my shoelaces without falling over and that feat – again, if they knew me at all – in itself should have been commended at prize-giving.

So basically in the eyes of the school and its wardens I was surly and disinterested. I did not participate and was easily influenced because I followed my cool, popular best friend around like a shadow, and yet they said I was a bad influence and promptly separated us. I was so furious at the separation and being so horribly misunderstood, it certainly did become the end of any compliance of any kind from me. I became exactly what they expected me to – of little significance.

Infuriatingly this was the late 80’s/90’s when the cool kids were bubbly and fun and were allowed to wear eye-shadow and off the shoulder baggy t-shirts on the weekends. Just a decade later I would have ruled that school with my make-up-forbidden attitude of surly indifference and non-participatory passive-aggressive resistance. BAH! Timing. You can cross reference the Breakfast Club to this story. Honestly, Molly Ringwald’s character would have been the darling of Diocesan schooling in South Africa at that time.

Anyway, on my last day with not a vestige of self-esteem left in my entire being, my testimonial was kind of shoved at me. It was mostly facts. I had attended the school from then to now and was a member of the swimming team and debating club. Debating! Ha! If I only knew the torrent of shit-storms that were headed my way that I would have to argue and appeal my way out of, I may have paid less attention to the rare glimpse of boys on the other team and much, much more on the art of being ingeniously articulate under pressure.

Still. I looked at the sheet of formal looking yellow paper in my hand that seemed to have absolutely no relation to me at all.

Me: For me? Did I do something to deserve this?

High School: No, but we have to give it to you so you’ll leave. Off you go and let us never speak of this again.

“The problem with that school was that they never helped you discover your ‘pockets of excellence’, you had to arrive with it if you wanted be recognised” a former classmate once very wisely put it. I rolled about laughing at the term “pockets of excellence” – for some reason I thought it was hysterical and imagined that awful headmistress striding up to me –

AH: “WHAT IS THAT IN YOUR POCKET?!”

Me: They’re my excellences.

AH: But you don’t have any! Give those to me!

AH: What are these?!

Me: This one here is Mockery aaand this one…careful, it’s quite heavy…is Sarcasm.

But then I realised that actually my friend was absolutely right. Is it not the duty of a school to find something in a child that they can nurture into a positive identity instead of just highlighting everything that child is not?

Now I understand the line from my old school song

“Still seeking noblest truth and gazing upwards” 

It was really a divine nod to girls like me who spent all their time there rolling their eyes and muttering “Dear God, do I really have to do this again tomorrow?”

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10 thoughts on “School then

  1. Mandy Joughin says:

    Yay! You’re back! And better than ever. Pleeeease send this as your contribution to On Eagles Wings ‘Where are they now?’ Pleeease!

  2. Carla says:

    Brilliant .. So can identify with the hideousness if school and wanting to “disappear”

  3. Almost Iowa says:

    At 19, I had the greatest job in the world. I worked on a loading dock and all I had to do was to push a button to open and close doors for the trucks. That was it: push up for up and down for down.

    Others may think that would be boring – it was not because I read. I started with the classics, branched out into Westerns, toured the mean backstreets of murder mysteries and detective novels and was just about to graduate to non-fiction when they fired me for reading too much.

    I learned more on that loading dock than most of my friends did in college.

    • I love this story! Thanks for sharing it here. And kudos for making the most of a boring job, I don’t know how many 19 year olds would’ve done the same. You’ve proven my point though, schools need to take it down a notch and stop thinking that they’re the world’s only source of education.

  4. lauriebest says:

    Glad you found our blog. All three of my kids (the boomerangs about which I write) felt the same way about school. The most telling moment for us was when my son was chastised by a teacher for ‘thinking too much”! “nuff said. Gill, the other writer on our blog, proved her high school teachers wrong (they thought she’d never amount to much) by getting her PhD, a great writing job in the UK and a book deal! It’s much the same thing they say about divorce: living well (successfully) is the best revenge!

    • “Thinking too much”?! That is absurd! It sounds like just another excuse to shun a young non-conformist for not properly squishing into their neat little box. My sons are the same which is why the system is such as issue for me. I don’t know who celebrated the hardest on my eldest’s last day, me, him or the school. One down, one to go! Lovely that you stopped by, thank you. And well done to Gill – wow, a book deal is brilliant!

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