This post will be autobiographical in part, so all you news junkies feel free to skip over it, if you will. I generally chart the End of My Academic Career to coincide with my family's move to California. I had just concluded the seventh grade in southern Indiana and was doing rather well in school. I was a B+ student, had done well in science and on what passes for a "final exam" in math, I scored a perfect 100%. Didn't miss a single question. (Redundancy is a sort of closed captioning for liberals.)
And with the freshness and naïveté that comes with youth, I expected the next grade would automatically be more challenging and fitted to my learning needs by educational professionals. Welcome to California!
My eighth grade math class in California started out with a proficiency test. The teacher wanted to see how much we knew. I distinctly remember one of the questions on the test, because it was marked "wrong" when I got my test back. Here's the question and the reasoning for my answer:
We hadn't been given any explicit instructions on the test, so I only took it out to two decimals. 16 divided by 3 = 5.33 Right?
What is 16 divided by 3?
The math teacher herself couldn't be expected to grade all those tests. I mean, after all, there must have been thirty of us! So, that was delegated to one of my peers, who was handed an answer sheet, with the instruction to mark as incorrect any answer that didn't match. (The "correct" answer was "five remainder one".) That year, I didn't have any homework that I did not finish in class.
Second was the problem of science class. Here I knew I was in the wrong place. I mentioned to the Powers That Be that I had already taken the science course they appeared to be presenting, the year before. So, there was a question of what to do with me during that period. The second step off my ladder to academic excellence was in their solution: Art class.
Not just any art class, though. I was placed in a "School Service Art" class. In addition to teaching us to draw and paint and sculpt...we decorated the gym for dances. Many an hour while my contemporaries were slaving over their texts, my classmates and I were roaming the halls between our classroom and the gym taking our "school service" to heart! Add to this, the fact that this was the only academic class that combined students from both the eight and ninth grade, and here I was learning the basics of the California school system with a bunch of older kids and, let's face it, one didn't take "School Service Art" if one were on the honors track to Stanford!
I say this, not to lay blame on anyone for what was to become the shipwreck of my serious academic career. The responsibility for that lay squarely upon my young shoulders. Though I had never had my feet so firmly planted on the path of least resistance, I could have brought it to my math teacher's attention that the person grading the tests ought to be at least as smart as the one taking them. But I was "the new kid" in a strange school and trying to fit in. So I did. But, I lost some of that "gung ho" attitude I'd had towards learning.
I think of this experience sometimes when I hear older people defending the public school system. They remember their own experience and being removed from the reality of what it has become, defend what they experienced, as if it were the same thing.
Unfortunately, the schools have deteriorated even from my day, and one could say they were lacking then.
One small instance: My older siblings and I are separated by three and five years. When my sister went to high school, Latin was a required subject. (She also took French.) A couple years and half a continent later, when my brother went to high school, Latin was an elective. By the time I got to high school, it was a rarity. Today, I doubt there are few if any Latin classes in public high schools. And please don't tell me if they are absent from private schools, because I am depressed enough already!
My parents trusted the schools to do the right thing for me and I suppose, I did too. And there were no outward signs that my academic career had been side tracked. I didn't turn out so terribly bad, but I was certainly different than I would have been, had I remained more disciplined in my studies.
No regrets, but I remember when I was a very small child, single digit of age, when I thought to myself that along with above average intelligence came the obligation to do important stuff like cure cancer.
I never did that.