Last night, I was reminded of a secret that very few of my friends know about me.
I dropped out of high school in eleventh grade.
Blake and I (as well as my 16 elementary education classmates) attended the screening of a documentary last night about the stress of school in America. Race to Nowhere presented the cases of students (elementary, middle, and high school), their parents, teachers, administrators, and psychologists. Over and over again, the audience was reminded of this push for "success" we have in our culture and that our schools and teachers are being used as producers rather than as educators.
Between testing, hours of homework, grades, college applications, college scholarships, and growing up, our children are being pushed to... what? Finish a math packet that has no real relevance to anything they're doing? To have a high school transcript and resume longer than that of many business owners? To read books they have no interest in and would never read on their own? To cram for tests and then dump the information from their brains the next day so they can prepare for the next test? What exactly is it that we are trying to teach our kids?
So, all this got me thinking about my time in school and the difficulties I faced. All through elementary school, I was an A/B student, even in math (although I hated and struggled through math). When it came time to sign up for middle school classes, my sixth grade teacher refused to put me in advanced math or science. I was stunned. How could I have made such amazing grades and not been able to go to the advanced courses like many of my friends?
The trouble started there. All of a sudden, I realized that I was not good at math... or science. In seventh and eighth grade, I took a mixture of regular placement and advanced placement courses at my middle school and did so-so. I usually made A's in any arts-based courses and I think I had B's or C's in math, science, and... social studies. Yes, I was stinking at social studies, too!! Somehow, though, all of my eighth grade teachers agreed to put me in advanced classes for ninth grade because they saw that I didn't quite "fit in" to the regular classes.
In ninth grade, the school's daily schedule changed. We went from seven fifty-minute periods to four ninety-minute blocks and you only attended four classes a semester. That means... algebra... in one semester. Lovely. I made a C in Biology. I scraped by with a C in algebra. I probably didn't do well in English, either because I remember having to read Shakespeare (though I love Shakespeare now!).
For some reason, my teachers continued to put me in advanced classes. This sent so many mixed signals to me. I felt so stupid, yet I was continually placed in the classes with all the smart kids. Why didn't a teacher just tell me the truth and say I needed to take regular classes? To be very honest, I don't remember really caring about my grades - I just cared about the label they carried. My friends were all breezing through ninth grade and I was struggling. I felt so dumb. And the worst part was, I didn't know how to make my grades better. I just thought I was dumb and I was just going to make bad grades.
In tenth grade, things got a little bit better. I took geometry - and made a B! My first B in math since who-knows-when. I remember being so proud of myself! But, tenth grade ended more quickly than I wanted. Eleventh grade was swiftly approaching, which meant Chemistry and Algebra II were close at hand.
The first semester of eleventh grade, I was scheduled to take chemistry and history. English and algebra II were for the spring. The first semester was rough, but I made it through because I got my driver's license that semester. Nothing really mattered - other than driving, of course - for a few months! Chemistry was difficult because of the math. History was also hard because I didn't know that I didn't know how to study. I don't remember really caring that I wasn't doing well in school - I had already accepted that I was dumb. I remember having a very nonchalant attitude about school and made it seem as though I didn't really care. After all, no one was pushing me to make better grades. My parents always told me that they would always be proud of me if I did my best. I thought C's were my best.
Over Christmas break, I started to feel very... blue. I was sleeping a lot, laying around a lot, and generally just ill. My parents probably just thought I was being a typical teenager, but I just didn't feel right. I spent Christmas 2000 crying. The entire day. It was awful! And before I knew it, it was time for school to start.
The first week of school that January was pure torture. If a teacher called on me, I cried. I couldn't pay attention in class at all and generally had little knowledge of what we were supposed to be doing or understanding. In Algebra II, I could barely even understand the words coming out of my teacher's mouth and when I asked questions, these three girls in my class laughed at me. They continued to pick on me all semester, making me feel even worse about being dumb.
MLK Jr. weekend came around and I went on a weekend youth trip to Gatlinburg. While there, I cried a lot. A whole lot. My friends thought I needed help... they told me that they didn't feel or act the way I these feelings weren't normal. So, on the Tuesday we returned to school, I got help.
On the way to school, I was crying and dreading the walk into the building. At some point, a light bulb came on - I thought, I'll just withdraw from school and home-school for the rest of the semester... maybe even through next year. I called my mom and told her what I wanted to do... I don't think she knew what to do, herself, so she told me it was going to be okay and to talk to my counselor.
In the counselor's office, I was determined. Nothing she could say would convince me to stay in school. I wanted to go home and do all my remaining coursework at home. Period. She told me that as long as I promised to graduate with a high school degree, she would be okay with that. She just didn't want me to drop out and never get my diploma or GED. She got my mom on the phone and talked to my mom about the benefits of home-schooling and that there were kids who got their GEDs and went to Harvard. It was going to be okay. By mid-morning, I was officially withdrawn from Tuscaloosa County High School.
I remember having to turn in my textbooks. I think I gave most of my books to the counselor, but she let me take my English books to my teacher, Mrs. Thurmond. I loved her class, even though I couldn't stop crying during it. I told her that I was leaving school because I was sick. She hugged me and took my books.
I didn't get to say goodbye to my friends.
That afternoon, I was in a psychologist's chair.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II.