Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Me and them

Facebook friend Todd Kelly shared this link, which should be “required reading” (ha-ha, it’s about anti-authoritarianism) for everyone: Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill.

Reading it makes me grateful that I wasn’t born into the current culture, where the child I was would not survive. Nor, probably, would Steve Jobs—or at least that’s the impression I get from reading his biography.

And I like the term—“anti-authoritarian”—better than being called, as I was, a “problem,” and definitely an “underachiever.” This from the memoir I will most likely never publish:

School and I did not get along. After I learned to read I had absolutely no use for it. I had to go, so I did, but it didn’t have anything to do with me. It was like watching a play, but one that lasted far too long and wasn’t all that entertaining; the characters were predictable and there was no action. Only rarely, did anything happen, like the day Dick Santee’s garter snake collection escaped from his shirt pockets, or when the paraffin we were melting with crayons to make Christmas candles erupted into a pillar of flame, leaving a permanent red stain on the bulletin board. I was able to get by with a minimum of effort because, until sixth grade, we had hardly any homework. Only the Catholic kids who went to St. Joe’s had homework. I’d see them getting off the bus in the afternoons, wearing drab uniforms and dragging beat-up brown leather briefcases the size of small suitcases that caused them to walk lopsided, and when I found out what the briefcases were for, I began to think my mother might have a point about Catholicism after all.

In sixth grade, however, our teacher, Mr. Hampton, known as “Hamp,” made it his mission to see that I paid attention, and I resented his intrusion into my personal space. As far as I was concerned, staring out the window, doodling in my note pad, and slouching down in my seat to read the book I had hidden in the slot in the desk, were boring, but not nearly as boring as the major exports of Latvia, or whatever it was they were studying. I don’t know because I wasn’t there.

Actually one day Hamp got so mad at me for reading that he grabbed my book and threw it against the blackboard.

I really only like school when I’m teaching, which has become more problematic as I don’t have a degree (having taught four years in an accredited undergraduate institution and ten years in an accredited graduate institution are no longer acceptable credentials).  And while I know plenty of people who have managed to maintain their intellectual and personal freedom while existing within the system, in some cases even gaming the system so that it works for them, it does seem strange that we would require of potential innovators (because that’s what artists are) and those who teach them, proof of their ability to jump through authoritarian hoops. 
Image by Banksy, of course.


Wylie said...

Can I say that you were "too cool for school" now? : )

I bet a lot of artistically and intellectually gifted kids can relate.

Anonymous said...

You have such a vivid memory. Mr. Hampton, 5th Grade I think it was. And I asked a lot of questions because I actually wanted to understand whatever it was he was talking about. So he got very involved trying to explain whatever it was to me when kablueee, the parafin pot exploded and how did our illustrious teacher respond? "Charles, this is your fault for asking too many questions." So you see, Hamp really was a jerk. But Carol's story seems even more damaging. Is it any wonder we don't want to revisit our childhoods? We still have all the wonderful memories of the happy times but we did pay for them. Anonymously Chuck Clifton

Carol Diehl said...

Thanks, Chuck, for the comment! It meant so much to me to finally see you again after all those years and to learn that I wasn't the only one traumatized by Hamp. Not to nit-pick, but but it was 6th grade. For 5th grade I had Miss Reese who, when I said I wanted to visit the Yucatan, said "Let's pick some place we've all heard of."