After Decherd Tennessee, my dad set sail, with us in tow to Pennsylvania, where I was pronounced a dullard. My time in the library in Tennessee had been adequate to drain my neo-cortex of enough synaptic connections so as to render me stupid..or so I was coming to believe. I was two grades behind in math and quickly gave up, under the frustrated gaze of a cute young math teacher who didn’t know how to bridge the gap in my learning and catch me up with her herd. I aquired the label of "remedial" in math and believed it and still do. I survived this school and found comfort in art class, where I seemed to excel. In this room my imagination and substantial life experience seemed to benefit me! The supply of rooms in schools, where kids are invited to bring their imaginations and keep them active, seemed to me remarkably low. Choir, band, drama and art seemed to be the only safe places to emerge from the stupor of compliance. As I look around me now I see hope, I see teachers using constructivist math to help kids with multiple intelligences understand and excel. I see teachers beginning to use real-world scenarios to make learning relevant. I have to add that teachers who use these approaches are sometimes in danger. Without hard fast proof that kids have memorized, long enough to pass a standardized test, their approaches are always suspect. I admire these brave souls and worry that they won’t out-survive NCLB. While I was in Pennsylvania at New Oxford Jr. High I was assigned a book report and given the option of building a device to show what I learned. I was earning a solid C/D in the class but this assignment lit me up. I took a cereal box and created a long story board with illustrations. As I rolled the coat hanger handle and scrolled through my report, the flashlight backlit my pictures. I like to think this was an early version of powerpoint. For this effort I received and A+, the last A I would make at New Oxford, that wasn’t in art. I longed for projects of this type and ever so rarely a teacher would loose the hounds and let us dream up something creative, usually a social studies teacher. Thank God for them! My cardboard cotton gin would still be in my possession if not for all the moves we made. This hands on learning matched the talents in my developing brain and provided it’s own incentive to learn. Over many years in my own art classroom I watched as the "bad kids" excelled at hands on learning. My colleagues most likely dismissed their A’s in art as easy curriculum, since they were failing in their classes. What I came to believe is that these kids are so marginalized by the system, that they give up. Better to be a rebel and a trouble maker who seems to want to fail, than a kid who cannot perform in the current construct. It’s a hop. skip and a jump from bad grades to behavior problems. These "trouble makers" were my people. We had few rules as I treated them like the adults they would legally be in one or two years. It was interesting to me that one year they had to ask permission to pee but next year they could die for their country. At 16, kids are closing Taco Tico and counting the money and locking up, then asking for permission pee in our schools. Are we undervaluing their experience? Are we dooming them to be followers who need permission to do anything?

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I've been doing that math for a long time and I still can't identify the kevlar that protected me. I do give much credit to the weird teachers who often took me under their wing and let me be weird with them. I also took a lot of refuge in my imagination. I drew pictures and lived in my drawings for hours. I have a very rich imaginary life, like a kid version of the "Secret Life of Walter Mitty". My mother worked hard to protect me from dad but that is another story. I know this, I always thought that if I didn't do something great with my life then all the hell was for nothing and I couldn't let that be true. : )
Hey, Kevin...
You know I agree with you 100% and hope that from your experiences (and some of my own, and those of way too many others) I will be able to make a difference with the Learning by Design charter school.

Who knew that our own bad experiences with education could provide us with what we need to create a better one for today's kids.
Yeah! Who knew. I figure if we can't do something about the weakness with the motivation brought on by our own memories, then it was wasted time and needless suffering. : )
What a powerful story, Kevin. Want to hear some irony? I was the bright, school designed child. I was tested in Kindergarten (!), found to have a high IQ (what does that mean, anyway) and moved up a grade (no differentiated instruction). What I became was a lazy student...teachers saying I was smart enough not to do work. I aced any test I took, could memorize whole textbooks after one reading, and excelled in all areas (except math, which was a different language to me).

I found no one who encouraged me to reach my potential, no one who cared about what I could really do, and no one who pushed me to find out for myself what I could handle. I became frightened of failure and, by high school, stopped trying all together. Afterall, I had never worked to my potential. What if my potential wasn't what everyone always thought it was? What if they really found out I was a fraud? Better to not try and fail than to try really hard and still not be successful. It wasn't until ed classes in college that I started working again, because I cared about the topic.

I became a teacher in order to prevent this apathy in other children. So, Terry, you're right...our own bad experiences provide for a better education for today's children.
I know at least one other person who had a similar experience to the one you describe. The fuel that bad experience puts in our tanks is amazing. It creates near zealots who are hard to stand in the way of! I hope you can always make up for those institutional shortcomings and continue to make a difference for kids who need that extra push to reach their full potential!
Yes Kevin, Lisa and I have shared our similar experiences. She was a good student and a good person. I was a good student and a bad person, but I suspect that was because of other ugliness that was going on at my home (some day I'll do the self-disclosure there to let others know that the 'perfect family' is sometimes NOT what you expect).

My Teacher's College classes were just like regular school for me (I was great at 'putting on the good student face') with one difference: when I DID try to stand out and gave some effort, I was rewarded with a big F because it wasn't like everyone else's work! hmmm...ever wonder why education is how it is?? Cookie-cutter teachers are being produced every day!!

It wasn't until I fell back into gifted education and realized I saw 50 - 100 students EVERY YEAR who were developing these same habits; it was then my smoldering passion for education reached a flash-point. I see myself in those kids and now have the closest possible chance to go back to HS/MS, knowing what I know now. I'm afforded the ability to speak for my students as someone SHOULD have spoken for us. I'll not apologise to anyone standing in the way of my children's education. It's the only chance any of us have to right the wrongs done to us. It's a second chance at life.



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