Interfering with life

The phrase, “I am a product of the ___ (name of district) public schools,” is one that evokes my shudder every time I hear or read it. The statement calls to mind the 12-step programs: “My name is ____ and I am a product of the public schools.”

The Free Dictionary defines “product” as “something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process,” or “A direct result; a consequence.” To state that one is a product of the public school system is to negate all that makes one something other than a factory-formed product. Although I spent about nine of my formative years in public school, I do not consider myself a “product” of the system or of school in general. In my mind, it is largely the time and learning I spent out of school, and even in resistance to school, that made me who I am. Were I to be only what the school produced, I would be a sorry specimen, indeed.

During the final two years of my public education, I often stated–in a joking tone, although I meant it sincerely–that “school interferes with my life.” I was able to make this declaration only because I had experienced two years of life without school. It was unschooling, actually, although it was considered “truancy” in that time and place.

Many times in my school “career” (as they seem to call it now), I had little or no interest in the subject at hand or the educational method used. I was completely turned off by rote memorization, history as a series of wars, busywork and the lack of any visible connection between the curriculum and real life. Some of my teachers and classes were great, a few were awful, and most were so-so. Where I had great teachers, I put my energy into learning, and I declined to invest when the material or instructor was boring.

Observing the system, I learned how to work around it. My most effective response was to not show up. In my final two years of high school, I skipped nearly as often as I went to class. I showed up for first period, where I was accounted for on the master roll call that went to the main office, then chose which classes I would attend that day, based on factors such as my interest in the subject, what was happening in class, and whether it was a day too beautiful to neglect taking a boat out on the river. I asked classmates for the homework assignments, completed those and turned them in on time, crammed for- and aced the tests, and kept a B average without totally ruining my young life. Amazingly, nobody in the system noticed. The only time I encountered any trouble was when a girl named Sharon finked on me for skipping, apparently because she was jealous that she did not have the guts to come along. I caught a lot of flak from my dad that night, but it was worth it; my afternoon on the river had given me much pleasure.

During my junior and senior years, it was the time out of school that kept me sane. Given my resistance, I would certainly be expelled from today’s schools, and, for me, that would be a good thing. Indeed, it would probably have been good back in the ’70’s, and expulsion might have occurred, had anyone been paying attention.

(C) 2006, 2011 by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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