I was recently honored as the “One-Minute Writer Of The Day” over at The One-Minute Writer blog (hosted by our friend C. Beth). I’m honored. I thought I’d share that writing with you here. The award was given for the following 3 pieces of advice, which I’ve expanded upon here, as I have more than a minute to do so.
C. Beth asked us to name the three most important things a child should learn in school. I suggested the following:
1) School is less important than learning; if you skip school, spend your day in the library.
This is how I got through the last 2 years of high school. I skipped a lot of classes. A lot. But only because going to class was holding me back. I generally didn’t need to have things repeated a million times to have them sink in, nor did I feel the need to show off what I’d learned, or have myself ranked among my peers for my mastery level. Instead, I skipped classes.
I usually went to the public library and read things they weren’t ready to teach me yet in school. I distinctly remember reading college-level textbooks: psychology, biology, art, and comparative religion. Biography and autobiography. And lots of literature, too; lots of stuff I know the high school would never have considered providing me access. And they had (GASP!) music there you could listen to through headphones while you read. I’m pretty sure this is where I first heard Mingus, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and about a million other artists and genre we didn’t have at home and the high school wasn’t about to let us hear.
And if I was feeling intellectually lazy, I’d stroll on over to the used book store a couple blocks away and read murder mysteries, true crime, or poetry.
2) You’ll probably daydream in class. Don’t waste your time; Dream big.
I’m not going to expand on this very much. It’s ridiculous for anyone to tell anyone else what they ought to daydream about, but let me say this much: I spent a lot of time in high school stretching my imagination. I mean really, really stretching it. It has paid big benefits in later life. So by all means dream away; but dream big.
3) Even the bad teachers have much to offer; just think of them as examples of what NOT to do.
Let me tell you about “Foxy” Brummage. He wasn’t particularly handsome or anything like that; he got his nickname because he had a pointy little face and beady little eyes like a fox has. He was probably a decent math teacher. (I don’t really know, because the miserable human being he was far overshadowed any merits he might have had as a math teacher.) He was also the boy’s Assistant Football Coach, and was usually surrounded by a cadre of jocks, who hung on his every word and who, despite their obviously limited understanding of algebra and geometry still managed to earn straight ‘A’s in his classes.
It was common knowledge that Foxy regularly and openly advised his minions that individuals like myself (and there were quite a few) were fair game for all manner of harassment and/or physical aggression wherever we were encountered, either on school property or in the larger community. The jocks referred to themselves as “Buckeyes” in honor of Foxy’s Alma Mater, Ohio State. To this very day, whenever there’s an Ohio state game on, I root against those friggin Buckeyes.
Foxy was a prime example of the paradox of teaching: what he was hired to teach, he (probably) had limited success with, but his words and his examples were exceedingly successful at instilling hatred and inciting violence toward others among his acolytes.
In my heart these days, though, I carry only a small scar from having known Foxy Brummage, and I have to thank him for teaching me that it’s what we do that matters, not what we know.