Tag Archives: college

I think I need a high school education

I want to go back to high school. Not to relive “glory days” or hang out with friends or in order to be 16 again. No. It’s the taking classes part that is on my mind. I think I might appreciate a high school education now. I’m wondering what did I learn in high school? I’m drawing a bit of a blank. When I look back, it’s my friends, relationships, and various moments outside the class room that stand out. Not history. Or math. Or geez, what DID I take in high school? And why don’t I remember it?

Graphic Arts. I took Graphic Arts. That was pretty cool. Prior to that class, I’d had no exposure to the subject. We made pinhole cameras and took and developed b&w photos I have to this day. I had Child Development (or rather was stuck in it after “Single Living” for which I’d signed up, was filled). We made lesson plans for little kids who were brought in by their parents for half days. Spanish. Two years of Spanish. But I didn’t use it and it fell away quickly. Pablo esta en la casa. No hablo Espanol. That’s about it.

Would I be bored in the average high school curriculum today? Or would a modern education be more suited to my learning style than the one I actually had? I.e., sitting quietly in standardized rows for hours on end. Would the teachers’ personal biases and opinions and personality quirks bother me even more than they did when I was a teenager? Would I find the environment stifling? Would I learn?

I’m reminded of Cameron Crowe’s memoir about going undercover posing as a high school student, which was the precursor to his film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but remember that Crowe, in his twenties but passing for a teenager, wrote of misinformation being taught by high school teachers. If I recall, he said the gym teacher was also teaching another subject – History? – and clearly getting facts wrong. Does that still happen? (In 9th grade, I had a gym teacher for Health class and I remember very clearly that he decided to entirely skip the text chapters on sex. Just flat out said we wouldn’t be covering them.)

Why is this on my mind? I think it’s because I’ve been away from formal education for so long. I’m starting to wonder what I know – and don’t know – any more. So much of what I studied in college even, is just very hazy. I actually went to college with the desire to learn. Yep, that was my overarching plan. That didn’t entirely work out. College was undeniably better than high school but it still left a lot to be desired. I was frequently bored in my classes. Too many instructors used their class time to pontificate and hold forth on their pet topics to a captive audience, often about subjects that weren’t on their syllabus. I didn’t have a slew of great teachers, but many average ones, including poor planners who farted around all semester and then tried to cram 3 months of lessons into a week or two before finals.

So that kind of messed up my plan of going to college to learn. And, the intensity of the experience rather quickly became about surviving it, more than about broadening my horizons. Yes, I was exposed to a lot of information, but all crammed in at once. That’s not how I retain stuff. And — to pay for school, I depended on, in addition to part-time jobs, grants and scholarships. For that I needed good grades, and grades became my focus; A’s meant cash. I’d do it no differently now.

One of the things I did really like about college – outside the classroom – was all the free lectures that were available on campus. I was – and am – a consummate bulletin board reader and I’d find interesting, or potentially interesting topics, familiar and not, advertised on flyers. They were held right there at the school and often during the day, which was great – I’d go to my classes and if I hung around awhile, I could attend an open lecture, perhaps by a guest speaker or one of the school’s professors. Or a panel forum. Talks and lectures would be attended by students and instructors alike, which raised the level of interaction and discussion. It kept me engaged and up-to-date. I really miss that, and I started missing it as soon as I graduated.

Both before and after my college years, I had jobs on other college campuses, but it wasn’t the same. When you work somewhere, usually the last thing you want to do is hang around longer after your work day is over or worse, come back to attend this or that. No, you want the hell out of there.

I don’t go to classes of any kind now. I have little interest in pursuing more formal education, like a Master’s. Instead, I read books and spend time online. Online I don’t learn who was the 15th President of the United States or what’s in the Bill of Rights or where Madagascar is located or how to conjugate verbs or anything whatsoever about Sartre. No, I learn trivia and gossip and innuendo and scandal and what’s been linked to cancer and who’s died and what sports figure is drugging and all about the latest shooting spree and terrorist bombing. All that without even trying. The dopey path of least resistance. I bet there’s a study out there that correlates point drops in I.Q. to time spent online.

I don’t mean to denigrate the internet. I love the internet. And it’s brought me a lot of good things. But lordy, does it need to be managed. It requires so little of you. That’s the problem. I’m a critical thinker. I don’t tweet. I don’t even WANT to try to think in 140 characters. Not ever. I don’t have a Facebook status. I don’t haves inane arguments or flame people. I require more of myself. It’s too easy for it to become your world. Suddenly you find yourself caring about things you don’t care about. Your head is full of rubbish and you wonder how it happened. Didn’t you used to think bright thoughts and contemplate important things?

I don’t know what I know any more. I think the things I’ve learned or studied on my own, since my formal education, have been relatively narrow. I think about doing it, but I’m not learning Italian on CD or online. I’m not trying to teach myself Algebra or god forbid, Calculus. I don’t try to understand the current state of the Middle East. Nutrition. Psychology. A bit of Literature. Gardening. Some American History. These are the things I’ve been interested in and studied on my own. Not a broad selection. I don’t have cable so I’m limited there, but I used to watch NOVA and other science programs – they’re SO much more interesting than any science I was ever taught in school – but I’ve gotten away from that. Is the internet and the culture ruining my attention span for anything else or is my restlessness stemming from elsewhere? A combination ? One thing now – I’m intentionally quite active – and I neither want to sit around for hours on end or can. Further, when I do stop and relax, I usually want to be entertained. Documentaries are about as scholarly as I get.

There is a particular saving grace. I like crossword puzzles and in doing them, I realize I know more than I would have thought. That is, I can retrieve information I didn’t know I knew. I could never offer it up voluntarily, but when prompted by the puzzle and given a little time, information evidently buried away, finds its way to the surface. How did I know that?? I have no recollection of learning it and yet I know it. This is encouraging.

Sometimes I’ve attended public lectures, but I often lose patience. So few people are good teachers and I’ve grown so particular about that – maybe by all the years of having to sit through what was at hand, like it or lump it. The other thing – the problematic thing – is the other attendees. A lot of adults feel pretty free and easy when attending a class or lecture. They hold forth, dominate class time, talk to their neighbor, and even – in some lectures I’ve attended – get up and wander around the room. This makes me want to knock heads together. It’s so distracting and annoying. The way I feel is this: I’ve come to hear the lecturer or teacher, not to listen to other adults carry on. But that is too bad, yes?

I’ve taken IQ tests online and done respectably. But it’s been several years since I’ve even done that. I’ve never taken a practice SAT but I’m wondering if that would be a good idea. I imagine I’d find one online or in a book. (I recently read an essay by a columnist in his sixties who took the SAT and was pleased to receive the same score he had in high school – although I believe he noted that the way they’re scored has changed.) The thing is I’m not sure I want to know what areas I’ve fallen way behind in, maybe because I’m not certain I’d do anything about it. How much do I care? Enough to do anything?

I do know this. I’m thinking about what I know and don’t know for a reason.

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What’s so funny?

Recently I started to read a nonfiction book called The Humor Code. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be and I didn’t get very far before quitting. (I used to have a 50-page rule with books I couldn’t get into, but lately I’m not so stringent.) Any way, the authors take on the idea – somewhat haphazardly – of quantifying what makes something funny. This got me to thinking about what I do and don’t find funny.

Sometimes it seems I’m out of step with what other people find funny and yet I’ve often found things funny that others didn’t. All my life, I’ve heard my own laugh in movie theaters when other people were silent. I don’t mean I was yucking it up during Tears of Endearment or other somber fare, but rather being amused by a dryer, subtler line or action in a film that didn’t telegraph this-is-funny-you-should-laugh-now. Interestingly, when I laugh, it’s not unusual for others to follow suit, as if given permission.

In college, I had a few funny teachers. I was a few years older than most of my classmates, and maybe that was why I laughed freely when the professor(s) said something funny. One of my instructors surprised me by writing, along with my final grade, “Thanks for laughing at my jokes.” Well, hell; he’d been funny! I was grateful. (As Bette Miller said, “If somebody makes me laugh, I’m his slave forever.”)

I look for things to find funny. I want to be amused. It breaks up the day, the routine, the mundane, and the ordinary. There’s a line in the old Dudley Moore film, Arthur, where he laughs suddenly and then says, “Sometimes I just think funny things.” I so got that line and that sentiment – my world is often like that. Of course you have to watch out, lest other people cast weird looks your direction and sidle away. Mostly, among strangers in public, when something strikes me and only me, funny, I might smile and contain open laughter – no need to frighten the horses.

When I’m alone at home, I can replay something funny in my mind – something I saw, or that someone said, or even what I said or wrote – and laugh all over again. But it has to be fairly recent. (There’s only a handful of funny things that I or somebody else said years ago, that I still remember.) That’s great fun – to get a second or third laugh out of a “joke.” Now, I’m throwing that word in quotes because I don’t usually like recited, stock jokes. I prefer more personal humor, something that relates to me or people I know, or situations we’ve been in. When people start “telling” jokes, that’s my cue to sidle away.

Like a lot of people, especially from a particular generation on – I mean for example, my parents didn’t do this – I too can recite movie lines at apropos moments. However, I don’t do it a lot. I think it can get old fast and it’s not all that clever when everybody present doesn’t know the references. It’s somewhat lazy too (I think). Being original takes more effort, and is funnier than recycling somebody else’s wit.

Other people draw attention to my humor. I dated a man, who, in retrospect, quite possibly had a touch of Asperger’s. (Point 1: in fact I expect I’ve dated MORE than one man like him, but that’s another story; Point 2: if I recall – and I don’t really feel like looking it up right now – the term “Asperger’s” has been done away with in recent history, but I think you’ll know what I’m trying to say about the man in question.) He did not entirely “get” my humor (which is most certainly going to be a problem in a close or trying-to-be-close relationship), and tried to analyze it. He decided, based on a bit of observation, that I liked visual humor. I could see his point – I do like unexpected imagery, which is why I find a squirrel drinking out of a dog bowl/bird bath funny.

Ever since the man I was dating pointed out this visual humor business, I’ve noticed when it was true – he was on to something. However, it isn’t the whole story, and it isn’t all that I think is funny.

Also, particular kinds of “visual” humor are lost on me. I never liked The Three Stooges, not when I was a kid, and not now. As a child, I was more disturbed by them. They were almost threatening. Full-grown men, who could be mean. Had I come across men like this in real life, I’m pretty sure I’d have been frightened. I didn’t think poking people in the eye or punching them was funny, especially the way it was delivered (very different, say, from the Marx Brothers).

My aversion to that kind of humor continues. I loathe the home video shows where people are being (potentially) harmed, and have never watched them. I don’t enjoy seeing strangers being hurt or embarrassed. Even if there isn’t a corpse or life-threatening injury at the video’s end, I just can’t relax and guffaw over scenes that could have ended that way. Geez, I felt this way BEFORE YouTube, back when the videos were fairly innocuous as compared to today. Laughing at other people’s mishaps doesn’t do it for me, although…

is it different when I know the people, know they are okay, and know they’d be laughing too? A long time ago, I was on a date with a man I’d recently met. We were visiting a park with a lake. There was this goose acting a bit odd, somewhat aggressively. We weren’t taunting it or anything but just minding our business, when the goose went into a rage and charged at my date, who, surprised, tried to get away, slipped in the mud and fell. I immediately made sure he was okay (he was, if not his pride), and only THEN laughed.

I contrast this with a weird incident with someone else, a friend – someone who I ultimately believed was more deeply screwed up than I realized for mainly other reasons – who laughed at me when I lost my balance on steps in his house. His immediate reaction was not to make sure I was okay and hadn’t twisted my ankle, but to laugh. I found that disturbing and telling, the more so because he didn’t “catch” himself or apologize.

Maybe unfortunate things are only funny to me when the subject thinks it’s funny too. Even when I don’t like people, I’m not going to think it’s funny when something bad happens to them. I may not think generous kindly thoughts, but I won’t be laughing.

Which is not to say I don’t laugh at pomposity, pretension, or bloated egos, because I do.

I’m not laughing all the day long. Fatigue and grief can steal my humor. In fact, I know any time I stop laughing, that something is wrong. It’s my canary in the coal mine (poor canary, I always feel bad for it). My point being, if a particular situation or person robs me of my humor, it’s a huge warning sign. I’ve learned to pay attention when I stop finding things funny, when I stop laughing, because it’s a sign something isn’t right.

Old writing: keep or toss?

I’m thinking about how much I’ve written on this blog in its fairly short life. When else have I written like this? The other comparable time I suppose was in college when I wrote stacks of papers for classes. I recall very distinctly thinking the two keys to academic success were the ability to memorize – oh baby could I memorize! – and the ability to write.

My game plan was to get good grades in order to get scholarships and grants – no loans – so that I ultimately graduated from a state college with no debt, which now sounds bizarre even to me. I had no job lined up and floundered about doing half-assed part-time jobs wellllll below my abilities, having nothing to do with my nice Liberal Arts Bachelor’s, for some subsequent time, so it’s a good thing I had no debt. [Insert ironic face.]

Because I’d put so much work into producing them, what with all the research, editing, and re-writing, I hung onto those papers long after graduation. I started to whittle away the pile gradually. It is hard to let go of anything you’ve put a lot of effort into, no matter what it is (you can quote me on that). But it’s not like a publisher was going to be clamoring to publish them, or anybody else was likely to take an interest. Hell, even I wasn’t so gung-ho to go through them. Yet I did, tossing most in the end. Did I save one or two? I think so, but the overwhelming bulk hit the recycle bin.

I’m not sorry. I don’t miss them. They served their purpose in their time. Old college papers helped get me a debt-free degree, which I’ll always have. I didn’t need the actual papers any more. The writing I’m doing now – here – is very different. It’s exactly the kind of writing I need, WANT, to be doing now.

Things Men Have Said To Me (#4)

When I was in my early twenties (and had plans to go back to college) the older man I was in a relationship with essentially said this to me: “If you aren’t going to do anything else with your life, you might as well be the mother of my (future) children.”

I went to a “tech” high school (and wasted time)

I think I was lost in high school. Make no mistake, I enjoyed myself, but went from being a big fish (grade-wise) in a small pond in grammar school to being an average, B student in a large suburban high school. I really did not distinguish myself in any way save for being a friend to certain movers and shakers. Not for gain, but because I liked them. (I turned things around later, when I would put myself through college and graduate Summa Cum Laude – oh yeah I did – but that was years down the line.)

I spent my first 8 grades in parochial school, where I think far too much time was spent on listening to stories of people getting crucified or eaten by lions, and of course attending church and going through various rituals, which could have been better spent on oh, I don’t know, preparing us for the future. That said, the English/Reading curriculum was pretty good (yay Phonics!).

Here’s where things went wrong. A fancy, new public high school had opened in the town. It had been long promised and in fact my older siblings were expected to attend had it been built sooner. It was a “tech” school which, in my family simply brought on jeers about shop class and making birdhouses or whatever traditionally gets made in such classes. So far as I knew, nobody even bothered to look into it. Well, shockingly (not!) my family members were wrong, because the school turned out to be a Science and Tech school. Gee, that’s a little different, isn’t it? Bird houses my foot. It welcomed the brightest kids in the county who tested in for admission as well as the local contingent of kids – aka the townies (not that anyone called them that; “burn-outs” and “heads” got more play) – who would be there because the law required them to be. Knowing nothing of the test or admissions process to be in the Science & Tech program, I was automatically in the latter group.

Once at the school, things went okay (it was great to not wear a uniform, and they had a GORGEOUS auditorium with cushy red seats that I could not believe, and even an elevator we were not supposed to use; I always liked elevators), but admittedly, for the most part I was more interested in my new-found social life than academics.  I was very distracted to be among hundreds of students and I enjoyed a level of popularity that was utterly foreign to my experience.

Surrounded by a lot of brilliant kids though, I was easily overlooked by teachers and administrators. Nobody was guiding or directing me, at home or at school. I don’t know who those guidance counselors on TV shows or in movies are, addressing students by name and chatting with them about their lives, concerns, and college plans. Ha, ha! My guidance counselor’s favorite phrase, for the most mundane class scheduling concerns (which were all that was ever discussed), was “I’m afraid I can’t help you young lady.” My older sister, who was also assigned to him – students got their counselor by last-name alphabetical groupings – heard the same useless spiel (she wrote a caption with him saying that in my yearbook). I’m sure he had no idea who I was and had I walked away from his desk and returned five minutes later, he’d likely have considered me a new person. Toad.
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I understood the basic plan: pass your classes, pass your grade level, and get to be a Senior. I didn’t think much, or at least not realistically beyond that (I wanted to go to the U of Miami to major in Creative Writing but my parents weren’t going to help me and it eventually became clear it cost far more than I had). My inattention to the future showed. While my very bright friends – who said I ought to be in their curriculum and in retrospect I agree – took Advanced Placement classes and spent an entire YEAR on a project in a class called “Research Practicum” (the name alone intimidated the hell out of me moreover the concept of spending a year on something was unfathomable), I fooled around. I don’t mean I was lazy; I worked part time jobs during the school year and full time in summers, but I also had my share, and perhaps a few other people’s shares, of fun. (I was making up for lost time, but unfortunately NOT at the most opportune phase of life.)

The school, in my experience, did very little so far as preparing me or my ilk, i.e., those of us in the Comprehensive (general) curriculum, for anything beyond high school. They DID offer a class called “Single Living”, which got me all excited, but it filled up and I was assigned to “Child Development” instead, where we played with 4 and 5 year olds and made little lesson plans for them. The kids were mostly very sweet and the teacher thought I was very good with them (hint, hint, think career), but dagnabbit, I wasn’t thinking about careers or raising children; I wanted Single Living!

There was one, albeit kind of token, thing the school did for our supposed future. And I’m little embarrassed to tell you, but since we’ve come this far and you need to trust me, I will spill. “College Day” was held at the county community college. Students had the day, or most of it, off from school to attend the event. I knew they had brochures and such and I’m guessing college reps but I’m a little fuzzy on that because after making a quite brief appearance, I took off to ride around in a car with friends, people who, like me, were NOT on the school’s smart-kid fast track. We blew the remainder of the day playing around. It is notable in my mind as being the only time in my life I rode in a car that hit 100mph, which it did on the highway. The driver, who was my boy-interest at the time, turned around, still flying at top speed mind you, to shake the hands of his buddies in the back seat. By that, I was – and still am – shocked. Oh yes. This is how I spent College Day.