As a kid, I didn’t care that much about school. For most of my schooling, my grades were mediocre.
Then, late in my schooling, I came to realize if I was ever gonna get out of my hometown, I probably needed to focus on school. It took a long time for a dumbass like me to figure out that being somewhat educated might offer better odds of achieving things than having a poor education.
It was late in my schooling when I began to turn things around. But, by then, I suppose I already had a reputation for being a slacker.
I was probably a junior in high school when, in English class, we were to choose a book, read it and give a report. I showed my father the list of the books we could choose from. He said White Fang would probably be the shortest book on the list.
So I read White Fang because it was still a bit of a shortcut. I hadn’t totally converted, but I was making progress.
I got a copy of White Fang from somewhere. I was relieved it was a thin book. On the cover it said unabridged. I knew what that meant. I knew that unabridged meant Jack London meant for his book to be that thin. So I knew its thinness wasn’t a different kind of shortcut than wanting to read a short book that was intended to be short.
The day I turned in my report my English teacher asked to look at my book. She looked at the cover, them back at me with a kneejerk attitude of disgust and disdain.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“It says there unabridged.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“You can’t get away with reading an unabridged version. I’m going to have to lower your grade.”
I was never one for confrontation, especially with anybody in authority like a teacher or parent. But she must have seen from the look on my face that I understood that she, my English teacher, didn’t really know the difference between abridged and unabridged. Or, more probably, she hadn’t really thought about it. She’d just allowed whatever the word she’d read to conform to and confirm her preconception of me as a slacker and a loser.
So I asked why she was going to lower my grade. I said, “It’s unabridged.”
She’d gotten caught trying to peg me as the shortcutter she still believed me to be. She got caught and it made her look stupid as a professional of words who didn’t understand the simple difference between abridged and unabridged. So instead of apologizing, she took my report and said, “Oh yeah. It’s un-abridged.”
It was a disappointing afternoon. As an English teacher, she taught some cool shit so I thought maybe she’d be cool too. But I should have known. Turns out she wasn’t that much different than the art teacher who liked flirting with all the cheerleaders and liked treating the kids that didn’t treat him as a god like shit.
Looking back, I sorta get it. I grew up in the enclave of of town where most of the kids had gotten in trouble for stuff like burglary, vandalism, inappropriate touching of other kids in the neighborhood, petty theft, rewriting a check for 10 dollars to one for a hundred, or shooting up the neighborhood with their father’s .22 rifle. These were my friends. And I looked like them. I dressed like them. I spoke like them. I smoked like them. I listened to their music. I lived like them – us in a trailer, them with chickens in their back yards way before it was fashionable to raise chickens in your yard. And there I was, one of them, with the audaciousness of not flunking out of school. Even more, having the hubris of ducking out of afternoon trade school in exchange for White Fang and trigonometry.
As I decided to work harder to get better grades, amazingly, it began to emerge that my intelligence perhaps wasn’t reflected that well in the old grades. I decided to treat school seriously. I decided to change my attitude that school wasn’t worth treating seriously since most of the people involved were so goddamned dumb. I got wise. I finally came to understand I could use an education to my own ends instead of mostly theirs. And it was that revelation that made all the difference in my future, as lackluster as it’s become.