Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A New Year

Today, in the very early morning hours, swarms of teenagers were huddled on street corners and in unused doorways, looking chilled (they never wear enough warm clothing), and with blank expressions on their faces. While I didn’t see any yellow buses, I can conclude only one thing—the new year of purgatory, I mean, school has begun.

It seems cruel to make teenagers get up at dawn. From what I remember of being a teen, they need anywhere between eight and ten hours of sleep a night, and they are very unlikely to go to sleep before 11 p.m. Maybe this bit has changed, but at my school, we weren’t allowed to drink coffee until senior year. Something about all that caffeine being bad for our growing bodies.

My memories of public school are mostly bad. Endless hours trapped in soulless cinder-block chambers, trying to pay attention as the teacher droned on and on through a lesson delivered countless times before, sapping the teacher’s ability to make it sound fresh, new and interesting. School architectural design had a big influence on my education experiences. I loved going to Salem School in Naugatuck. I was there for only half a year (we moved to town half way through 5th Grade), and I was dazzled by the beautiful woodwork and high ceilings. I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to attend Naugatuck High School—the first time I saw it, I thought it was some sort of industrial prison. I did put in the requisite two years at Swift Middle School in Watertown. Those were miserable years. I was having a hard time being the new kid again, I was dealing with all the emotional turmoil of those years, and I had to spend my days navigating the dark, low-ceilinged, soulless cinderblock maze of hallways. That’s what I remember most about Swift—soulless cinderblock and endless hallways where I still sometimes took a wrong turn after the first year. Meanwhile, I remember Salem with fondness.

I thought I was the most engaged student in any of my classes. Learning wasn’t cool, so all the kids made a big effort to show that they weren’t being uncool. The funny thing is, as adults, most of us spend a fair amount of time trying to learn things, whether it’s how to operate your DVR or preparing to pass a test to get a new job or promotion. Maybe the most important thing to teach in the public schools is how to learn.

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