You know what’s weird? Like eleven years ago or whatever, I graduated from high school with and Honours English credit, right? At that time, I did not know which words were nouns and which were verbs. This is a true fact. I’m confident that at some point in elementary school I learned it long enough to pass a test, but it did not stick with me and I apparently never needed to know it again as far as school was concerned. Somewhere in the decade since then I figured it would be worth knowing and learned about nouns and verbs. Obviously everyone keeps learning after they leave school because really, it’s not like you can stop learning. I’ve learned so much more than I ever knew about geography and history and science since school ended, but that’s the sort of thing I’d expect to have to keep learning. But verbs and nouns? That’s pretty basic stuff. There are many basic things I did not learn from school.
People often assume that I am smart. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. I suppose this is because I share many characteristics of the kind of people who are smart. I was generally quiet and I showed up for classes. I’ve always had a decent vocabulary. I can remember being pretty good at spelling too, with some exceptions (like words with “ie” or “ei” which still mess me up regularly). I’ve liked reading and writing as long as I can remember and, probably, I was generally more interested in what we were learning than many of the other kids in my classes. More than one teacher said something to the effect of “You’re a bright kid, but you don’t apply yourself.”
I am not smart. Inevitably, people find contention when I say that, so I’ll explain. I just know enough stuff that I can be called “bright” is all and certainly the marks I got in school back me up on this. I was full-on average grade-wise. But that, people assured me, was because I didn’t apply myself. I don’t think this is wholly the case. From decades of being inside my face, I consider myself the world’s foremost expert on how PDRs’ brains work. I know that my brain is not as fast as some other peoples’. One of the complaints my parents regularly received on those parent-teacher nights was that I didn’t participate in class all that much. I blame this on my slow brain. I actually have memories of being aware, as a child, that the teacher had finished asking a question and other hands were going up and I still didn’t know what the question was. My brain was not done processing and other kids were already going at it. While I don’t actually have any experience thinking with someone else’s brain (yet), I have had people tell me that they can have a thought come to them in an instant, but thoughts come to me in sentences. “Oh, so koalas have two thumbs on each hand,” I might think to myself, but if I don’t finish the mental sentence I either have to start over or I lose the thought. To process a new idea like that takes me just about as long as it would to say it aloud to myself. I did not have time to repeat everything a teacher said back to myself and then join a conversation. Also, I am a slow reader. That’s something people never seem to believe just because I go through a lot of books. But that’s more because of how much time I spend reading than how quickly I do it. If you ever get a chance to hear me read something out loud you’ll notice about a sentence’s worth of decent oration and then I start tripping over words, reversing their order usually, or else I have to pause and reorient myself.
I do not say this as though being not exceptionally smart is a bad thing. I don’t mind it. I’ve long since accepted that I not quick-witted. Some people, when I try to explain it to them, are all “But you are smart” probably because they think I’m being too negative when I’m “actually a pretty bright guy”, but they are missing the entire point of what I am trying to say. I just think slowly. This is not me being woeful. This is me describing my thought process.
Lack of mental alacrity aside, I love to learn. I don’t know how much school ever really helped me with that, though. Certainly I think my teachers did good jobs for the most part. I don’t blame them for my not knowing nouns from verbs. It isn’t actually a teacher’s job to make sure a student learns things, it is a teacher’s job to make sure students pass tests. Ideally they can do both, but this is not always the case, as I am living proof. I’ve always hated tests. There I am trying to learn something and a test comes along and says “PROVE THAT YOU ARE LEARNING!” and if I can’t prove I’m learning, well people don’t like that. And that’s all school really is about. You just have to satisfy the requirements that are set up and then you get a sheet that says “THIS IS PROOF THAT THAT GUY LEARNED” and it didn’t matter how much actual learning was involved. So I just did enough to do that. I remember in the very High School Honours English class that I mentioned above we were given some book and each assigned a chapter to do a report on. There must have been about thirty chapters in it, enough for every student. I was assigned chapter eleven. I read only eleven chapters of that book. Enough to do my assignment and get out of there. I don’t even remember what the book was, something by a local writer, I think, about an island where things kept washing up and wacky times ensued, I guess. I’d probably read it now.
I became very good at cheating on tests, by the way. On occasion, if I was sitting next to someone I knew, I could tell them ahead of time that I would be copying off of them, but they still couldn’t tell. I’ve got peripheral vision like a housefly over here. And I know how to change a phrase or realign a math equation so it does not look like the one I copied from. One of the best moves is starting one way, then making a mistake and get correcting it. Erase just enough to show that you did something but “rethought” it and it looked like you were thinking, y’know? I do not remember even once being caught cheating. It isn’t that I cheated on every assignment or anything, though. I did my work and tried hard and I stayed after school for help regularly. It was on the tests that I cheated, because they were how I had to prove I was learning and because, as mentioned above, I’m not that smart I needed help proving that.
By the end of high school and my one failure of a year of university I was so tired of it. I didn’t care about having proof that I learned stuff. What do I care who knows I learned stuff? Of course I realize that the point of diplomas and such has to do with getting jobs to people who deserve them and stuff, but I have never, since childhood, wanted a life where I was defined by my job (But that’s another discussion entirely. For more information see every time I have ever mentioned my job on the Internet ever). Seriously, I just liked learning stuff. Having to prove that I was learning all the time really got in the way of that. Of the six courses I took in university, I passed one. That was it for me and school.
Sometimes when I meet someone who was an adult who knew me as a child they’ll assume I’ve gone on to scholarly things and are surprised to hear that I have not. It was just expected of me. Three times in recent months and many more times before it, people have mentioned how I should go back to school. And I think I would, really. Even hating it as I did, I miss it now. And there is my dilemma. I don’t want to have to go back to sweating over whether I’m getting marks high enough to be allowed to continue learning. Left to my own devices learning is probably far less efficient, but it is so much easier.
Oh, also, I totally can’t afford it. Very much I can’t afford to go back to school. Another dilemma solved by lack of money.