The Agony of Having to Go Back to School

 

 

One of my earliest memories is that of some adult neighbor's asking

me, "Aren't you sorry to have to go back to school?" I already knew what

the answer was supposed to be, because I had seen it in the newspapers: I

was supposed to be a small boy, Tom Sawyer with a fishing pole, tattered

hat and can of wurmz, dragged away from freedom and pleasure by adult

do-gooders. Not my neighbor-lady, though; she sympathized. Of course I

had to confess to her my distress at having to go back to school. Every

September of my life.

 

Until 1934 we lived behind my father's dry-goods store, on a business

street with a street-car down the middle. I had never seen a fishing rod

up close, nor straw-hat, nor wurmz. I loved school, from arithmetic to

climbing ropes in the gym. But I had read enough in the newspapers to

know I was supposed to hate it, and like any other good exam-taker I

produced the right answers when the questions were right.

 

Things haven't changed much in sixty-five years. The feature

article, Bright kids take SAT years early, in the September 23 Rochester

Democrat & Chronicle, tells of a program run by Johns Hopkins University

for the identification and nurturing of early signs of intellectual

talent. In connection with the SAT exam-taking, the article describes the

usual reservations people are supposed to express about "pushing" their

children. In this case, the only visible push is a parent's unseemly

desire to know how well the child is doing intellectually, so as not to

deprive him of suitable opportunities such as are lacking in the public

schools. The only visible harm is the possibility that distinguishing

between better and worse in this regard is elitist and unfair, or

psychologically unsound:

 

"... Some educators worry about how the program may affect students

who aren't ready for the challenge ..."

 

Curious, that we never see signs of such worry when some kids make

the varsity tennis team and others do not.

 

Early SAT exams are only the diagnostic part of the Johns Hopkins

assault on the innocence of youth. Towards the end of the article are

described the actual programs provided for students capable of enjoying

them. For example,

 

"Christopher McCue, a seventh-grader at Brighton Middle School,

scored well enough on a test he took in the fifth grade to attend summer

programs at Stanford University in California. This past summer he spent

three weeks studying the Middle Ages, from reading the Old English poem

Beowulf to learning how castles were built.

 

"Though the students worked on academics six hours a day, they had

fun, too, said Christopher."

 

Though? "Fun, too"! It's even easier to identify a bright kid than the

Johns Hopkins folk think. You don't need to know his SAT scores at all.

Just ask him the "school vs fun" question and he knows instantly what a

newspaper reporter wants to hear.

 

Ralph A. Raimi

1998