Friday, September 9, 2011

Back To School...Way Back

- After a recent move, the author discovered an accordion file, filled with old his school school records going back over fifty years, meticulously kept by his mother, who, he believes, instinctively knew this moment of discovery would come, or, more likely, was just having a good laugh, at long last. The author would like to dedicate this to his mother, Mrs. Rosemary Welstead McDermott and acknowledge, once again, that there are indeed no coincidences in this life.
1st & 2nd Grade A's
Some moms manage to keep that cherished baseball card collection or maybe your first mitt, or that Polo Grounds ticket signed by Willie Mays. Others secret-away an autograph book, a pristine Beatle’s White Album, or the racquet Pancho Gonzales tossed (or was it threw?) at you, when you were nine.
Evidently, my own mom, had other things in mind, because she seems to have kept every academic record related to my not always impressive school days. Maybe it was because she was a teacher herself. Or, maybe it was just payback; she always had a great sense of humor.
When someone mentions “Back to School” to me, I do not get all warm and fuzzy inside. My most lasting memories of school are not particularly pleasant ones.
For example, I have a recurring dream; and, in the dream, I am once again on that hilltop, above the grungy college town at my first college, in a dorm with students who are now one-third my age. I am back there trying once more to get it right, except that once more I have not read the prescribed books, have not attended classes, have been “on the road,” so to speak, in Boston and New York. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I am going to fail that exam, Shakespeare most likely...for the fortieth time in a row!
Fortunately, I am always saved by remembering, either in my dream or upon waking-up (always with fingers numb from that hilltop cold ), that I did eventually succeed in getting my BA from another college and there will be no test.

And, what about high school? Glad you asked: I attended, voluntarily I might add, a Jesuit-military school. I think that several dictionaries still use this as an example of the word: redundant. Xavier, founded in 1847, is still thriving as a civilian institution on West 16th Street in Manhattan. We spent a great deal of time in complete fear of an earthbound supreme being called The Prefect Of Discipline, one Father Ed Heavey. Fierce does not quite measure up to describing his religious fervor in the pursuit of truants, malingerers, and underage drinkers at nearby McSorley's Saloon ( I met him much later in “real” life and he was a delightful guy; the twinkle in his eye had replaced the darts).
In those days, most of my classmates wanted to make money later by being doctors, lawyers, or engineers (several students each year got into MIT and Cal Tech). If someone had said they wanted to work in a bank, we would have...well, they would have regretted admitting to such a silly thought. Who knew?

Now, here’s a strange discovery from the file: my Kuder Preference Test results, probably from 7th or 8th grade. For those to young to remember, this test helped to identify your talents and interests. My results, shown to the left, are off the charts high (92 percentile) in only one area: Literary. Since no adult ever mentioned this to me as being meaningful, I have to believe that they thought that I had cheated in order to score so high or that it was just weird. Many editors over the years have felt the same way.

After fifty years of wondering about why school became so difficult for me after 8th grade, I found a clue at last while reviewing all of these documents. 
Grades K-8 for me were all taught by women teachers, mostly by nuns, who were, contrary to media characterization and popular belief, very dedicated, nurturing, caring people in my experience. All of my K-8 classes were co-ed. I excelled in that environment (okay, I did cry the first day of K: not recorded in the file), and was at or near the top of my class each year with averages in the low-mid 90’s. I was voted class President in 8th grade.
Then, the decline. 
Brit Politics
Looking back through the documentary evidence there is proof that for the next six years I was, at best, an average student, and at worst, well...worse. During those six years, I attended all-male schools, and had, as I recall, a single woman teacher, for one Library Science course.
As soon as I got back into a co-ed environment, in my second college, where my best prof happened to be a woman, Dr. Hayum, I began to excel again (even while working full time).
Moral of our story: Some (?) guys just learn better when they’re  around women.


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