Sunday, February 15, 2009

Protesters and Cursive

During my first three years in school my dad spent the summers taking classes at universities. It was during these years I remember hearing, but not understanding, words like scholarship, four-point-o, doctorate and degree. Dad would also bring presents when he came home. One time I got a bike. It was a great, life-changing present. The summer before third grade my dad, age 32, received his first offer to serve as the superintendent of a school system.

Dad finished all his classes, went to an interview and came back with a job. This meant I would be attending third grade in the new school half way across the state of Iowa. Several things happened that first year in this new school system to test both my dad as a superintendent and me as a third grader. I remember my dad having to face students protesting the Vietnam War. They came to school wearing black armbands and got everyone all stirred up. My dad had a simple solution for these student/protesters: take off the black armbands. They did, and that ended that issue.

In the third grade classroom I also had an unexpected surprise. The very first day of school my new teacher began to write on the board by weaving her letters together without lifting up her chalk. Very confusing. I could not read what she was writing. My concern intensified when I noticed that all of the other students in third grade could decode this fluent, interlaced form of communication that continued through out the first day of school. In fact, the students began to write the same way. How do you raise your hand in a room full of people and say, "Excuse me, I can't read that." I didn't know what to say back then, and I still don't know what I should have said.

At my old school this advanced level of penmanship was reserved for third graders. I had seen this system of symbols on an older students discarded homework blowing across the playground at my old school. But, in my new school cursive was introduced and practiced at the end of second grade. I realized that the kids at this new school were all geniuses and that I was really not ready for third grade. I remember the teacher being frustrated and treating me like I was dumb. She wasn't sympathetic that I had no idea how to read or write cursive. In fact, she appeared to think I had not been paying attention. I came to hate cursive and had terrible penmanship. At first I did my assignments twice. First, I would turn in the neat, printed version that would be rejected, then I would turn in a barely legible cursive version. I consistently got D's in writing up through sixth grade.

All things considered, I liked my new school. During recess the cutest girl in class would chase me around the playground and try to kiss me. The class bully wanted to fight me. So we fought. I won and we became friends. We only had five days of school in January that year because of an incredible amount of snow. We ended up having to go to school on a Saturday which caused us to miss Saturday morning cartoons. My class was mad at me because my dad had made the decision to go to school on a Saturday. (At home I had expressed these same sentiments as I lobbied in vain for the cause of the students.) In my own terms and level of understanding I tried to explain to my classmates the state's mandated number of school days, but they would have none of my excuses. They knew my dad was superintendent and believed if he wanted to he could just cancel school all together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you compared some of those events to today, you would have been in a world of trouble. (sexual harassment for kissing girls at recess, Out of school suspension for fighting)You probably would have been staffed into special ed for not knowing how to write cursive too!! Also, the black arm bands would have fallen under the "freedom of speech" rights! Wow! You worked out all your problems by yourself. Amazing. Too bad we don't equip students today with those skills instead of protecting them from everything.