School Daze, School Daze
My father worked for a chain of grocery stores in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa during the late 30s. He had some type of lower management position which required him to move on the average of every six months. He hated it, but he was employed all through the depression and that meant a lot. Then came WWII and we moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he was drafted to work in the Kaiser Shipyards for two years. Then we moved to Anamoose, North Dakota, my mother's home town. After WWII, the Anamoose economy collapsed and Dad was out of work. Our next move was to Boulder, Colorado. The folks liked the town, and it had a university where us kids could get a college education.
When we moved into the Boulder area, all of a sudden I was going to a junior high school that had a population as large as that of the town I had lived in for the past three years. If you counted all the teachers, janitors groundskeepers and administration, it was probably much larger. Both my parents and I were a bit intimidated. How would I do? On paper, I had a deprived background. I had no kindergarten. I had only half-day sessions in the second and third grades during WWII. Then there was that tiny rural school in Anamoose, North Dakota, for the last three grades. Well, I quickly found out that I was way ahead of the kids in Boulder. It wasn't even close. For the first time in my life, I began to suffer from serious boredom.
I was never a rebellious kid, at least not in any conventional sense that people usually think of. I attended school every day. I was there on time and , by and large, I did whatever the teachers wanted without complaining. I didn't smoke or drink and I was never in any kind of trouble. I enjoyed being at school and being in the company of the other kids and I liked the teachers too. However, I was very shy and backgroundish and I didn't speak unless called upon, which was seldom. I gradually began to feel that the teachers had me pegged as some sort of country bumpkin who belonged in the bottom third of class and wasn't worth worrying about. They just seemed to leave me alone, which was fine with me. I'd always had good grades in all the elementary schools (five schools in three states) I had attended and never felt the least concern. Good grades just naturally came my way. They were almost all As or the equivalent. The teachers used to tell Mom how bright I was. In Boulder, my grades began a long slide. I can't think of a single teacher who showed any significant interest in me, and I can't think of a single teacher who inspired me in any major way. I showed up, enjoyed the environment, took my classes and then left for work afterward.
Mom would occasionally get after me for daydreaming all the time. I don't know where I learned it, but I rather enjoyed escaping inside my head and just thinking about things, whatever that might be. When Mom would get after me, I'd just devise a look where she couldn't tell I was doing it. Well, that was a technique which came in very handy for the Boulder schools. The lesson plans seemed geared toward getting the lowest moron through and my eyes would glass over with boredom and I'd take refuge inside my head. For the most part, I have no idea what points the various teachers were belaboring, but I can't think of a single instance where I was ever criticized for not paying attention. The tests were so easy that I never had any difficulty passing without any kind of studying, although I didn't get too many good grades and I just didn't care. You'd think that the teachers would tell parents when their child was under-performing, but the folks never received any message along that line. Ample evidence existed that something was drastically wrong, but the evidence was always ignored.
In my junior year in high school I was taking the physics course. The teacher was just incredibly boring and I had no idea what the man was talking about. I really tried hard to concentrate, but when he talked my eyes glassed over and I was gone. I was thinking about my car, the girls in the class, work and who knows what else. Naturally, I was getting low grades, but I just couldn't help it. It was just incredibly boring. At that time, our school was chosen to be part of some national survey of the science abilities of high school students. Everyone in the high school was to be given a physics test, no matter whether the student had physics, was taking physics or had never had physics. The results were distributed to the school, the teachers and personal results were given to the individual students. So, we all assembled in the auditorium and took the test. My score ranked 17th (97th percentile) from the top out of about 650 students. Now, you'd think that would open my physics teacher's eyes. He showed no sign of being aware of anyone's score and didn't even mention the test. I got Ds out of both semesters of his dreary course.
In another instance, I was taking a high school english course and the teacher was going on and on about advanced-level reading skills. She was explaining how we had to be able to read between the lines to understand what the author was really trying to say and she was belaboring a series of examples. I thought the whole exercise was asinine and my eyes were glassed over day after day. She paid no attention to me. She spent most of the time with about six of her pets. Finally, as a part of this "learning to read" experience, we took a national standardized test on reading ability and comprehension. It was one of those timed tests where you read a paragraph and then answered a series of multiple-choice questions. When the test results came back, I was listed as the top student in class with a 96 percentile national rating (note: evidently I didn't do too well on this particular exam in that I usually score at the 98th percentile or above). All of her classroom pets were well down in the list. When she finished handing back the test results, she apologized to the class for giving the test in the first place. She remarked that it was a badly flawed exam with obvious discrepancies in the results, while looking directly at me. I received a D in the course.
So went my experiences with the Boulder schools. Other vignettes could be added. I graduated 187th out of a class of 213. I was told that I shouldn't bother going to college, because I'd never make it through. Well, I didn't have enough sense to listen and applied for admission to the University of Colorado anyway. We lived only a mile from the campus. Naturally, my application was rejected. The folks were dismayed. Way down at the bottom of the rejection letter was a small note to the effect that if anyone wanted to appeal the decision they could make an appointment to talk with an admissions officer. I called and made the appointment.
I entered the admissions office and sat at the desk of a pleasant, business-like man. He looked over my record and said that my not being admitted was for my own good. With a record like mine, he explained, there was very little probability that I could ever get through the university. They had to make room for people who had a better chance. The man was pleasant and straight forward. He apologized to me and said there was no way I could be admitted. As I got up and turned away, he corrected himself. He said there was one way but it was extremely improbable and I shouldn't get up any hope. I could take the standardized admission test (probably the SAT, or something like that) and if I scored in the upper 25% of the freshman class, I would be admitted. I took the test and scored in the upper 10%. My high school record was waived. Waived, no less. Why did I even go to high school? My score was so high I was admitted with advanced standing and was able to enroll in sophomore classes as a freshman and to take advanced-level sections of english and mathematics courses, if I desired. Ironically, english and mathematics were my most troublesome high school subjects.
At the 10-year high school reunion, I was the only graduate to have obtained a Ph.D. degree, although there were a couple other Ph.D. candidates. Also, I was the only graduate to achieve a professorship. Can you imagine? Me? A professor? I wonder what my teachers thought about that. I doubt that any of them were even aware of it. Fifteen years later I took the Mensa qualifying exam and passed with a score higher than necessary. I had an IQ in the 99th percentile. After getting the Mensa results, I called the folks and asked whether anyone in the Boulder School System had ever contacted them to let them know of their son's IQ. The folks were totally unaware. Nobody had ever said a thing to them.