Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 396, December 3, 2006

"A Future that's worth looking forward to."


Too Stupid To Take
by Elizabeth Harrison

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

One of the three wisest people I have ever met in my life is a furniture salesman who never went to college.

I've been public-school educated all the way up through. Elementary school—let's not go there. The teachers didn't know what to do with me so they contented themselves with giving me high grades and not bothering to challenge me. In middle school (junior high school in some parts of the country), I was challenged quite well by my 8th grade history teacher, but aside from that, the only reason I stayed awake in school every day was because many of my teachers—though bound by a public school curriculum—were very interesting to talk to.

And then high school. Now that has been a mess.

In freshman year I wasn't challenged at all. Some of my classes were interesting on the merit of the teachers alone, but they were so easy. I remember in my freshman science class, my Physical Science teacher (who was a very nice man) was quite horribly baffled by the fact that I would completely ignore every single one of his lectures and sit in the classroom reading The Elegant Universe. Apparently, the fact that I never paid attention in his class was supposed to leave me unable to read a book of such. . . caliber, I suppose.

Sophomore year was odd. My biology class was ridiculously easy but I love animals, so I was constantly fascinated by that class. I never wasted a minute—when I wasn't doing my own research on the topic in the classroom, I was using it as my study hall. I went home with almost no schoolwork to do at the end of almost every day. The other classes were interesting, kind of. . . I never really had to think in most of them, with the occasional exception of English, but at least the teachers knew what they were talking about almost all of the time.

At the same time, there was history. Now, history is a strange case for me. The greatest teachers I've ever had have all been history teachers. But the way the public curriculum works for history is that it's repeated. Four times. The same exact course is taught in 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grade in most schools. My school even took that one step further and split the curriculum in half for high school, so I had the exact same history class in 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th and 11th grade. This was supposed to allow the high school history teachers to cover the subject in more depth. The only good thing about that was that my teachers in 8th and 11th grade history were absolute geniuses who have fantastic senses of humor.

My 11th grade history teacher was also the man who taught all of the history electives at the school, which I took, and I was fortunate enough to have him as a teacher for three years as a result. It always seemed to me that he was being held back. He is a brilliant man—get him in conversation alone and he could tell you about historical events in an astonishing level of detail, and with incredibly intelligent and interesting opinions to go along with it—but walk into his classroom and listen to the lectures, and you'll hear the generic information coming out of the textbook. He is wasted in a public school. The man should be a tutor, paid by some wealthy family to impart all of his knowledge on their child, and getting a lot more money for what he knows than he does.

I've been fortunate. I've discovered that New England public schools have teachers of, on the whole, extremely high intelligence. The majority of my teachers are, quite literally, geniuses. My physics teacher could—and regularly did—converse with the students in Spanish and Italian. My English teacher could give a lecture on history to make my history teacher run for his money. My Latin teacher? She could do a dead-on and thought-provoking analysis of MacBeth, Hamlet, any of those, in ten minutes, which had never been written before, and make sense doing so. My history teacher could philosophize until you'd had your every preconceived notion stripped from beneath your feet within ten minutes. And my Pre-Calc teacher? She had a very interesting knowledge of weaponry and war tactics, thanks to her Marine Officer of a husband.

Then I moved.

I never really thought that there would be a difference in the public school system around the country. Stupid of me, I know, but it never occurred to me. So I moved to Arkansas a month ago, and, not wishing to be a dropout, enrolled in the school down here.

My physics teacher cannot spell the word "inertia," and she is not dyslexic. The subject of inertia is one of the major points of physics. And she cannot spell the word.

My physics teacher from New Hampshire would say, in his extremely loud voice, "She should be shot," and would then likely go on to explain why in three different languages.

Coming to Arkansas was a major culture-shock for me. I came from a school where the teachers were geniuses and left behind Honors and Advanced Placement classes—college level, basically. I was about average in those classes, though I might have been able to do better if I'd put forth some actual effort.

The school I entered follows a sort of schedule called block scheduling. That was a big adjustment for me, because in New Hampshire we took seven classes each, an hour a day, either all year long or for half of the year, depending on whether the class was an elective or not. In Arkansas, or at least in NW Arkansas, the students take four classes for an hour and a half a day, half the year each, regardless of subject.

I entered the school in early November. The classes the students were taking were half-completed, according to their curriculum.

Imagine my surprise to find that halfway through the curriculum, the school is working on the things my physics teacher reviewed on the first day of class in New Hampshire, all the while complaining that "we don't really need to do this, do we, guys? You already know this stuff." And he was right. And I still can't believe that the Arkansas physics teacher cannot spell the word "inertia."

Coming from New Hampshire, I already had all of the credits I needed to graduate there. I was missing only an English 12 credit, which was the only reason I didn't graduate at the end of my junior year, and if I had asked in my sophomore year, it could have been arranged. With the work I had done, I had enough credits that the school in Arkansas really shouldn't be able to hold me—all I was honestly missing from their list of required credits was a Speech class, or public speaking. But somehow, the guidance counselor here claimed that my History and Civics classes didn't count as Civics and Government, and forced me into that class. He then went on to claim that my five history electives, broken up by region and spanning the globe, do not count as World History. I was a bit annoyed to find that the counselor was interested more in making his paperwork easy than in accommodating a new student. It was even more interesting to be told by said guidance counselor, when I walked into his office and told him my classes were too easy and to give me a challenge, "You have to try to understand that we have to accommodate all of the students here, and you've only been here a short while. I don't understand why you don't understand that."

Well, no kidding. He said it himself, folks. He has to accommodate all of the students there.

Of which I am one.


Funny how that works, isn't it?

From what I've seen, New Hampshire and Arkansas have opposite problems, education-wise. In New Hampshire, my teachers were all geniuses, but the curriculum and politics blocked them in many ways from showing it. The school certainly knew how to challenge us, but they also tried to teach all of the same indoctrination that most public schools have as far as how to think. Here in Arkansas, the teachers that I have met so far, with one exception, are fools. The curriculum may as well not exist—they don't need it. The school teaches on a level so basic that it's almost sickening. Walking into that building every day is quite the chore, because each time I lose seven hours and fifteen minutes out of a day—seven hours and fifteen minutes that I can never get back, wasted on remedial-level work that I did years ago.

I'm currently seeking alternative methods of schooling, such as home schooling. If that doesn't work, I am honestly considering dropping out and going the GED route.

And I wonder how many students have done exactly that, making getting into college considerably more difficult, because the school system was just too stupid for them to take any longer.


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