L. Neil Smith's
Number 204, December 23, 2002


"School Daze"
by Lowell Potter

Special to TLE

Why would anybody listen to me?

Actually, there was a time when I thought I was quite smart. Well, I was ...sort of, ...in a youthfully innocent, alert, commonsensical kind of way, but as far as book learning was concerned, I was irretrievably enrolled in government schools at the tender age of five.

Eschewing the classics, schooling began with blunt scissors, construction paper, and white paste (yes, I ate it... didn't everyone?), music, dancing, and naps---Shiat!

I hated naps at home and I hated naps in that damned school even more! At home at least, enforced naps were pronely endured in bed with a nice pillow and a blankie. At school, those rotten creeps made us put our heads down on our hard cold desks for fifteen whole minutes, which of course was an excruciating eternity. That other shiat didn't work out so well, either....I can remember being vilely accused by my dried up old kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hendricks, of vengefully throwing a fragile female partner onto the dance floor and deliberately giving another sweet girl a paper cut as she rubbed by my desk...I mean, what the fuck, over?

Funny. I don't remember being overly large, strong, or visciously misogynic in kindergarten, but I don't know. Maybe I truly did do those things, ....perhaps malevolently, but I don't think so.

I can tell you, old Mrs. Hendricks had more wrinkles than a truckload of California raisins and she shook menacingly and dramatically with some sort of perniciously degenerative Parkinson's like disease. I still believe she was a bitter old husk actually exercising some dark and vindictive latent feminazi tendencies from her high office, conveniently focusing her ire and unhappiness on a rambunctious little boy who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

School sessions eventually progressed from this sort of frippery and other sundry joys of kindergarten, to first grade and much weightier matter like Dick and Jane, and seeing Spot run. I can't even remember my next teacher. For many years, after the painful trauma and emotional scarring at the palsied hands of horrible old Mrs. Hendricks, memories of successive teachers were only recorded dimly and defensively in my consciousness as faceless droning power figures, robotically intoning the school's mind numbing quotidian curriculum.

In partial defense of Dick, Jane, and Spot, I admit something eventually clicked there, and I experienced a wonderful and miraculous epiphany and the dazzling new world of books and Readin'. So, the teachers got at least one of the Three R's right, but I'm giving them mixed marks on the other two.

What of Ritin'? I'm quite confident that any competence I may or may not command within this discipline was probably gleaned more from reading books than from any rote classroom instruction, but I'll grudgingly grant the school marginal credit in the Ritin' department. Something must have sunk in, or maybe I should say, they must have been able to teach me something? I will not bring the question of the degree of my attentiveness into the equation. I have Rights!

Rithmetic was another matter altogether.

The so-called and much ballyhooed "New Math" was emerging dominant in our school system at the time (L.A., circa 1960) at the seeming expense of the tried and true nuts-and-bolts basics of 1 + 1 = 2. At least, that's how it seemed to me.

I have darkly muddled and uncomfortable recollections of struggling to master basic addition and subtraction, not to mention multiplication tables and long division. It seemed to me that the teachers just assumed our automatic innate mastery of these functions while plying us with their shiny gleaming "New Math" workbooks, full of what I can only in retrospect describe as a vast compendium of quasi-algebraic equations and incomprehensible exercises, liberally laced with odd geometrical figures, ancient runes, and other assorted pictographs and hieroglyphs. These were helpfully set off with scanty and occasional explanations apparently denoted entirely in the Sumerian and/or early Greek. Thanks!

Again, to be fair, partial credit must be grudgingly granted, or perhaps, merely the benefit of the doubt, for I did finally manage a working albeit reluctant grasp of the four basic numerical functions. This in spite of my premature exposure to the daunting and frightening, shiny yellow workbooks brandished by the overly enthusiastic "New Math" proselytizers calling the shots at our vaunted hall of learning.

If I were somehow incongruously inclined to seek relief from the state, which I am unequivocally not, my lifelong math phobia might qualify me as some sort of "victim" after the fact in our brave new litigiously crazy world. My sophisticated barristers and solicitors would characterise me a forlorn and woebegone intellectual casualty of overzealous socialist mind melding experimentation run horribly amok.

Surely, I must win my case on its unshakable merits---hands down. Then again, suing the state would undoubtedly prove frustrating and fruitless, or more likely even harmful. Remember, there would be lawyers involved. In any case, I'm adamantly convinced that those incompetent bastards blithely blew out for all time my amorphously innocent little brain's ability to process any mathematical calculation containing so much as a whit more than the basic positive integers.(sigh)

I also might, in the spirit of the shining, new-age pantheon to "Victimism," assume no personal resposibility whatsoever for failing to absorb any or all of the expert(??) instruction rendered by my teachers. This assumption is kind of like the exercise of Rights in reverse, don't you think?

I'm sorry. Can you forgive my disjointed ramblings? To return to the point, I would beseech the gentle reader not to bust my chops on subtle and picayune points of faulty grammatical construction, incorrect spellings and punctuation, or tortured syntax. I was educated largely by Boys' Life magazine, Sports Illustrated, and Readers' Digest, rounded out with The Hardy Boys books, "Treasure Island," and Saturday morning cartoons and other substantial televised fare including the indispensable "Soupy Sales," "The Wild Wild West," and good old "Hank."

Indeed, why would anybody listen to me?

"Well, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" if they do or not, but here's a truly mind expanding suggestion for those who just feel like something's missing:

Put Steely Dan's marvelous magnum opus "The Royal Scam" on the stereo and take several inoculations or booster shots of the legendary and incomparable Heinlein and/or the brilliant and erudite Rothbard. Now, feel the stimulating heat from Liberty's flame burning anew deep within your Blessed soul.

In the words of the immortal Hans and Franz(shallow, dated pop culture reference), "Ja, ....Hear me now, believe me lay-der!"

"Ja, ....We're here to Pump You Up!"

Smug pedants and dedicated statists can "Lechs mich doch am Arsch," as they might say in some of my favorite Bayerischer drinking haunts. To all others, may the force be with you! I'll say a prayer.

"Ja. Hear me now!"

Ja, Brother.

Peace out.


Flight From Eden by Kathryn A. Graham - America's religious right has gone mad, but if you are looking for a political lecture, go elsewhere! Instead, let the Texas Director for Armed Females of America take you on the science fiction adventure of a lifetime. And the journey is only beginning!

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