I recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of no longer being a Student. I celebrated by not going to school that day or otherwise studying anything I’d come to fear and detest down to the mitochondrial level. For some reason, though, I’ve been thinking about the Most Important Things I’ve Learned, and whether or not any of them are attributable specifically to my almost constant study between 1980 and 2008. Let’s consider.
Primary. Where I’m from, this year of glorified baby-sitting is called Primary rather than JK. Primary is not followed by Secondary, it is followed by One, which means it should properly be called Zero. What else did I learn in Zero? I learned that boys chased girls during recess, not vice versa. I learned that I was uncool because I preferred Joan Jett to Michael Jackson. I learned that I was a loser.
Grade One. It may sound like “ov” but it’s cruelly and mysteriously spelled “of.” I learned that a tongue will, in fact, stick to a frozen chain and that removing it is a bloody and ragged endeavour (experiential learning). I discovered that if you happen to be born into a very low income bracket, the teacher won’t let you go to the washroom until you pee your pants in front of all your classmates (observational learning). I learned that Nathan Webber did not reciprocate my abiding love for him.
Two—an extremely full year, this. I had no problem spelling “Nathan Webber” but continued to struggle with “ov.” (I wrote “I love Nathan Web” on the wall of the school; I was interrupted in the early days of what may well have been a very successful career as a graffiti artist by being called back into class after recess; I never did learn why I didn’t complete this public display of adoration.) I was discovered by others and myself to be easily bullied into offering up my cheese and crackers, and that during and after such delightful events, I could be counted on to weep copiously, provide no backtalk and not tell the teacher. I learned that crying while watching Charlotte’s Web in class will also result in a beat-down. I learned that in Nova Scotia for the 1982-83 school year, it was acceptable for both students and the teacher to refer to the only Black kid in class as Pepper. I did not learn this was very, very wrong until later, but I did learn her name (Raylene); except for her, I don’t remember the names of anyone else in that class (BFF who didn’t turn out to be B, F, or F in the end excluded).
Three. Computers made their insidious way into my classroom. This, combined with my sudden and desperate need for corrective lenses, meant that I had a lot of headaches, some of which were so bad that I hallucinated. Related: it turns out that seemingly endless hallucinatory dreams about Brownie meetings are nightmares nonpareil when it came to upsetting the 7/8-year-old me; such dreams were worse than the nightmare I had the same year in which Death stood at the end of my bed waiting for me to wake up; his hands were crossed delicately on his death staff; he said nothing, but I got the message.
Grade four. I learned that if I said I wanted to learn piano, I would be forced instead to learn the cello. I learned that it is very much harder than it really should be to play “When Doves Cry” on a cello you hate and have only been playing for three months. I learned that a teacher could be a total bad-ass who is not only a Miss, but also wears tall leather boots and rides a motorcycle to school. *Throws the horns at Miss Conrad*
Grade five. I learned that I was too old to be playing with She-Ra action figures but still did so; I learned also that my friends could both continue to play with She-Ra action figures and begin smoking at school (and get busted there too) and see nothing contradictory in doing both. I learned that teachers don’t know what to do when you’re slacking off in class by reading novels under your desk; while doing so, I also realized that “scream” is an inherently (but also inexplicably) hilarious word and I received detention for laughing too hard and too long about it.
Grade six. New school, new bewbs. I learned that when no one knows you, you can just decide to be someone else; I chose not only to not be afraid of anyone anymore, but also to be a punk-ass generally. I skipped school a lot, talked sass to the teacher librarian, and swore to scandalize my classmates. I learned that the bar for white trash was higher and more inclusive at this school, and I was suddenly and entirely and only that. I learned that reading while walking to school and then standing around on the playground reading in no way detracted from other kids thinking I was a total loser. But I learned that there are different kinds of losers—and I was now the right kind, the kind people didn’t mess with. Most importantly, I learned I could get really high marks on book reports about YA novels featuring vampire gymnasts, and my path to English grad school was set!
Oh yeah, and I probably also learned how to count to, like, a thousand or something by grade six, but there’s obviously no practical value in that.