Spelling, Indoctrination, Public Schools, and Internet Debates

As a child, I was an excellent speller, but I hated the subject of Spelling. It was hideously boring, being forced week after week to engage in the most mind-numbing exercises designed to teach me to spell words I already knew how to spell.

In second grade, my frustration caused me to rebel. I began using words in my spelling sentences designed to show how ridiculous it was that I should be pretending to be “learning” anything. For the word “colors”, I used my new favorite word: “The colors in that painting,” I wrote, “were stupendous.” At every opportunity, I threw in the spelling and vocabulary words that I was learning, at home. My attempts to get my teacher to see the error of her ways failed miserably.

In third grade, I would try to force my sentences into stories — not at all an easy task. That teacher didn’t see the light either.

By fourth grade, I gave up. I can remember listlessly scrawling my homework in my spelling workbook day after day. Apparently my scrawling was so atrocious that it outraged my teacher, who called my parents, with the result that I was forced to copy everything into a fresh spelling workbook, only using far neater penmanship. There was a bright spot in all this: in addition, I was finally freed from the tyranny of the spelling curriculum and allowed to create my own spelling and vocabulary curriculum in its place. (Hey, it was the 1960’s.)

I wasn’t necessarily that “gifted” in all my subjects.

As an adult, I have been diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. It has made me wish I could run back to all my teachers, wave the results of four grueling hours of testing in their faces, and insist, “See? I wasn’t lazy, or careless, or stubborn, or stupid! And there was a damned good reason I wasn’t always paying attention!” Some kids, as frustrated as I often was, act out. Some give up entirely.

I was a quiet rebel. One example: on the last day of my tenth grade creative writing class, the teacher asked in an offhand sort of way while dismissing the class, “If anyone has any suggestions to improve this class…?” and I whipped out a spiral notebook and left it on her desk.

That notebook was how I’d vented my anger at having a teacher suck the life out of the thing I did that gave me the greatest satisfaction in life. It was my ideas on how the class should have been taught. Actually, it was far more than that. It was a course outline, with goals and objectives — and almost a full semester’s worth of lesson plans and assignments.

Of course it was wasted on her, and I knew it.

Oh, and by the way, all of my former teachers who used to tell me that I just needed to work harder? You have no idea how hard I worked in your class.

From second grade onward, I was observing, critiquing, analyzing, and silently resisting. I saw the injustices of the system. I saw the absurdity. I saw the emptiness and futility — even at excellent schools with excellent teachers. It was a box. It was a prison.

School robbed me of joy. It crushed me. But I refused to let it destroy me.

And years later, when my first child approached school age — a child who “learned differently” and would have had to have been diagnosed, labeled, and drugged in order to fit into an elementary school classroom — I swore that no child of mine would be served up to the institution until they were mature and strong enough not to emerge as wounded as I was.

I don’t think public school is evil. I don’t think teachers exist to make children’s lives miserable. I had some excellent teachers, whose memories I cherish. (Come to think of it, the really good ones were renegades and rebels themselves.)

In fact, I think many students are well served by the public schools.

But most of you…of us…have been indoctrinated. Unless we have ever questioned the system — and I mean far, far beyond, “Why do we have to take this class?” and “Waah, waaah, that teacher grades so unfair” — we have been indoctrinated. Unless our public school teachers taught that alternative forms of education (some of which look nothing like our notions of “school”) are just as valid if not more so than our education, unless they had us reading authors like John Holt, unless they encouraged us to question whether we really belonged in public school — we have been indoctrinated.

Some of us fought it better than others. Some of us eventually woke up and saw the system for what it is. As long as we think that government-funded institutions of learning are somehow neutral, indoctrination-free zones, where every teacher, administrator, and textbook author has the amazing ability to remain free from personal biases or agendas — we are still drinking the koolaid.

All this came back to me during a recent Facebook debate which, I’m told, finally degenerated into correcting someone’s spelling.

A note to my readers: I have been dubbed The Typo Queen. The spelling brain cells of my youth seem to be vanishing rapidly. In addition, I’m close to being world’s worst proofreader. So feel free to offer me any and all corrections. You would be doing me a service.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that poor spelling means poor reasoning, or that your spelling prowess makes you somehow superior in intellect. If that’s what you think — or if you think odd grammar, lack of a college degree, and poor proofreading abilities makes someone “uneducated” — you need to get over your indoctrination. Learn about multiple intelligence theory. Face your bigotry and prejudice. Don’t try to squeeze the whole world into your institutional schooling box.