“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality” -Beatrix Potter
Why does our school reward mediocrity? Teacher, do you even know what that word means? By the way, I learned that word and many more at home at the age of six from a Mom who cared about my vocabulary more than you will ever care. She also cared passionately that I knew the layers beneath the words. So that is how I have the words and layers to ask this question. Why does the National Association of Educators care more about their political agenda than my education? Why do they feel that leveling the playing ground for everyone is fair? Or even ethical? Why am I required to be in a study group with 3 people that do not give a sh*t (their words) about the assignment? Why must I be ashamed when I’m afraid to do the work because they will think I’m a sissy?
I would like to say thanks for nothing to Mrs. H. at Ringgold High School for teaching me zero about the art of Social Sciences. Do you think I didn’t notice when you came to class day after day unprepared? Do you not realize I have feelings when you act as if I don’t exist? When I see you day after day talk only to the popular kids and use my class time to plan the prom?
Oh, and Mrs. V., do you think I didn’t see the surprise and even disappointment (and veiled disgust) in your face when you called this seventeen-year-old into your guidance office and looked at my clothes and hair and asked who I am? And I ask “Why, am I in trouble?” and you say “No” and proceed to ask how could I have possibly made the highest grade in the history of the school on the ACT test when she has never even met me. And how she couldn’t understand how the all-RHS Mr. & Mrs. Valedictorian & Salutatorian made nine points less than me. There must be some mistake. Miss Guidance Counselor, do you not realize I have feelings like a real person?
But a huge thanks for everything to Mr. Thomas at East Lake Jr. High School. You taught me far more than history. You taught me (contrary to my racist upbringing) that a man of color can be brilliant, articulate, sensitive and creative. Long before our current President, you helped me realize in 1971, in a city filled with racial tension, that any American regardless of skin color can be anything they dream to be, IF they are rewarded for effort and aspiration — not mediocrity and laziness. You alone sir, four years later were responsible for my one point from a perfect score in the history portion of the ACT. You taught me not to memorize, but to absorb and absolutely love history with every fiber of my being.
Mr. Thomas, your creativity inspires me to this day, over 39 years later. Thanks for making dead people come alive and seemingly irrelevant events throb with meaning to the artistic and sensitive soul in me. Oh yeah, and thanks for the milkshakes to the five of us on the WINNING history team. Thanks for rewarding intelligence, effort and academic excellence. And maybe more importantly, for teaching me that the color of a person’s skin should be invisible, that it is the heart that really matters.