Saturday, February 12, 2011


Today is one of the great milestones in my life. As I sit writing, in the house my ex ended up with, my son is taking the ACT.

The whole process is totally irritating to him. I’ve been lucky that my wishes are important to him, but in this case, our egos are at a stalemate.

The fact that I dropped out of high school three months before graduation has not given me the moral high ground.

I’m not going to mention names because there might be legal implications.

I went to an alternative high school that was started by a man whose passion was to save inner city kids. His first school was a G.E.D. school but his second, the one I went to, was fully accredited.

I made it through one year of public high school before my counselor decided the alternative school might work out better. I had a problem with authority. I wasn’t in any way disruptive in class, I just had absolutely no respect for authority. I think it spooked them a little.

My son Dylan has total respect for authority – if it’s deserved. He seems to appreciate the experience and perspective of those who have gone before him. My ex is worried that he wants to follow my taste so closely, he’ll end up the same loser I am.

The alternative school seemed to be based entirely on two things: Paraphrasing and writing two critical analyses of books before graduating.

Paraphrasing what you were told showed you understood. It was training for writing. I think critically analyzing a book was the same thing taken to an extreme. I got sick of paraphrasing everything and never did learn how to write a critical analysis.

I turned one in, and my teacher asked, “What are you trying to get away with?” He was convinced I was capable of writing a good one. I really had no idea how to, and I couldn’t get anyone to show me how.

I must have had an attitude. They always thought I knew more than I did. One of my classes was examining a chapter from some book. In front of the class, I asked the teacher what fornication meant. She was convinced I knew perfectly well what it meant and I was just sh%t disturbing. I wasn’t.

The school focused on reading and writing. I read and learned about a lot of writers. I learned about photography and did a lot of work in the dark room. The only thing I learned about math was how to use a slide rule. It seems pretty arcane, especially considering calculators were just about to become available to the masses. (My son is probably using one right now).

School, in general, was becoming annoying to me. My entire life centered on my band. My girl friend, Pam, went to the same school. She told me the guy who ran the school was hitting on her. I was furious. For some reason, instead of confronting him, I walked away from the school just three months before graduating. In retrospect, I think I was looking for an excuse.

He was in the news a couple of years ago. He had been accused of molesting a minor at the school he works at now.

In the eighties, I decided I should have a diploma. I took the G.E.D. test. Part of it was a writing assignment. They asked me to write about my ambitions. I wrote an essay about my dream to become a dish washer. My friend Margaret Bianchetta asked, “Are you deliberately trying to sabotage your chances?”

I did very well with the test. I got a letter from the person who had to read my essay. He said, “It was very strange, but well written!” Margaret said, “Figures!”

Almost immediately, I went to the St. Louis University book store and bought a huge ACT study guide. I spent a lot of time with it but never took the test.

I was amazed at how little math I understood. My friend Benet’s wife was studying math in college at the time. We wrote letters to each other mathematically.

I learned, and just as quickly lost, a lot of math. My son is brilliant with math. He had to pull public service for a free college program called A+. We thought for sure he was going to tutor kids in math. He ended up baby sitting grade-schoolers. It seems talent is never recognized.

Wow, that thought just inspired an idea I have about my daughter’s acting career.

Dylan at Shakespeare in Forest Park last year.


Dorothy said...

Gosh, I had a suspicion about DO that was years later confirmed by another of our classmates. That is very sad. We had a math teacher there that I politely refused, but continued the tutoring I had with him. That was shortly before I became pregnant with Gabe. How long did Sharon stay on there as co director? It would be interesting to know the scoop on that place, during that time.
I loved Janina, my advisor, and several of the other instructors. I remember writing a paper about The Great Gatsby, and using a Donovan song as my intro. Those English classes were wonderful, but the math and science were weak as I recall. Though that could be because we were allowed so much freedom in choosing classes.
I remember being hungry all the time, because I had left home and was living with my boyfriend, and I never made my lunch; I always thought I could eat when I got home, but people would bring in spanikopitas and fried rice, and it drove me nuts. Then when I got pregnant with Gabe, I would have to exit the Bi-State bus to throw up, inconspicuously as possible, then catch another bus to get to school!
Other memories, Debbie's curtained office with a shag rug and bean bags, celestial seasonings tea, and her wise counseling. And I distinctly recall a female student who always had a bottle of Southern Comfort in her purse, a la Janis Joplin. Even there, clicks formed, and that was surprising to me.
Crazy times!

Doggie said...

Janina was my advisor as well. I loved her too. I used to bum cigarettes from her. Sharon was a bit odd. We used to go up to Garavelli's and eat lunch out of the bus pans. We were all broke and paying our own way. My tuition was $5.00 a term. If the teachers weren't Viet Nam CO Jesuits who worked for free the school never could have survived. Remember they moved to Ladue to get tuition from rich druggie problem kids?

Dorothy said...

What year did they move to Ladue? I think Sharon, (was it Erdman?), had left before I dropped out. I kept in touch with Janina for awhile, and had lunch with her after I was working at Washington U Med School Library. I really was in my own little world at the time. Debbie was also, really great, I thought.
So you and I both dropped out of there.... I remember so few names, John Mendenhall, the Sharon that became a nurse who I ran into later at WUMS, Patty F..., who drove a Vega and occasionally gave me rides. Some other nice Jewish girls from Ladue, one of whom gave me a kitten. A quiet girl with a moonstone ring and her quiet redhaired boyfriend, who just wouldn't talk ! I also remember a fantastic egg tempera class, and painting tweedle dee and tweedledum, which I gave to my instructor when I left,( always wished I would have kept it!)
Garavelli's! Is it still around? It was classy. George and I went there, but I think it was a very rare treat for me when I was in school. I wish I could remember more about those days...

...Sharon said...

To help improve SAT scores... good advice from one of Manda's teachers in high school was to read the NYTimes each day. Greatly improves the vocabulary and keeps you current in the world news. She took the advice, got hooked and helped her scores.

In fact, I remember I was giving you the crossword puzzles there for a while.