I recently had a conversation with my mom about my experience with school. We were talking about a book Rowan and I had read, in which the main character rode the bus to school on the first day of 8th grade, got off the bus, turned around, and went home. She just couldn’t take one more minute of school. The word she used to describe how she felt there was “stupified”.
I was horribly, mind-numbingly, stupifyingly bored from the third grade on. By fifth grade (during which year I was often sent to the hallway with an algebra book in what I believe was a well-meaning effort by my teacher to deal with my boredom) I was beginning to feel an overwhelming sense of doom whenever I entered the school building. By high school I was regularly skipping classes, intercepting mail, and changing the grades on my report card. I spent days at the town library, snuck home and hung out in the yard if I knew no one was there, went to friends’ houses, went to the beach if I could get a ride. I walked to school, and some days I made it all the way there before the sinking feeling became too much to bear and I turned around not even knowing where I’d end up for the day. If I had missed one more day of high school I would not have graduated. My parents had no idea.
If I was a ‘gifted’ child no one ever told me, but this paper, titled To produce or not to produce? Understanding boredom and the honor in underachievement (On Gifted Students in School) pretty much sums up how I felt for 10 years of my life. I would have been thrilled in high school to have someone acknowledge the idea that there was honor in my ‘underachievement’. Choosing not to produce, to disengage, certainly felt to me like the only way to keep my integrity intact, even at the price of lying to my parents.
Here’s a poem I wrote on one of the days I spent at Needham Public Library when I was 15 or 16. Not great literature, by any means, but I can’t tell you how clearly I remember this feeling.
Boredom lurks and then it pounces
As I sit, my mind a blank
So I draw a crazy picture
Of a ship that sailed, and sank.
Heading nowhere on a journey
To a place that’s far away
Looking back at old, lost friendships
When I left, they chose to stay
In a place that’s cold and lonely
While I head for sun and sand
On my ship that’s made of daydreams
Sailing to a distant land.
This is not why my kids don’t go to school. They don’t go to school because they don’t want to, for reasons of their own. But I am grateful there is nothing stupifying about their lives.