My Beautiful Wickedness

First Grade
June 26, 2007, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Mark made me think about the actual way that my early schooling happened, which (no surprise) was not standard-issue. Unlike Mark, no one ever attempted to skip me through grades and the subject was never discussed seriously (at least not with me). My mother was opposed to me skipping grades because she blamed over-promotion for messing up her next-oldest sister (who wound up as the “sister who never married and took care of the old folks” after being triple-promoted and then stuck out on top of a godforsaken hill as a fifteen-year-old high school graduate). However, she wanted me to start school as early as possible. We visited the Ruffing School (which was just starting out — my mom was an early US devotee of Montessori and I now know that her homeschooling techniques were derived from Montessori methods) but it would have been a long commute and too much money. Instead, a local parochial school said they’d take me and offered a scholarship, so that’s where I went.

I was four in the first grade. I was actually more like a floater, though, with the first grade class as my homeroom My initial teacher was a lovely woman (Mrs. James) who just packed me off to the eighth grade classroom for my reading, the sixth grade for my spelling, fourth grade for my math, etc. I took art, music, gym, religion, and recess with my own class. The older students thought I was sort of an oddball, but I guess the nuns used me as a motivator. Sr. Mary Concepta, the principal, walked me around from class to class. I still remember the click of her rosary and the soft hush of her footfall through the hallway as a friendly sound. If I’m to be escorted into the afterlife, I want Sr. Mary Concepta to come get me.

The teachers all appeared to be fine with me at first, probably because of the novelty of the experiment. I did have a problem with the replacement (lay, or for those non-Catholics, non-nun) teacher I got in the second half of the year. She believed that I was disruptive because I had been accustomed to just reading continuously if I happened to come back during the first grade recitations period; she took my disengagement as a criticism of her pedagogy. (She had some esteem issues, obviously, if a four-year-old could make her feel bad about herself.) She argued that it was damaging to the other children’s esteem and erosive of classroom discipline that I was allowed to do my own thing. When the principal wouldn’t stop my walkabouts and asked her, in that pointed way that old nuns have, exactly what could be accomplished by having me read Dick and Jane aloud, she got very petulant and curtailed my library privileges. I was allowed one book a week from an “age appropriate” section. This, even more than the itchy wool uniforms, was misery. But by the time the next year had rolled around, I was finally old enough for public school, a time that coincided with a decline in my family’s financial fortunes.

Boy, was I ever bored.


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