I think I got my academic work ethic in middle school. I went to Magnet schools 1st grade through 8th. Each Magnet school was geared towards a different skill set-- performing arts, rigorous academics, science & math......my elementary school program was based around creative thinking. Basically this involved giving kids lots of different problems to solve, and rewarding thinking outside of the box. My middle school however was geared towards rigorous academics.
And when I say rigorous academics.....I mean insanely competitive, overly oppressive, regurgitation based, imagination killing indoctrination. At the time I thought it was great, but the more I look back at it, that program was insane. I was on every academic team that school put out, and so I and a lot of the other kids I was friends with were treated like prize horses instead of kids. I had one "academic coach" who had the reputation of driving kids to the point of nervous breakdowns because she wanted them to know every answer to every question that could possibly be asked at a competition. Hell, we were kids, we didn't know how stupid it was to sit around and memorize random facts just so we could beat the hell out of other schools who weren't marshaled around four afternoons (two hours an afternoon) a week. I developed my hatred of formal competition in that place, not only because of what it does to people, but what it brings out in my own personality.
There were some good things: one of my history teachers who spent two months out of a semester doing an extended unit on Islamic history and culture.....and treating the topic with respect and dignity; one of my science teachers, who was one of the best teachers I've ever had, despite the fact that I'm not really a science person; and getting pushed to read different and more difficult literature than I had before (we were reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in sixth grade).
Which brings me to the book du jour.
Before middle school I hadn't had a proper introduction to the genre of Science Fiction. I had already read lots of different fantasy-type novels, and had torn through lots of different versions of the Arthurian legends.....but no sci-fi yet. That is until I read Ray Bradbury's
Like a lot of other people I know, I was extremely unpopular in middle school. I had friends, but they didn't always get me. And for being in such an academically rigorous school, it was not the norm to be a geek. It was normal to know stuff, but you weren't supposed to "be a geek about it." Needless to say, the fact that I had my nose in a book perpetually didn't go over well with my peers. Growing up in a fairly small community in a mid-size southern city, I was also convinced that there weren't people out there "like me." Kids who liked folk music, read everything they could get their hands on, were seriously into technology, and liked to learn about everything.......I guess that was the worst part of middle school, high school, and undergrad to an extent--you didn't think there was anyone else your own age interested in the things you were.
Books like Fahrenheit 451, let me realize that there were other people as book obsessed as I was. It also put words to my boredom with memorizing random facts for competitions that ultimately didn't mean anything.
"Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving."
And I was ultimately captivated with the idea of carrying the books you love within your memories. I think it was the first inkling of how much I would cherish being part of an aural/oral tradition, and feeling responsible for making sure that knowledge is passed on to someone else.
One question I still can't answer?
Which book would you be?
(feel free to answer in the comments if you've got a book you'd be)
Peace, Love, and Tunes,
Labels: books that changed my life