Every monday in 7th grade our section in biology class had to do a presentation on a news article. Everyone had to come up to the front of the class and recite from a piece of binder paper and turn that binder paper into the teacher for credit. If everyone had their binder paper, news article, assignment in a section, everyone in that section’s grade would go up. But there was one person in our section that almost never turned in that assignment. That person was me.
I never did my homework. When everyone passed homework around to the person in front of them so it could be graded, I never had anything to show. I never did my homework, I was late with all my projects, and I sucked when it came down to presentations. So I didn’t do it. I didn’t care, I was a rebel. Everyone knew I was a rebel, the one and only boy with the firm belief as to not do his homework. The day I went into the counselors office where I was told that I was in danger of repeating the 7th grade was the day everything changed.
It was probably late March. It was early that week and in two days I would have to figure out how to not fail a test. I didn’t know what to do. My teacher said I needed to borrow people’s homework so I could read over them and study them. No one wanted to let me borrow their homework. Nobody liked me. I was a rebel. A day had passed and I had scrambled to find study material, but ended up with nothing. The idea of repeating the seventh grade was soon becoming a reality. I felt it was inevitable. I would fail. I already felt like I had the hardest life that anyone could’ve thought up, and things would eventually get harder. It was the natural way of things. I would be this person forever. The universe was after me.
I pulled my biology textbook out of my bag. I opened the book to the beginning of the chapter that the test was on. I turned the pages until I got to the last page of the chapter. 31 pages. I never read a book in my life. I still don’t remember any story or novel or title to any book I’ve ever read in a middle school English class. However, I turned back to the beginning of the chapter and started reading.
There’s probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t care for middle school. I had issues in my personal life. I had video games to play. Reading the voice bubbles in role playing games like Final Fantasy was the most reading I had ever done continuously. I had family problems. Nobody liked me in school. I was incredibly ugly. I’m perfect now. My teachers hated me and picked on me. One of them even shook my desk and told me I was pathetic. He was my math teacher and every time he handed out protractors he’d look for the most beat up broken one in his protractor filled box and then he’d throw it on my desk. All those things were all excuses, and when I was staring at the rest of your life tearing apart in front of me, I knew I better open that book and start reading.
The chapters were broken into segments. When I finished a segment I went back and I read the captions that had key terms and special requested notes. I read the segments out loud. I don’t know why I did, but I did. It worked better. I mumbled the words out, recited the definitions over and over, but more importantly I recited the chapters over and over. By doing this, by reading the whole chapter, the material made sense. The way homework was designed was to answer numbered questions and to fill in sentences that seemed arbitrary to the next one after it. This is why people don’t understand homework, because it was presented in pieces of broken glass. How could someone make sense of it, when the pieces are broken down. They’re really just broken pieces.
When conversations turn out to be interview questions, people leave them thinking, “What was the point of that?” When someone gets a bicycle in pieces, and have to figure out how to assemble it, it’s irritating. Making something out of nothing is the problem. Getting people to understand things as a whole, as a system, as something that correlates to their life was where information should’ve been but somehow went wrong in the teaching process. Someone could know all these things about who King Arthur is, but unless they know what order they came in, unless they know the whole story, it really doesn’t make sense how Lancelot ended up with Guinevere. Everything needs to make sense for people to understand it.
We were grading each other’s test in class. I gave my test to the person in front of me and I graded the person behind me. The teacher recited what the answers were, whether they were multiple choice, true or false, or fill in the blank. With every question we went through I wondered whether or not I got it right. I hoped I got it right. I could feel anxiety wrapping around my breaths as we got closer to the end of the 60 questions.
“You did terrible!” my classmate told me with a smile on her face.
“No,” she said, “You got 100%. You didn’t get anything wrong.”
I felt the breath of hope ease into the pores of my back.
The monday after the weekend my teacher told us who got the highest scores on the test. He got his Starburst candies to award the highest grades on the test. “The first person with the highest grade with one hundred percent,” he said, “is Jonathan.”
Everyone stood frozen, jaws open, as if a bullet had just exploded in their mouths. Even the class suck up, Stephanie, who never got any question wrong was confused. My biology teacher smiled as he threw me a pack of Starburst. I caught it in my left hand with brilliance. I looked around the room to see everyone staring back at me. All I could do was shake my head and laugh.
Everyone thinks that an A letter grade is only for the incredibly smart prodigies who were naturally born to succeed in life and that everyone else in the world was meant to fail. That’s not true. Everyone has the ability to be smart or to succeed. The material just never made sense to most people, and because of that people tried helplessly to piece it all together. That’s how people failed. It wasn’t because they couldn’t learn. They failed because teachers and their lesson plans were just stupid. It was never my fault that I couldn’t understand things. It was their fault that I couldn’t understand what they were teaching.
* * * * * * *
“Hey Stephanie,” I said getting the attention of the person who was supposedly supposed to be the smartest person in class, “What’d you get on the test?” I asked her.
“I got 98%,” she replied. She was in second place.
“Oh,” I said casually, “I got a hundred. . .” I laughed at her.
She looked at me with glowering hurtful eyes, “Shut up Jon,” she said miserably.
I smiled happily and wondered if she liked apples.
- Cut the clutter out. A lot of information overlaps.
- Everything’s easier when you start at the source or the root of an issue.
- Read it out loud. For me, it helps me catch a lot of things better in my head.
- Make fun of people for trying so hard.
Read last life story: That Girl at the Party (Part 2)