Website owner: James Miller
A traumatic experience in my sophomore year in high school
The following is something that I wrote back in Dec 2009. I have decided to share it with my readers as it gives insight into the kinds of problems school children can encounter.
I had a traumatic experience in my sophomore year in high
school. I ran into a situation I just didn't know how to
handle. I was an A student, doing my best, with big aspirations
for going on to college. I was ambitious. Suddenly a big
obstacle presented itself, a big problem. Something that
threatened to ruin me, ruin all my hopes for the future. The
obstacle was Mrs. Hansen and 10th grade literature. The
course was required. I had to pass it to graduate and she was
the only one that taught it. Mrs. Hansen was an attractive
blond, probably 30 - 35 years old. She had the habit of every
day, or about every day, assigning the class a particular
poem to read and then giving them some very short time limit,
perhaps two minutes, perhaps five minutes (I don't remember
what the time limit was) to write on a paper what the poem
meant. She asked, "What does the poem mean to you?" The poems
were all nonsense to me. The question was one I just didn't
know how to answer. The poems were obscure and didn't mean
anything to me. Moreover, they often represented, I think,
an outlook I just didn't agree with. If I were in the same
situation today, I am sure I couldn't do any better today than
I was able to do then. And with that short time limit I just
panicked. The meanings were very unclear. I just saw no
meanings. I was just handing back blank papers every time. It
was a situation where I just couldn't perform. I was in deep
frustration. I just didn't know what to do. I saw all my
dreams being destroyed by that teacher and that course. It was
an obstacle I just saw no way around. I kept it all inside me.
I didn't talk to anyone about the situation. Not my parents or
anyone. I didn't feel anyone would understand. It all kept
building up inside me. As the semester drew to a close and
final exams were coming up (or perhaps over, I don't remember),
in late December, I decided to just run away. Run away from
home. I left a note for my parents, telling them about the
situation and that I was running away, and then after riding
the school bus in, started walking and then hitchhiking. Where
to, I didn't know. I had $6.30 in my pocket. I hitchhiked as
far as Kentucky, and then after not having anywhere to sleep
that night and sitting in a service station all night on a cold
night, I decided to go back home.
When I got back home Mother was glad to see me and sympathetic.
I wanted to go to another school and she managed to get me
admitted into the L— High School. After Mother died, when I
was visiting Father one time, he brought up the incident and
asked me if I hadn't made a great big thing out of nothing.
When he said that, I realized that he hadn't understood at the
time and probably had no sympathy at all for me and it was all
Mother's sympathy and doing that got me into L--- High School.
My reply to him was that I would never have gotten past Mrs.
Hansen and never have graduated from high school. I explained
to him about the poems and time tests and how they were nonsense
to me. I remember that at the time, after returning home from
running away, he sort of stayed at a distance and didn't show
All the grading in that course was subjective. The tests were
such that there weren't any right or wrong answers. All came
down to the teacher's subjective opinion. I realize now that
this problem came close to messing my life all up.
The high school that I had been attending was demanding. The teachers were, generally, good and doing a good job. The situation in L— High School was very different. Compared with the other school that I had been attending, it was like one big jolly country club! It was a very relaxed and easy life! It was the beginning of the second semester and the geometry class was studying from the second chapter of the geometry book! Several weeks after I got there the teacher committed suicide and he was replaced with a young teacher who told me that, since I was so far advanced relative to the rest of the class, I could just go ahead and study geometry on my own. So that is what I did. The English class was studying the same English grammar that I had studied back in the seventh grade so it was nothing for me. The biology class was not too bad, but very easy. I also took economics because it seemed to be the only other course they were offering that I could take. It was the other extreme — way too advanced. It was like an advanced college level course taught from a poor and abstruse college level book. I felt that I (as well as probably also the rest of the class) wasn’t learning anything in it because it was just too advanced. [One needs to start from fundamentals and I had never had any other courses in economics.] I got good grades on the tests just because, if I did poorly on the tests, the other students did even worse and the teacher marked on the curve.
I realized that, for my own sake, I needed to go back to the other school the next year. That school was rigorous, demanding and difficult, and I knew I needed to go there if I wished to be prepared for college. It was, however, always stressful and, in a way, L— High School was good for me because it gave me a few month’s break from all the stress.
This experience caused me to appreciate how much difference there can be between schools, how one school can be very good and another so very bad.
Note. I never really liked the other high school either. The school that I liked best was the little one room country school that I attended through grade 8. There I essentially studied on my own with the supervision of the teacher. That is the best way for me to study, especially with difficult technical subjects such as mathematics. I never did like the lecture / recitation method of teaching that I encountered in high school. I always felt that the classes of high school with their lectures / recitations were wasting my time. I would have much preferred just being given assignments, as in the grade school, and being allowed to quietly do them. In high school, when we weren’t in class we were sent to study halls where we were supposed to be working on the assignments. In study hall everyone was seated around large tables. I could never get anything done there. I couldn’t concentrate there. There was too much distraction with all the pretty girls, etc. The study halls were a total waste of my time. The only place where I got any of the homework done was at home in the evening. And there I had the pull of television. I would watch TV with my father and brother instead of doing my assignments. I didn’t have the self-discipline that I wished I had (too many programs that I liked) and ended up staying up late at night working on my assignments.
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