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Yeah, it's a colorbar. Deal with it. This one is a statement, insofar as a collection of colored pixels qualifies as a statement, against school bullying. I've got personal reasons for it, which are inside.
Public schooling was my Hell.
Things were sour from the start. In Maplewood school, several miles from my home, they had a pre-kindergarten program for the "advanced for their age," those deemed ready by their parents to attend school before most. Most of the kids there were 4 years old; I was 3. And I was weak, small, sensitive, emotional, and essentially a nice person.
You know all those little idyllic fantasies of how children at that age are so wonderful, so innocent, so kind and uncorrupted? I saw none of it. I suspect a large portion of this was because of how much of a disaster the program itself was, how much of a disaster the teacher was, and how odd I was. It didn't help me that then, I hadn't had enough socialization to realize that most people my age didn't think like me, and I couldn't understand why everybody else acted like they did, because it didn't make sense. Wasn't it easier and better just to be nice instead of fight?
I saw the worst of it, as the teachers were biased against me, thanks to my cold-medication-inspired conduct on an early field trip, and my mother's response to it. I was drugged up on Triamenic, which always made me incredibly unpleasant to be around: mean, aggressive, impolite, and in a very bad mood. It made me unsick, but the psychological side effects were, in my case, extreme.
So there was this field trip to the library. This class of three-and-four year olds going to the city library- great idea, right? Bunch of screaming larvae in a place where one has to be quiet. I was no stranger to the library- I knew the librarian by name (Alex, for the curious), knew exactly how to behave, and knew where my favorite section was- kids' science. But for this, they herded us all into one of the conference rooms, paired us off, and made us share books.
I was getting over a cold, with the dubious assistance of Triamenic. I was, therefore, an utterly intolerable citizen of the world. This is now leaving direct memory and going to what my mother has told me (I remember the school, I remember the Library, I remember the usual classroom- I don't remember the event). According to what she heard from the teacher, I snatched the book away from the person I was assigned to share with, stating something along the lines of "I want this book and you can't read anyway." (I was 3, I was drugged, you expect something more complex than simple wants and simple situation explanation?) The teacher was appropriately shocked, and was all too properly outraged as she told my mother of my conduct. "And he had no business saying that. She can't read, but there's no way he can! We've had four-year-olds who can read, but never a three-year-old!"
My mother was rather offended. I don't know exactly what she said, but according to her, she notified the teacher in question (I can't remember her name) that I could, indeed, read. And for that matter, it was a library, and shouldn't there be enough books to go around?
That was not the response quite hoped for. The negative attitude this event gave me had to be reinforced when my grammar-nazi mother, in her usual idle style, took a red correction pen to a paper I handed her from school. As she read, she corrected the gratuitous grammatical and spelling errors.
Then she got to the bottom, where it said "SIGN AND RETURN."
I was never treated quite the same after that. I moved schools the next year.
Wilson School was better academically, but horrible socially. The teacher was actually amused- and not angry- when I corrected her that "It has infinite sides, not zero!" in reference to a circle, during her song connecting numerals to geometric figures. I went to Wilson for about two years, which didn't go particularly well for me: I was chronically bored because I was way ahead of the curve. And socially, I continued to fail to fit in; I got teased and bullied constantly, and the teachers didn't do enough about it.
So my parents found out about what they should have found out in the first place: PEGS, a program way down in the Lindburgh district, for people like me. It was rather exclusive: to join the program, the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students, your child had to take an IQ test, and that IQ had to be at least 160.
I topped out: I aced the test. There was nothing hard about it to me, but it was fun. (I've topped out on every IQ test I've ever taken, so I still don't have a valid estimate.) And I was put into this environment where I almost fit in- I was with people as smart as I was.
Well, that was the theory, anyway. By then, I had a distinct personality entirely unlike that of others: violence disgusted me (and still does), I was nice, I was sensitive, I was (and still am) excessively emotional (by male standards- amusingly enough, the frequent "You're so gay" turned out to be true). I was also extremely small and had no physical strength or stamina.
I was, in short, a target.
The bullies picked on me. When they saw it work, they picked on me more. And then others joined in- those who wouldn't usually act that way, but decided to take their aggression out on the easy target. And I never fought back- I was a model student, I idolized my teachers (until 4th grade- more on that later), and I would never strike back- all of them reasons that I, more than others, was targeted.
And I was destroyed. I tried to block out the threats, block out the attacks, block out the words, and it didn't work. I had no self-esteem, I was constantly depressed, I found very little happiness. I was constantly afraid of my classmates. My psychologist just told me to block them out, because they're wrong and I should know that- but it never helped. It is possible to block out one asshole, even two or three or four constant bullies who are unrelentingly cruel and hostile- but when there is nobody? What about when all your peers are like this, when you have very few people who are not openly hostile towards you? What really hurt was watching people who were nice to me when nobody was looking just turn against me as soon as anybody else appeared. They did not want to share my fate: they took the easy option, and hurt me, and never apologized. And it was the best I could get, because when nobody was looking, they were friends.
My teachers did the best they could to curb the bullying, but there was only so much they could do. It got sharply worse in 4th grade, when my science/English teacher, Mrs. Dusty Thomas, died of a stroke over the summer between 3rd and 4th. They hired Mrs. Gail Bush to replace her.
Mrs. Bush. I spit that name like an obcenity. She was absolutely horrible, an intellectual terrorist. She wrote "YOU ARE STUPID" on students' papers, chastized me for crying after getting attacked again, tried to refuse to allow me to use a computer for my in-class work (my handwriting was so incredibly bad at that time it was classified as a disability and I was allowed to use a laptop computer to do all my work on) and relented only after the superintendent forced the issue. She chose reading assignments plainly unacceptable for fourth grade: violent stories, terrifying stories, things that fourth-grade students should not be reading. Our classwork was at the 8th-grade level, but emotionally, we were still fourth-graders. Tales of murder, of torture, of rape are not appropriate fare for that age group. The most objectionable assignment of hers was cancelled by, again, the superintendent of the program, after my parents and most other people in the program complained.
She did teach me one useful thing: civil disobedience. She was the first (and still only) teacher I ever rebelled against- and not-so-unconnectedly, the first time I was almost accepted- I wasn't so badly attacked so frequently, people did not deny that they didn't hate me. We were all refugees from the English Teacher From Hell, and I was one of them for the time- I was not a goody-goody-two-shoes, I was fighting her like the rest of them, but more effectively- by talking to the other teachers about it who repealed her five-hour homework assignments, who understood the magnitude of the problem. But we all worked to drive her out, and it worked: her five-year contract vanished after the one year. But I was still scarred, and thanks to her, I hated English class, I hated writing, and I had a distaste for science (she couldn't quite entirely destroy my passion for it) for years thereafter- the first two only ended last summer, in Matthew DeVoll's summer "Freshman Literature Seminar" class. I liked reading, but hated writing. I was so terrible at it anyway- according to Mrs. Bush, and I could never erase that feeling of incompetence- until just then.
Even with all that, I was still emotionally weakened even further by that year-long torture of her. Even though my classmates weren't quite as bad, Mrs. Bitch made up for it. Fifth grade was back to the drawing board- Mrs. Francois, Mrs. Roman, and Mr. Keutzer (Mrs. Wilmering, the math teacher, quit, and the English/Science job was split to two teachers) moved in, and they were fine, good teachers. And so I behaved perfectly well, and I was a star student, and I was picked on again by my classmates because I was back to being Mister Excessively Obedient. And it was just as bad as before. But I had some light at the end of the tunnel- 5th grade was the last year for Truman, and I would move to middle school. My parents said it would be different- everybody was more mature there. It would be okay.
Well, they were almost right. It was different.
It was much, much, much worse. No longer sequestered in our own special classes, there was only one teacher for the PEGS program; other than that, we simply joined higher-level regular classes. So at age 11, I was in 8th-grade science, home-taught math (my father taught me because I couldn't handle Mrs. Laird's extremely long assignments- I wrote too slowly and too illegibly to do them), and Mrs. Schlimme's English and History. She was the one teacher.
ralesk, in a conversation about bad teachers on frameacloud's journal, observed that "Schlimme" is German for "bad." This seems incredibly, perversely appropriate. Mrs. Schlimme wasn't blunt like Mrs. Bush was- she was much more subtle at making us feel inferior. She was strongly biased towards the girls, but somehow seemed to have a special hatred for me.
Having to mix with "regular" kids, me being three years younger, was an absolute disaster. I was threatened with murder, beaten up with regularity, mocked with words, and emotionally abused with every technique possible. My classmates convinced me that I was stupid, worthless, a drain on the world's budget, and a drain on my family. They convinced me that my parents didn't really love me, they just pitied me and couldn't throw me out, and I was better off dead because I was just a waste of things. It's the sort of thing you hear and, in your right mind, you know it's wrong, and you don't understand how anybody could believe it even for a minute.
But when you hear it day in, day out, this being the sixth consecutive year of it, it starts to wear on you. It starts to get its terrible hold on your heart, mind, soul. It wears you down, and then you start to believe it, and it destroys you. It kills you inside, a more true death than the kind you get from being too close to an exploding gas station. And it makes you long for that kind of death, too.
I was suicidal.
I could not be saved by my two friends- after all, they turned to the other side as soon as anybody saw them. I could not be saved by my parents, because I had been convinced that they secretly hated me and I was hurting them by forcing them to pretend they loved me. I would not be saved by my English/History teacher, because she was part of the problem. I would not be saved by my classmates, as they were most of the problem. I could not be saved by my Spanish teacher, because he didn't know. I could not be saved by my woodshop teacher, because he didn't know. My art teacher was of incredible help, but that was second semester.
In short, I had almost nowhere to turn. The one person I had left- the one person who wasn't stopped- was my only chance. I didn't even know it then, and I don't know if he did or not. But no matter what the thoughts, the effect is, now, looking back, crystal-clear.
My science teacher saved my life.
I still need to go find him and thank him properly, explain to him what his letting me help with the class meant, explain to him if he didn't know how important it really was that he made me feel worthwhile, that I was good at something, that I was capable of something. I don't know, to this day, if he knows.
But I've found him- my parents are still sent the GRC (Gifted Resource Council) newsletter, and they found that he's leading the "Cool Space Stuff!" class. I intend to track him down, catch him after one of those classes, and explain...
Paging Mr. Alan Russell. One of your students wants to talk to you.
I can also look back and say that my one year in middle school (my first year there and I was taking the highest-level classes they offered) was the worst year of my life. It got better from there, but I suspect that if it didn't, I wouldn't be here. I would be dead. There's only so much that even the best people can do against the worst resistance and the worst situation.
So next year, I went on to high school at age 12. My parents told me it would be different, it would be better, there would be no more bullying. It was different, and it was better- I had actual friends who would defend me under fire, for the first time in my life- but there was still bullying. It was still a disaster.
I don't remember the year clearly. I know I blocked it. Thinking back, I remember Truman- my elementary school- better than I remember Sperring, my middle school, or Lindbergh, my high school. I remember the least of Sperring, except for Mr. Russell, and the painful blur the whole year was.
All I remember of high school was that it wasn't much different, except my teachers were unanimously sympathetic to my plight. And I was the school's computer tech, just like at Sperring- the school office started paging me when a computer broke, and I was rather proud of that, but I suspect it might have set me apart even more from my peers and made me that much more of a target. What I really remember was the attack that caused my parents to finally pull me out into homeschooling: my being shot in both eyes with a laser pointer that was nowhere near as harmless as it claimed to be.
I was called a liar when I reported it, almost laughed out of the office. Until I told them that I had a witness, and my witness came in, and they couldn't deny his word, because he was the principal of the school, and he had the laser pointer (he confiscated it). So my parents took me out of school.
And I thought my trials were over. How wrong I was: I still had Mrs. Sullivan to answer to- the superintendent of the PEGS program. It wasn't a session to try to solve things, as she claimed: she was trying to cover her ass, pure and simple. She was trying to pin it on me. It was an interrogation. She tried to claim it was all my fault for refusing to fit in, that I was faking how hurt I was for attention. She claimed that I had done things wrong, that I shouldn't give up like that. Then she said that I didn't really have asthma and I was pretending, I was lying to get out of school.
At that point, my mother and I had to physically pull my father back into his seat, off of Mrs. Sullivan's desk, his fist shaking in her face. He did not appreciate her making such accusations against me. It was decided at about that time that there was no compromise to be found, and my dropout was formalized. I went into homeschooling for four years- my parents held me back a year to give me time to grow before I went off to Washington University.
My greatest healing from all this disaster was my volunteering at the Science Center. More than my professional psychological therapy, more than my judo, my being placed in a position of real responsibility, doing a job I had always idolized, being respected for my intelligence, working at the Science Center healed me. It was the best thing for me. I am the first volunteer in the history of the Science Center to be promoted from the Summer Teen Volunteer program- more have been since, but I was the first: instead of leaving at the end of the summer, I was promoted. I was given a full uniform, and made a full volunteer. I was 14 years old, and I was in a job that had "You must be 19 years old or older" in the job requirements- making me the youngest full volunteer in the history of the Science Center.
Suddenly, I had a reason to feel good about myself. And I started to heal...
I'm still healing. I've still got lasting scars from this: feelings of inferiority, self-esteem issues, chronic lack of self-confidence. Worst, I've numbed my emotions- I suspect it's permanent, but I can't feel any more, not as much as I should be able to. Maybe it's why I'm so coldly rational as I tend to be, but my emotions are very weak. I guess it's part of me now, for better or for worse. I see superiority in rationality over being emotional and uncontrolled, but I guess I'll never know. I've got no chance for an alternative.
I do feel- I care about people, I care about that which I am passionate about, I can be hurt, I can experience every emotion. But I can't act on them. And I tend to just ignore them- not deny them, or fight them- my emotions are just there, but they don't really affect me like they used to. Maybe it's a good thing.
But I was never given a choice in the matter.
Oh, and those who would connect my identity and spiritual beliefs with a messed-up childhood, sorry. They were present before things got screwed up.