In the halcyon days before I began attending school I may have been described as malleable, a yet unformed stone taken fresh from the quarry. So much potential can be imagined before the stone is shaped. When an artist first sets tool to stone, removing the largest portions of unwanted material to expose the simplest design they see the crude form of the final product they know mistakes can be costly to the final product as a whole, but they can also be smoothed out over time with careful attention to corrective action.
When I entered school I was alone, we had moved our home and left our lives behind. I talked to myself so the other kids would think I wasn’t friendless. I discovered the dispossessed and outcast among the playground. They would be my friends for all the years to come. Halfway through the year I changed from the morning Kindergarten to the afternoon. I was alone again. This time I knew who to look for and how to observe others. When the year was over we moved again; I was alone again.
I entered the first grade hopeful. I began to understand I had potential. That is what they said when I failed, “You have the potential.” I knew what potential was and I wanted to be what they saw in me. I hoped they would teach me to take the pictures out of my head and make them a part of my potential. I hoped they would learn to see what wonders danced in my head when they spoke or I read a story. By the end of the year I was losing hope.
In second grade I was isolated. Being isolated is like being alone, but with intention. I learned the geography of the classroom placed me closest to the teacher’s desk. I was taught to wait in my place for when she had time for me. In isolation I found time to escape from the things that hurt me and hide amongst my pictures. When I stopped doing what they wanted of me I found they let me escape for longer and longer. I embraced isolation and shielded myself in it.
By third grade I was lost. It turned out I was not normal. I hid my knowledge to cloak myself in ignorance. I was not like the others. I had to see a doctor. I had to take medicine. I don’t remember much that year; I only remember anger. I remember having popsicle sticks taped to my hands to teach me how to use my hands properly. I remember being forced to try different cures without anyone explaining why I was sick. I remember learning that I was broken. I was lost.
I became disposable in fourth grade. I was a problem to be handed off to others. I was something distasteful that others had to work around until it was removed from their presence. I was shown my place in life and expected to stand in it. I too, chose to dispose of things. I rid myself of honesty when speaking to others. That came in handy because next I rid myself of the medication that took away who I was. I learned that you can be loud without saying anything. I learned it is easy to hide among the trash.
I was shocked when fifth grade gave me understanding. Someone noticed me. I was afraid at first. I had been taught that drawing attention was bad. I was trapped. Not only had I been seen, I had been heard. I was scared when I was offered light in the darkness. I was slow to warm to the glow of being inside the campfire’s light. I learned what it truly meant to read. I learned that I could change my voice so others could hear me. I learned to explain the pictures in my head. I began to reveal myself.
I was now ready to be tempered in sixth grade. I was challenged and taught the true meaning of my potential. I also learned to interpret what I had observed for years. My morality was shaped in lasting ways. I learned the power that came from understanding rules and the power of those with authority. I was an arrow that had been pointed high at a distant target. The string was drawn tight and in the end I was loosed. Just as I found my direction I was sent away. We moved again.
Seventh grade was an abrupt change and I was defiant. I was a stranger in a strange place. This was not my home and they were not my community. I knew myself and I did not need to prove to these others who I was. I did not need their blessings. I dismissed resistance, I defied being ordered, and I embraced the chaos my defiance brought. They could not shame me; I had found my armor in knowledge of myself. I knew a secret that I would come to pay a great deal to keep. I knew who I was.
I became disruptive in my eighth grade year. I was labeled, categorized, and placed. I was given an institutional story and everyone felt they had done a good job of identifying the sickness. I hid among the files I had been placed in and struck out when it would hurt those attached to order the most. I channeled my growing anger into finding pathways to strike out at a system that classified me without understanding. I broke every rule that was not punishable and stood up to those who stood over me.
I entered the bigger world of my Freshman Year invisible. I knew who I was, but I was known as a number. A program meant to give students a personalized experience was applied to me without considering if I would fit within it. I found the cracks and fell through them. I donned the darkness as armor to defend myself from being forgettable. I looked out at the crowd and found my tribe once again among the outcasts. I was adopted by the social orphans and taught to speak in their voice.
I became manic in my Sophomore Year. I knew the time for me to learn the important skills I would need was limited. School was a distraction from learning to walk between worlds. I learned how to climb by raising others up, how to tell a story by letting others speak, and how lead a revolution against the way we have always done things. I looked the eternal bully adulthood in the eye and gained its measure. It flinched and I smiled. My school wasn’t a place of learning. My school was a place to recruit others.
I was relentless in embracing my Junior Year. The world called me a pariah and gathered the outcasts. I lived two lives at once. I lost my youthful innocence as I glimpsed adulthood looming nearby. I proved to the world I didn’t have anything to prove by failing classes with a disdain that can only be distilled from high school angst. Near the end a voice cut through the noise. A small voice that said it believed in me and saw what I could become. That voice broke down the walls when it listened to me.
I awoke reborn in my Senior Year and tried on optimism. I stood on the threshold of adulthood and looked the future in the eye. I stayed true to core myself and convinced myself I was buying in; not selling out. I paid dearly to cut myself loose of freedom’s cage. I rewrote the rulebook to allow me to better break the rules. I was repeatedly knocked back and somehow stayed on my feet. I earned every step I took across that stage and still believe I did not belong among that crowd. I grew up.
I returned to community college as an adult. I faced the world and it was ugly. There was no home for the young. I faced my institutional tormentor and reached the unlikely tool of education to forge an unexpected path. I rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a broken system. I found my place in the last hope of those who cannot rise higher for fear of being cut down. I earned a 2-year degree that made my peers and my betters scoff. I used that monumental achievement as a shield as I pressed on higher.
I arrived at university incomplete. I had not prepared for the life of normality. I knew how to fight and strive, how to make do and get by; I didn’t know how to accepted. It was not my brain that let me down. I had learned to turn the pictures into words. It was my spirit. I was alone and broken. I hid my fragmentary understanding behind the trappings of the pack. That pack knew I was weak and they let me live on the fringe. In the end, it broke me and I ran. Like a thief in the night I stole away with my shame.
In the military I became clad. I arrived broken and saved them the time of breaking me. I donned the armor the Drill Sergeants taught me to wear over my heart. I found the missing parts to build an adult. The new parts were cheap in cost but dearly valuable in assembly. My gleaming new visage betrayed me because it had been built on an unstable foundation. When I began to collapse I tried to get back up by drinking deep from the cup of anger. Anger is a poison and it almost killed me.
Back in the world I was deceitful. I used misrepresentation as a veneer over shame. I prioritized my lies by their need and apportioned the biggest share to the greatest need. I needed my own lies more than ever before. My education had taught me to conform and refused to look at my reflection as I tried on the skin of conformity. I charged costly feasts of hope without utensils of strength and determination to eat. I vowed to end the lies by committing an act of perjury so bold it had to be believed.
My last stand was theatrical. After dropping out four times I had a final audition for the role I was least qualified to play. I had to convince the world I was qualified to be an Educator. I waved my hands in my last act of legerdemain as I lied, cheated, and forged my way to respectability. My new credentials destroyed the last vestige of credibility my early education had. I was a celebrated fraud, becoming the redeemed failure who painted a new picture of education from the mind of his childhood. I won.
My next page will be authorial. I still believe my greatest lie. I am an educator. My next tall tale will to convince the world of the beauty of the world I see when I close my eyes. Without the proper schooling I succeeded with ideas that had been declared unfit for use. When one note plays out of tune it sounds discordant. When others play along that discord becomes a beautiful new harmony. I often feel alone in my classroom, but not in education I found the outcasts and dispossessed and we have a new song.