For week one of the DLMOOC we were asked to indicate a “time during your youth when you had a significant learning experience.” I’ve had a series of significant learning experiences throughout my life, and thanks to disposition and astrological sign (Taurus) I’ve done a lousy job of learning from each one. 🙂 I’ve noticed parallels between this first week for the DLMOOC and the direction that I’ve decided to head with my submissions in #WALKMYWORLD project. Without further ado…
Let us go back to an event in 6th grade. I was a precocious, smart aleck attending Cinnaminson Middle School, in Cinnaminson, NJ. My 6th grade ELA teacher, Mr. Adair called me on the carpet for a book report on Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson…and the resulting hell that my life became. Let me explain a bit.
By the time I hit 6th grade I had a terrible habit. I was the quintessence of procrastinator. (If you ask colleagues and my editors, I still am 🙂) I would be given weeks by the teacher to complete an assignment like a book report. I wouldn’t do anything for weeks…that includes reading the book. Basically what I would do is wait until the night before the book report was due. I would wake up at two or three in the morning when I knew my parents were asleep and skim the book for details. I would then bang out the glorious book report on my Apple IIe. Finally, I would hit print at about 6 in the morning and build up these intricate book report covers. When I saw intricate…I mean intricate. For the book report on Kidnapped I built a 3D pirate ship out of trash I had in the kitchen. The sails were made out of the plastic bags that onions come in. Keep in mind, this was before 3D printers were developed.
This habit of waking up the night before a project was due, and completing the whole project in a couple of hours I perfected in 4th, 5th, and into 6th grade. The truth of the matter was that it worked. I got straight A’s on all of my work. Plus, with these incredible, intricate book report covers, I killed in the “hallway test.” Whenever we we complete a big project, the teacher would display our projects by pinning them to the corkboard in the hallway. In this collection there were always three of four of us that would try to out do the others with the complexity of the book report cover. I think one time I even added in LED bulbs to the front cover from Radio Shack. In many ways, this might have been the gateway drug for me to the Maker Movement.
So I was operating like business as usual. I completed the Kidnapped book report in one night. I wrapped up the cover a bit late and had my Mom drive me to school to turn it in. I excitedly passed in the book report to Mr. Adair as this surely was my best work ever. About two weeks later our book reports were passed returned to us. I FAILED my book report. Written in gigantic red letters inside my beautiful cover was the indication that I had failed…and underneath that was scrawled “SEE ME.”
With this my insides liquefied. I looked up and you better believe it…Mr. Adair was staring at me. I’d like to think that it was some sort of machismo that got me up and to his desk…but it was more like the condemned walking to the gallows. When the bell rang at the end of class I shuffled up to his desk and received my sentence.
Mr. Adair: “You did this book report right before class.”
Me, feigning ignorance: “What? I was in Math before this.”
Mr. Adair: “No, you threw this together sloppily.”
Me: “What? I put a lot of time and hard work into this. I like this book.”
Mr. Adair: “The glue on the cover was still drying.”
Me: “What? Of course it was still drying. I had to fix it that morning. The ship was falling off.”
With that Mr. Adair exhausted my repository of lies and I humbly admitted defeat. He immediately informed me that he would immediately bring my parents in for a conference to discuss my work. At the conference the rest of the truth came out. My parents did an excellent job of immediately being SHOCKED that their son would do this. I knew that they could care less about what happened with me in school. The less they knew about my in-school identity the better. With the help of my parents, Mr. Adair devised a clever diet of torture for me over the coming weeks of my rapidly shortening life. I would be allowed to re-submit the book report, but I needed a new book. My parents would be sure to sequester me to my room or the kitchen table. I would subsist on a steady diet of french toast, milk, tears, and shame. Also, keep in mind that this was the 80’s in NJ…so corporal punishment in my home was definitely supported. I would have three weeks to complete the book report, and Mr. Adair would make sure that the final project would be examined with a fine-tooth comb.
With that the conference ended and we all departed. My parents left for lunch to joyfully take in a post-inquisition lunch and discuss how enraged and ashamed they were. Mr. Adair escorted me to the library and immediately over to the back corner of the room. He went on to the little metal rotating rack of books that holds the higher level books the Librarian knows that no kid in middle school would ever read. Mr. Adair announced to the room (I was the only one there) that he would be selecting for me the text that I would read. He would make sure that it was a suitable text that I should be able to handle. With that he reached down to the bottom of the metal rotating stand and pulled out what seemed to me to be the biggest damn book I’ve ever seen in my life. He rotated and peered back and me through his spectacles and leered “Yeah…this one will do.”
He thrust into my hand The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This, without a doubt was the biggest book I had ever seen. Keep in mind that I was a voracious reader. I was always reading. I even read the Bible…twice. I read it to learn more about the stories involved. I even read my set of encyclopedias. You never know when Jeopardy will come calling. I read everything. But, this book was overkill. He instructed me that this was my book. I would keep a reading journal to make sure I was reading. Most of all, my report was due in three weeks. I tried to report back that this was impossible, but Mr. Adair’s glare promptly choked that notion out of my throat.
That was that. The next three weeks of my life were an interminable hell. I was on house, and kitchen table arrest. There was a lot of crying and a lot of frustration as I tried to keeping Dantès, Mercédès, and the various characters all separate. Needless to say I completed the work and turned in the best work of my early academic career. I have to also indicate that the Count of Monte Cristo remains one of my favorite works to this day. I should indicate that at that time…and still to this day I identified with Dantès in the novel as he was unfairly jailed and tortured…and finally found redemption. For some reason that theme resonates with me to this day.
I’ve watched all of the movie versions. I also bought an exact copy of the version that I was assigned in our school library that fateful morning. It still resides in my book collection and now and then I peer longingly at the spine of the book. I remember back to this event as being the first time that a teacher really expected more from ME. I couldn’t sit back in the back of the classroom, utter quick snappy jokes, turn in sloppy work, and skate through classes. In many ways it was my first real “reality check” in education.
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