Many years ago, when I was strange in judgment, (okay, stranger than now) a bunch of school administrators thought it was a good idea to round up the lot of us who asked too many questions, who didn’t sit still, who read ahead, and who challenged teachers and put us into two forms. (This was in Portugal where schools work on the form system. A group of some number of students – in our case, 34 – has a classroom to which the teachers come. The students have all classes together. Grades are posted by “form.”)
The two forms quickly became the highest scoring in the school. They also quickly became troublemakers. My form’s adventures included (but weren’t limited to) convincing the chemistry teacher we were possessed, until she locked herself in the classroom closet praying the rosary. After that we had another teacher; sabotaging the electricity in the school (they shouldn’t have put us near the board, should they?) so that the class we had after sundown with a very boring teacher had to be cancelled. There was other stuff. At one time – half of ninth grade – we were in open war with the directive council which was what revolution-era Portugal had instead of a principal.
We weren’t exactly bad seeds. Most of our teachers loved us and came to our parties and went out with us to the beach in the summer (we stayed in touch for a long time.) It was just a certain type of teacher brought out the worst in us.
All this to lead up to the point when we greeted the French teacher (who was one of our favorites but had done something to offend us) by standing up and singing “We don’t need no education; we don’t need no thought control;[can’t remember this lyric anymore]; Teachers, leave the kids alone.” She showed she got it by sighing, waving a hand and going “Oh, sit down. Let’s talk.” Which was JUST the way to handle us.
Which brings me to – in the United States, any of us, alone or severally would have been expelled or worse. Worse? Well, even some of our minor peccadillos would have got us put on endless detentions with the real hard cases, they would have got us interviews with the school psychologist, they would – probably – have got us tracked into special education for emotionally disturbed kids.
Were we? I don’t know. I started my essay for my AFS application with a quote from Farenheit 451 “I am seventeen and I’m insane. My uncle says both happen at once.” (I’m too lazy to look up the exact quote but it’s something like that.) Then there is the genius factor. This is not the place to argue what IS high IQ or what importance it has to society. I test oddly in IQ tests, because my verbal is above what they can quantify, my math is average and my visual is low enough to be considered mentally damaged. You can take your pick and consider me either a brain damaged genius, or, more likely (particularly considering that how fast I write is abnormal) an idiot savant. I’m cool with either and I don’t care, because my job doesn’t require me to fit into a neat category.
What I can tell you is that what can only be termed “genius” and madness runs in the family, particularly on mom’s side. And that the two are often conjoined. Also, I can tell you that my “gifted” form picked by choosing every “so sharp she cuts herself” girl in my class (it was an all girl’s school) had the same conjoined presentation. Most of the kids there were brilliant and had odd health issues and bizarre mental quirks. One of my best friends and possibly the most multi-gifted woman I ever heard of (besides being stunningly beautiful) burned herself before burning/cutting yourself was fashionable.
Also, because (like Miss Marple) I was raised in a village, and one where most people’s family had lived for generations (if you had only been there three generations your family nickname was wherever your ancestor had come from. You were a “stranger”.) Also I was my grandmother’s shadow, which means I heard a lot more history and gossip (and historical gossip) than people normally get. So I have some idea that heredity for “intelligence” works oddly and that you often get mentally slow and genius from the same parents. (And in my case, in one person. Two, two in one!)
Without going into the uses of genius to society (I don’t know, most geniuses end up being useless even to themselves, but perhaps the exceptions makes it worth it? It takes a goat to move the sheep forward?) I have to tell you that if you want genius, you have to take a certain amount of odd behavior. If you want innovation, you have to tolerate people who don’t fall in line easily. If you don’t want to stagnate, you have to have Odds. You have to tolerate odds. You have to give them room to be themselves – as long as they don’t disrupt other people.
I used to think that what the school did to us, herding us into two forms then hiding us (one of our classrooms was in the attic, past all the broken furniture, in a room so small that if you sat by the window – me – and needed to go to the bathroom, you had to walk on people’s desktops.) was terrible, but after seeing two kids through k-12 in the US I think it would be a brilliant way (given smart enough teachers) to deal with our odds.
Because, you see, the problem is school bureaucracy. Bureaucrats, and people trained to deal with kids as groups and classifications and “pathologies” don’t see the difference between quirky Odd and outright disturbed.
And this is a problem when school shootings happen. Yes, you knew I was going to come to it.
(No, I haven’t talked about it, except by fulminating the person so silly as to send me an email asking me to support gun control. I’ll dispose of it here since this is not what the article is about. Gun control is great. You should always keep your gun under control, not have your finger on the trigger unless you’re pointing at something you mean to shoot.
Governmental gun control is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea that makes totalitarians salivate. Hitler was all for it. And our current crop, with their China-envy very much wish they could keep guns out of the hands of civilians. It’s is JUST so hard to herd the populace when they might shoot you, after all.
Among other charming things, Portugal was gun-controlled when I grew up – probably still is – which meant crime was rampant. Also that I – being an odd – got offered guns (really cheap) every time I walked into the train station. I can honestly say no gun salesman has ever accosted me on the street in the US.
But let’s say the US managed to establish better gun control than Portugal. It still wouldn’t work. The technology is not that hard to create/spoof/build. Are you going to go after anyone with equipment that can make guns, too? Also, as a parting shot, I wonder how much all those would-be-statists would love gun control if they couldn’t have armed body guards.)
Anyway, when school shootings happen, it is impossible for anyone living in Colorado not to flash back to Columbine. And what I’m flashing back to, precisely, is what happened afterwards.
Because it was decided the school shooters were odd – and they weren’t, really. They were psychopaths, which is something QUITE different – and that they were bullied – no, they really weren’t. They talked about shooting the bullied and the lonely. The other is a narrative created by the media – this led to all sorts of distortions in the schools.
About a month after Columbine we had floods from torrential rains. At the time I didn’t own a car (we had one, my husband drove it to work) so I walked to pick up my preschooler. I wore a raincoat with a hood.
Imagine my surprise when I found guards at the school pointing guns at me. You see, the shooters had worn “trenchcoats” – so close enough for government work. Even though the shooters weren’t parents, picking up little tykes, and even though everyone there knew me, and even though it was pouring rain.
I had to be patted down before collecting my kids. Because they valued the children’s safety so much they’d thrown their brains out the window.
This was confirmed by their way of dealing with “shooter in school” which was to lock the little ones in classrooms. (Can you say sitting target?) For the longest time, my kids got the lecture every year “if there’s a shooter alarm, you break the window and get out and run home. We’ll deal with the school.” (Yes, there were more detailed instructions on how to run, and what to do if the shooter was in THEIR classroom. I’m not stupid.)
But the real impact of it didn’t hit until the kids were in middle school. Anti-bullying regulations were so strict that it was Napoleonic law. If you were accused by more than one person, you had no defense. A group of unscrupulous girls used this to BULLY my younger kid by using administrators. They’d accuse him of calling them things, following them home, etc, and the administrators didn’t believe me when I said I was picking him up, so he couldn’t follow anyone home, and that I’d personally seen one of the girls follow him calling him names.
You see, my child was Odd – brilliant, but he had a speech impediment, he was a little overweight, and he was fond of playing by himself, often fantasy-based games. He didn’t fit in. He was the square peg in a row of neat round pegs.
And this brings us to what I’m already seeing floating around after the Connecticut tragedy. Instead of looking at our broken mental health care system (yes, there are civil liberty doubts involved in whether the guy who sits on the corner calling foul names and weeing on himself should be institutionalized. But then there are civil liberties issues and doubts with taking guns away too. Weird how people in charge only worry about one set, uh? My friend Pat wrote about the mental health angle to the tragedy here.) schools are looking at how they can best regiment people, so that anyone who deviates from norm can be flagged as a potential problem.
Because never letting a crisis go to waste is always the function of totalitarians, from the highest in government to the lowest school principal. And what these people want is control.
When my kid was having issues at school, he kept begging me to come have lunch with him (picture that – sixth grader wants mom to sit with him at lunch. That’s how bad it was.) So I finally did. And I found their cafeteria had assigned seats and that the vice principal spoke ALL THROUGH lunch and the kids were supposed to sit there and listen. I hadn’t realized I’d sent my kid to school in prison.
I know not all middle schools are like that, but from what I hear a lot are. Middle school is where the odds are fashioned into “shape.” They told us over and over he had to learn to “behave like other kids.” And let me tell you, compared to me, my child wasn’t even that Odd.
I remember the bad ideas in the wake of Columbine. I’m afraid what they will be now. School shootings aren’t that common, but they are, of course, horrible and attention grabbers. And because the media amplifies them, they seem to be MORE common.
Which means people hungry for power love to use them to get the ability to pound all those square pegs into round holes, and to make all those goats into sheep.
It won’t help, but it will give them power. And you see, in the end, that’s what it is.
And if there’s a thing guaranteed to take a normal, quirky odd, and make him into a psychopath, it’s trying to make him into a standard issue model.
So all that’s being done is to our (Odd) purpose worse than nothing. Instead of preventing tragedies, it’s more likely to precipitate it.
But it will give tinpot — and other — tyrants a chance, so, hey…
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.