Knowing An Answer and Answering Correctly Are Two Different Things

Posted: December 28, 2012 in Life, Mom
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Whenever I told people what I did (acting, and the long commute back and forth) I always got the same question as a kid: “Well, what do you do for your education?”  I told them that I was home schooled – and I was. Being in school full time – even a private school – simply didn’t work out. I was pulled out of too many classes, and even when I could make up the work, there were major issues. I had a nasty teacher one year who kept accepting my homework, hiding it, and then insisting I never turned it in. She had a big axe to grind with what I did – she was Mennonite, and I think she thought it was sinful. She made comments about how it was “terrible what my mother was doing to me”. She wasn’t talking about the home situation (about which she knew nothing), she was talking about my career. This made me furious. Eventually, Grandma realized I was doing homework from weeks ago that I had already done. The teacher was reprimanded, I think, and the problem was solved by me being home schooled.

Typically, when you’re home schooled, the parent is responsible for teaching you. They usually give you answer keys (which the adults are supposed to keep) and the textbooks go to the kids. Mom took one look at the stuff that came in – Math, Science, History, and English – and dumped the whole box in my lap.

Mom: I can’t teach this stuff to you. Just do it yourself. You’re smart enough.

So I taught myself. I read all the books – I had a hell of a time with math, even as a kid. The numbers all jumbled together and got confusing. I couldn’t keep track of them and usually ended up getting things wrong. The other subjects were a snap – they involved reading and memorization.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly self motivated when it came to school and Mom wasn’t terribly good at keeping me on schedule. I hummed along, reading my own books and writing my music, until a deadline loomed and we had to send in the tests. Mom wouldn’t be grading it herself, she would just be administering the tests – they would be graded at a facility somewhere down South. They needed to be received by a certain date, and I inevitably sent them in at the last possible moment.  I still remember Mom busting into my room one night.

 

Mom: You need to get your tests in tomorrow.

Me: Tomorrow?

Mom: Yes, tomorrow. Do the work. Just take all the tests now.

Me: That’s a lot of tests…

Mom: Then I will stop taking you to New York and send you to live with your father! And I will go to jail! Do you want that?

Me: No!

Mom: Then take your tests. Here’s the answer key. Get a couple wrong just to make it look good.

 

And so I sat on the floor and took the tests. Most of the time, I didn’t need the answer key – I knew the answers. With math and science I was a little more liberal – they weren’t my field of expertise, and although I read the books I wasn’t very confident and had to check my answers. When things got too down to the wire and I hadn’t studied, I just cut to the chase and copied the answers. I reasoned with myself that I knew most of this anyway (which I did), and Mom assured me that if I didn’t pass my tests she would got to jail and I’d go into foster care (or worse…live with my Dad). How’s that for test pressure?

I still remember a science test question, asking me to explain fossils. I knew all about fossils, and dinosaurs, and gave what I felt was a pretty thorough response. It was a very fundamentalist Christian school, however, and they felt that fossils were basically put there by the Devil to fool people, or God testing people’s faith. There were quasi-scientific explanations to back this up, but even I didn’t buy them. This was one of the few things at the time that really, truly annoyed me with my education. I could recite full names of dinosaur species, and I knew for a fact it wasn’t fake. But was I supposed to toe the party line in order to get a good grade? I asked Mom, and the answer, evidently, was yes. I changed my answer to be more suitable.

I got tutors, eventually – mostly for math (a subject that even proves difficult for me today). One might think this would take the pressure off, but it actually made it worse. Mom became paranoid that they would find out I wasn’t being taught appropriately and call the authorities. If the tutors seemed put out by an answer I gave, or perplexed that I didn’t know something, Mom would freak out at me after the session.

Mom: I am going to go to jail! Do you know that? They’re going to have me arrested and put me in jail!

Me: I’m sorry…

Mom: All because YOU didn’t know the answers. I thought you were supposed to be smart!

Me: I am, I am!

Mom: Well, then…what are these?

She waved her fingers inches from my nose.

Me: Um…fingers?

Mom: NO! THEY ARE PHALANGES! DIDN’T YOU READ THAT IN YOUR SCIENCE BOOK!?

Me: It’s actually not in there…

Mom: Well, pack your things, Danny. They’ll be taking you away any day now.

 

As I got older, these threats became more hollow – nobody took me away, I was never forced to live with my Father, and I still did pretty much as I pleased from an education standpoint. I got by because I read so much and picked up material quickly – not by Mom sitting down and teaching me every day. I’d say pretty often that an entire school semester could have been condensed into 1-2  weeks for me. These inevitably had Mom screaming threats and fears over my shoulder as I worked out a test. Suffice it to say school was not a priority until it had to be. I actually don’t have a problem with this, because she was right – I was smart. I read the books fast, and I had a high GPA. But the threats, the fear, the paranoia? She was wrong to put all that on me, to vent it at me. Even if it was true. If she was concerned, she should have done things differently instead of dumping everything in my lap and then screaming in panic when things didn’t get done. But then, she’s not a normal person, and I can’t hold her to those standards. When it came time for standardized testing (mandatory in my school district, regardless of whether I was home schooled) Mom fought them tooth and nail – and actually won. She was convinced, for whatever reason, that I wouldn’t know any of the answers on the test – that the authorities would be called, my situation would be assessed, and she’d be sent to jail.

I’m a stickler for knowing answers now. If I don’t know something, it bothers me until I research it fully. I know lots of things. So when people asked me what I did for schooling, I told them I was home schooled. It was simpler than telling them anything else.

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Comments
  1. Reed says:

    You truly have the makings of a riveting and very readable book here in your blog. I hope you know that.

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