I’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger than most of the other kids. They like me all right, even though I don’t say much in class, and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school.
I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have. It seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the book it came out of. I read a lot at home — things like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and the Sears catalog — but I don’t just sit down and read them through like they make us do in school. I use them when I want to find something out, like a batting average or when Mom buys something second-hand and wants to know if she’s getting a good price.
In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Some of them were easy, like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been thirty altogether and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry, though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice-presidents. I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors.
I guess I just can’t remember names in history. Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three and he says I can drive one when I’m sixteen. I know the horsepower and gear rations of twenty-six American trucks, and want to operate a diesel. Those diesels are really something. I started to tell my teacher about them in science class last week when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she said she didn’t see what a diesel engine had to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just shut up. The kids seemed interested, though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school and we watched his mechanic tear down a big diesel engine. He really knows his stuff.
I’m not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round-trip and I’m figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck — he calls it depreciation — so we’ll know how much we made.
When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I made only three mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on, “What a daffodil thinks of Spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.
I don’t do very well in arithmetic, either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this: If a 57-foot telephone pole falls across a cement highway so that 17 3/4 feet extend from one side and 14 16/17 feet extend from the other, how wide is the highway? That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the width of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not.
Even in shop class I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and a bookend this semester and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom any more with her new vacuum cleaner, and all of our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the family room. Anyway, I wanted to make an end gate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept quiet and made a tie rack even though my dad doesn’t wear ties. I made the tail gate after school in my uncle’s garage, and he said I saved him twenty dollars.
Government class is hard for me, too. I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the Articles of Confederation for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be good citizens unless we did. I really tried because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school, though, because a bunch of us guys from the Southend have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym out of old pipe, and the guys put me in charge of things. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.
Dad says I can quit school when I’m sixteen. I’m sort of anxious to because there are a lot of things I want to learn to do, and, as my uncle says, I’m not getting any younger.
Appendix Seven from Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax