I flunked the 9th grade.
True. I did. It was the most humbling experience of my life at that point. It was also the single best life-changing experience in my mental and personal development. I could go on and explain what led up to my failure, citing moving all over the country which messed up my math skills, but that wouldn’t explain why I bombed 9th grade basic English, now would it?
Failure is good for the soul now and again and I was like every other kid on the block, past and present when it comes to being sensitive at the ripe age of 15. It seems like we are scared to death that kids these days will be damaged irreparably if they don’t get patted on the back for every little thing they do and that is as much hogwash as some of the bizarre stuff as is presented on Jerry Springer.
I was, and still am in many respects, a go it alone type of learner. I inherently distrust experts. I can’t rightly say why this is so, but it has caused me to be the kind of person who will learn a subject in great depth until I have a very good understanding of it and that is putting it mildly. My dad was the same way and maybe that is the reason I think and seek to learn the way I do.
Over the years, I’ve studied a subject to the point of figurative nausea and then moved on, dropping interest in it almost entirely. I do not want to fail and the turning point in young life leading to my success was a retired school teacher in Canton, Georgia who taught summer school and the English class I paid for, so that (horrors) I wouldn’t be held back.
My Mom, who ran our house, informed me that unless I planned on repeating the 9th grade, I would have to pay the $65.00 for 6 weeks of summer school. I was working after school at the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock, Georgia for about a buck fifty an hour, so $65 was a lot of money. My choice was simple. I would work and pay.
My 9th grade English teacher, a Miss Kerr, was about 5 feet tall and I badgered the poor woman with witting remarks the whole school year, goofed off on my home and class work, and basically made life miserable for her with jokes and wisecracks and come final grade time, she dropped me by one point, effectively serving me notice that my shenanigans were just that and nothing more. One stinking point. She could have given me that one point and moved me up, but didn’t and I am thankful to this day that she had the courage to flunk me.
Algebra however had me perplexed from day one. I hated it so much that a mental block developed that my mathematician father couldn’t penetrate. My hard-working dad could do scientific notation on paper, but I couldn’t grasp simple algebra. The truth is our moving around the country had disconnected me from math progression and to this day, I wish I would have understood it properly and became an engineer. I have the right aptitude for it, no doubt.
The “old woman” whose name escapes me, taught our slacker class of about 50, laid down the rules the first day when she passed out a sheet of the 100 books college students were required to read for college entry and informed us we had to read 6 books in 6 weeks and do a report on each – to pass.
It was so quiet in that class; I could have conducted a funeral if I knew how. 6 whole books? One a week and do a book report? I can speak for everyone in the class when I say, why didn’t she ask us to bench press 500 pounds or eat a 12 pound hamburger? We might be able to actually do one or the other, but a book a week?
I’ve met with failure off and on in my life and through perseverance, beat each and every challenge, but only through struggle have I overcome them. I have a friend who recently had his leg amputated. When I learned of it, it hurt my soul. I can’t imagine a trial of this magnitude. I can only imagine the hardship I would go through if it were me. However, his life like our own is full of obstacles and his faith and experiences appear to be pulling him through. He’s my generation of “get over it and move on” and I am proud of him.
We were taught to suck it up and move on and in 1966, I went to summer school and read books for 8 hours a day and at noon on each Friday, I spent the last 4 hours tuning my book report. At the end of the 6 weeks, I passed with an A+ and have never stopped reading. In the remaining years of high school I took 3 more years of English and Literature and turned A’s in my classes – and I passed Algebra.
I owe it all to Miss Kerr and the “old nameless teacher”, who had the wisdom to challenge us to read those 6 books. Oh how many times I have dreamed of letting her know what she did for me. The bottom line to all of this is simply that failure can be a stepping stone to success.