Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Math, Detention and Mr. Shutters: Urbandale 1974

I always disliked Math. I always found it difficult, almost to the point where it was a phobia. I think I had a mental block against it--a stubborn sense that I'd never be able to do it, so why even try. (Some of this may have come from Oldest Brother, who I recall always telling me ho hard math was, scaring me about fractions and such . . . but, really, I can't blame it on him; I just plain hated math.). In high school, when it came time to do Algebra (ah, I remember in Junior High, when I first got to the school and they asked me to do math problems on the board in front of the class, I'd just go up there and stand [I'd become a shy and introverted boy] and wait and not even make a mark on the board) I had a teacher named Mr. Shutters. "Dr." Shutters, he was known as, because he had a PhD (and was teaching high school in Urbandale, Iowa?). Well, Dr. Shutters did not like me. He was teaching one day and while we were supposed to be working on some problems he caught me drawing my wild cartoon doodle pictures instead. I remember he grabbed me by the back of my neck and squeezed down hard (how today I'd like to think I would have acted differently, such as: Get your goddamn hands off me" or "Don't do that Mr. Shutters, it's indecent" or some such) and I just let him squeeze my neck as he asked what I was doing and, you know, it was obvious what I was doing and the next week I had detention.
This was not an after-school detention. This was a daily detention that I otherwise would have had as library time or extra lunch or something. It was really for troublesome kids, the bullies and pot smokers, the F students and trouble-causers. I was none of theses things. I really had no idea why I had even been sent to this long-term detention (though later was told it was because of my poor math scores). But I wasn't an arguer, and my parents--with five kids--never really got involved with my school life, so if the vice principle said I was in detention instead of the library (where I talked with my friends and read books--I loved books), then that's how it was.
And in detention is where I fell in with all the pot smokers and bullies and bad apples of the school. And you know what: they were not bad people. They could tell that I wasn't one of them, but I've always had the habit of winning over people, not in a gratuitous way, but because I rarely pass any big judgement on people and, if they treat me okay, I treat them okay. So, I got along fine with the school's malcontents.
I suppose there was some danger that I would become a troublesome student due to my association with the other troublesome students. I did get to know a number of the tough guys and relate to them but I never got to the point where I hung out with them outside of school I pretty much kept the friends I had made--which were good kids, middle-of-the-road kids who did what they were supposed to do, didn't fight, were not part of the high or low social strata, not nerds of jocks or anything--pretty much just the invisibles. That was me. A nobody in high school (and it wasn't bad, though I pretty much hated high school and assumed about everyone did [though I was wrong about that]).
I recall once, when the teacher who headed up detention was taking roll, she skipped me. I was behind a student in the row of desks and I usually hunkered down--writing or reading or drawing--and she missed me and that afternoon in the hall the vice principle stopped me--came to find me I guess--and asked if I'd skipped the detention class. I looked at him honestly, a bit bewildered, a bit scared, and said, "No." And, to the vice principle's credit, he believed me. He said something to the effect, "I didn't think you would." And if he hadn't believed me and my detention had been extended, who knows? Maybe I would have ended up with the tough guys, maybe I would have been a delinquent.
But what I came away with from that detention was:
1. The bad guys aren't always that bad.
2. It's not always best to do what you are told without question.
3. Dr. Shutters was an ass.

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