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An Enterprising Education

I had a great education in high school. Really. I wrote Star Trek stories in Algebra. I began the year in class by actually paying attention and trying to learn, but my mind kept wandering. I realize now that not only was I dyslexic, but my young adolescent brain wasn't developed enough to take in the mathematical concepts that my tired teachers were trying to impart. I gave up. But I was quiet and wrote my stories of the Starship Enterprise.

I would have loved to submit those stories in English class, but my English teachers gave us writing assignments about things that either interested them or that they thought would interest us. Rather, I shared my Star Trek stories in clandestine notes that my friends and I passed in class and dreamed of the day when someone of importance would care about what we'd written.

Mathematics came to me in a more direct form from boats. The concepts of setting a compass course, correcting for variation and deviation, came more easily to me because they were real. Lives were truly at stake if you came up on the rocks from a poorly plotted course. I looked forward eagerly to the three or four opportunities we had in Social Studies to draw maps, when I tried valiantly to keep the longitude and latitude consistent with the map in the book, imagining myself as an ancient cartographer with the certain knowledge that the lives of countless seamen rested in the accuracy of my map. Nobody ever noticed, but it didn't matter. I loved doing it.

I was truly interested in science, but somehow never in the same order that it was being taught in my science classes. Star Trek led us all to an interest in astronomy, gazing at the night sky and researching supernovae and black holes. My love of the woods had me out walking my dog most weekends learning by watching the birds and squirrels build their nests, tracking deer and waiting quietly for hours for rabbits and groundhogs to come out of their holes. I found books and interested adults to help me identify birds by their feathers, their calls, and even their nests. It was fascinating.

My real love, though, was music and drama, both interests fed by surprisingly good music and drama teachers in the school. I memorized lines to our plays behind my book in English classes where teachers were discussing different plays. While my classmates waded through descriptions of poetry of various eras I memorized poems that I found in collections I bought for nickles and dimes at yard sales. I can still recite dozens of the poems I learned in those days. The first true leadership responsibility I can remember was as assistant director. Kids my own age looking to me for opinions and guidance. Heady stuff.

I transcribed music during other equally mundane classes. It was hard to fit in practice around the classes I was obligated to attend. Ultimately, I learned to forge passes to get out of classes and use my student ID card to break into the music room where I could have access to a piano to write my own compositions or practice piano and flute, all skills extremely necessary to gain entrance to the college of my choice where I studied to be a music teacher.

I have led, and lead now, a deeply enjoyable and successful life. My interest in history and political science developed later, as did my understanding of math. I have fed my developing interests at my own pace finding books, films, and people to help me along the way. I have throughout my life fed old passions and garnered new ones just because life is so interesting.

The lessons I learned in high school were almost never the lessons I was being taught. I learned rather to feel guilty, and often be punished, for pursuing the interests that ultimately led me to earning my living as a teacher and a seaman. I had a great education in high school. But I had to work awfully hard to get it.


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