On the threshold between the sacred and the stupid

Excellence in Underachievement

Growing up, I was not known for my academic abilities.  I remember as a second grader, while sitting in a meeting between my teacher and my mom, hearing my teacher say, “He is a really bright kid, but he does not apply himself.”  This was a mantra repeated by my teachers throughout elementary school.  At one point, I remember thinking to myself, “If they already know that I smart, why should I need to prove it further?”

As time progressed, with as little effort as possible, I had honed my mastery of the mediocre to razor-sharp perfection. Taking the path of least resistance, I effortlessly cut through my scholastic tasks.  As a matter of fact, when it came to doing the bare minimum of what was expected of me, I was a shining example of excellence.  Sadly, my talents were not appreciated.  Teachers sighed and shook their heads while reviewing my work.  Little did they know that it took an endless amount of creativity to maintain the high level of inactivity that I strove for daily.  For example, when I was in fifth grade, I had an oral book report due on a book that I had never read.  Actually, I had never even bothered to select a book, just to keep things challenging.  When it was my turn, I stood up and made up an entirely new tale by Edgar Allen Poe.  I do not recall the special flourish that I had put on the tale, but I remember that it was about some guy killing another guy with an axe.  Ok, so it was not Poe’s best work, but cut the guy a little slack.  After all, he had been dead more than 130 years since the composition of his last work.  Who can blame him for being a little rusty?  Upon finishing my report, my teacher stared blankly at me for a minute, shook her head, and wrote something in her notebook.

I had always felt that what I really needed was a new environment where my unique talents could shine.  While being enrolled at Linmoor Middle School may have put my life in danger on a daily basis, it was also a place where my minimalist efforts made me look like an overachiever.

Recently, I did a search online to see if I could find some objective data to support my impression of just how poorly Linmoor’s students performed, and while I could find nothing from my time there, I did find test scores from 2005-2007.  If you would like to view them, here they are: http://www.globalscholar.com/schoolfinder/98202-linmoor-middle-school/test-scores.aspx

I suppose that the best that I can do is paint a little portrait of what my academic rivals were like at Linmoor.  There was one person in particular who I believe exemplified the group, his name was Ivan.  If you want to know what Ivan was like in appearance and demeanor, this should give you a pretty good idea:

One evening, Ivan decided that it would be a good idea to break into a model train expo on the Ohio State Fairgrounds.  He managed to do more than $10,000 in damage to the exhibit.  Ivan’s act of vandalism
even made the local news.  However, it was the way that Ivan got caught that made him exceptional.  While vandalizing the exhibit, Ivan spray-painted on the wall, “Ivan (last name omitted) was here.” Because the authorities were more than a little acquainted with him, they arrested him at his home a short while later.  You might think that he was stupid for writing his name on the wall.  However, I cannot blame him for being overcome with pride:  that he could write not only his name but a complete sentence made him one of Linmoor’s academic elites.

There was one other student I should mention, Shawn.  Shawn was the other 13-year-old eighth grader at Linmoor.  Like me, he was small and nerdy.  He was a better student than I was and that made us rivals.  At Linmoor, the rules of the asphalt jungle dictated that rivals must fight to establish their place in the pecking order.  I was determined to not have this pudgy little “know-it-all” continue showing me up in class.  Interestingly, Shawn must have been thinking the same thing about me, because he was the one who asked me to fight on the playground at lunch.  I was happy to oblige.  We squared off on the side of the building with several of the older/bigger guys playing look out.  Shawn put up his fists and came toward me.  Once he was close, I hit him in the mouth just as hard as I could.  It is important to mention at this point that Shawn had braces on his teeth.  Pain surged through my right hand; I could not move it.  Lucky for me, Shawn was worried that I might do real damage to his braces, so he forfeited.  What I did not realize was that winning fight was not the best outcome for me.  Now I had moved up in the pecking order, which meant that there were several people who now wanted the opportunity to fight me.

The first was a 250 Lb sixteen year old named Charles.  A moment after Shawn quit the fight, Charles turned to me and said, “Nice punch, let’s see if you can do that against me.”  He put up his fists, and I froze for a moment, desperately trying to soil myself in the hopes that he would not want to fight someone who had just pooped his own pants.  Suddenly from behind me I felt a pair of hands push down on my shoulders, as I watched someone leap over my head.  It was a guy named David.   David was a tall athletic guy who was rumored to have a black belt in martial arts.  David launched a kick that stopped inches from Charles’s head.  Charles told David that he was just kidding about fighting me and that ended it.

With my place in the pecking order now firmly established as second from the bottom, I continued with what I did best, underachieve in school.  As the school year dragged on to a close, something happened to me that took me quite by surprise.  I was notified that I was being honored, with several other students, for academic excellence.  “Wow, that was easy,” I thought.  Those being honored were invited to spend a day at the home of our math teacher.  If I had known that being awarded for academic excellence would lead to the single most embarrassing moment of my life to that point, I would have declined.

The trip to our math teacher’s home went well enough.  I believe that Shawn and I were the only two boys of the twelve of us who made the trip.  When we got there we had a cookout and I remember climbing a tree in her back yard.  After going for a walk in her neighborhood, it was time to return to school.  The van that they sent to pick us up was smaller than the one that had dropped us off.  This meant that at least two students would have to sit on someone’s lap for the ride home.  A pretty black girl asked if it was ok to sit on my lap.  I said that would be fine.  We drove along for a while, when the girl quietly mumbled something to me that sounded like, “Do you have a hard on?”   I had not been paying attention, but I was a thirteen year old boy, so the odds were in favor of it. The girl sitting next to us said in an obnoxiously loud voice, “Did you just ask him if he has a hard on?!”  Everyone in the van turned and looked at me, I could have died.  “No!” the girl on my lap said, “I asked him if my sitting on his lap was hard on him.”  Quietly, I thanked God, and resolved that there would be no further lap sitting until I was married.

In retrospect, I think that the lesson that I learned from going to school at Linmoor did not serve me well:  that if I remained in the company of imbeciles that I would stand out as exemplary.  I found that the more time I spent with them, the less outstanding I became, until finally I was indistinguishable from an imbecile myself.  It does, however, strike me as funny that being stupid is a “learned” trait.

Recently, I learned that Columbus Public Schools had closed Linmoor Middle School in 2007.  Apparently, it has been repurposed as a school for children whe have recenly immegrated to the US from foreign non-english-speaking countries.  I think that it is more than a little ironic that all they have done is successfully exchange one group of children who are not literate in the English language for another.

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