An irrelevant interlude

by Bernard Brandt

Let’s just say that one friend put on Facebook this silly little thing:

I chose to share it, with the following comment:

Or, as Will Hunting said, “you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!”

A friend of mine chose to say the following: “Bernie, I love you dearly, but I’m afraid I must ask you to return your K-12 education, retaining only what you have learned on your own since (no piggybacking on your friends) since. Oh, and about that reading, basic math, etc. without which other self education would have been difficult..”

And, finally, I chose to say the following: “Anne, I love you dearly as well, and I would be happy to return my K through eighth grade education, as they were an elaborate waste. My mother and I had a very interesting relationship. I wanted her constant attention. She wanted to read. And so, she read to me constantly for as long as I remember, and talked to me for as long. She tells me that I started talking at three months of age. She also tells me that I started to learn to read at 18 months. The first book that I got was at age 3, and it was ‘The Little White House’, the classic Dick and Jane reader. The second book I got was “Houdini on Magic”. It was given to me because I asked my parents for a book on magic. They gave me prestidigitation. I wanted thaumaturgy. Hogwarts, alas, was unavailable. I enjoyed reading it, though.

When I was six years of age, I went to school. I was put in first grade, and I was so hoping to show what I could do. But, an hour later, I was taken out of that class, and put into kindergarten, because (I learned later) I was ‘too young’. We spent a lot of time in stupid games, and ‘rest time’. I learned how to be bored, and how to disassociate into my own world. Alas, on the day that that happened, my mother was bearing her fourth child, my beloved sister Susan, and so she could not properly deal with what was being done to me.

When I was seven years of age, I went into first grade, and I was so eager to show what I could do. I got no response from my teacher. I even asked my mother to make her a new dress. My mother was surprised by this, and asked if I wanted to change my mind. I was insistent. I wanted my teacher to like me, and to help me.

I learned, years later, why my parents were so reluctant to help my teacher. My mother told me, years later, that at their first parent-teacher conference, my teacher told my parents: “Your son is reading at an eighth grade level. I want your help to stop him, because I feel that he is embarassing the other children.” Somehow, and thank God, my parents did not assist my teacher. They let me go on to be myself. When we came to California, and I wanted to read in the public libraries here, they gave me free rein.

Let’s just say that you had someone who could read at an eighth grade level. Put him in a first grade class. See how well he will do. Can we say ‘boredom’, children? Of the years between my first grade and my eighth grade, I am one with Richard Braudigan, whose only lines that I remember are: “My teachers could have rode with Jesse James/For all the time they stole away from me.” I had one good teacher then, in fifth grade. Mrs. McClannahan. She died in February that year. I mourned her, and I still do. So it goes.

So please, spare me your comments about giving back my years from K to 12. I would gladly give them back, so that I could have had the education I could have had from [two good friends] or [two other good friends], or just about anyone than the ones from whom I allegedly got them. My parents were kind and good enough to let me read in the libraries (and they were glorious in those days). That is good enough. And, to quote the classics: “Thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it!”

Seriously, though, thank you for prompting this cathartic moment. I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time.

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