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What My Education Has Taught Me This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Perched in my dad’s oversized recliner, I opened to the middle of the thickest chapter book I could get my hands on and began to follow the strings of jumbled letters with a sticky index finger. I could not read, but that was not going to stop me from pretending that I could. Role playing my dad’s reading habits was one of my latest and more creative forms of entertainment I had recently discovered, after riding my bike in endless circles up and down my driveway; naming and assigning personalities to nearly every one of my numerous stuffed animals; and rock collecting our edging bare. I dedicated many hours and tears to the futile task of teaching myself how to tie my shoes and braid my hair, although all I really wanted was to be able to read and write.

I anxiously asked my kindergarten teacher when we would learn cursive, the foreign language of adults. She snapped at me, telling me that I was much too young and uncoordinated to learn cursive. We were to learn the lower case alphabet instead, a task more appropriate for bumbling kindergarteners. My dream crushed, I searched for a corner to pout in. Sulking from across the room, I overheard one of my classmates announcing to her friends that she could read cursive. I felt a stab of jealousy, feeling that she was too annoying to possess this coveted ability. I approached her and demanded her to teach me, but she smugly told me that I was too young to catch on. My teacher observed us with satisfaction. I had finally been put in my place.

After enduring two more years of grade school, I decided I was old enough to write a book, which I was confident would soon become a novel, and possibly published. I sat down with my friend AnnaMarie, the only other person interested in helping me achieve such a great feat. She idolized me, and I loathed her, but I wanted to write a book to show off my newly learned, clumsy version of cursive, so I bit my tongue and agreed to work with her. Our book capped off at about 15 poorly illustrated and plot-less pages about a cat, a dog, and a bird that went on a “Grand Endventr.” It followed the structure we learned in class, yet still fell flat. The experience was a grand adventure in itself. Although I could not have realized it at the time, working with someone I didn’t like on a topic I had given up on prepared me well for the “fill in the blank” style of writing that my teachers encouraged me to use throughout my education. I put up with it, though, knowing that I needed a good reputation to break free of the system one day.

Maintaining a good reputation is an illusion not worth the effort. For years, I dedicated many hours and tears to the futile task of doing just that. In fourth grade I was forced to acknowledge how destructive a maintaining reputation can be. With the approval of my glowing teacher, I had voluntarily signed up to read twenty cheesy, fourth grade level books in a month, convinced that it would be easy. Fifteen pairs of disbelieving eyes had watched me write the twenty beneath my name. Thirty days and ten hours later, I was lying awake in bed, frantically trying to get through a Junie B. Jones book. My fourth grade reading grade—and reputation—depended on how late I could stay awake that night. Reading became a chore, joyless and difficult. I only absorbed about one page for every five I read, and I couldn’t remember the titles, let alone plots, of any of the books I had finished. I woke up the next morning tired, but honest. My reputation had been on the line.

Sliding deeper into my seat did not adequately hide the book captivating my attention. It was a Harry Potter book, the kind of book that contains well-developed characters and vivid scenes, a stark contrast to the books we too often read in class about hollow children and their vapid observations. Always the good kid, the one who behaved, I seriously doubted my teacher would care that I was reading during her class. Behind me, she paced the aisles between the desks, patrolling for misbehavior during the work time she had given us to complete the first problem of a tedious math worksheet about patterns. I had completed the worksheet in the time it took her to explain the directions and focused my attention on something I actually wanted to do. Absorbed in the story, I had not noticed her noticing my book. When I felt her eyes on the back of my neck, I snapped the book closed, but it was too late. “Put that away,” she snarled, her voice hardly above a whisper yet carrying across the entire room. Robotically, my classmates pivoted in their seats and craned their necks to see what I had been doing to invoke my teacher’s wrath. Cheeks burning, I put Harry Potter back into my desk, where he would not tempt me to continue reading. I had identified another pattern, not found on any worksheet. Reading was not to be enjoyed in school.

My black pen hovered over my incomplete essay. I had gone into my ninth grade English final with only a favorite pen and healthy fear of my teacher. Unfortunately, neither was proving to be especially helpful. In front of me sat two pages of hastily constructed content, which I was sure were mocking my inability to write a coherent essay. But that wasn’t going to stop me from pretending that I could. Going through all of the motions was easy; now all I needed was a conclusion to tie my fragmented essay together. Distracted by the still-wet black ink, I scanned over my work. Forget about content, that essay looked like a piece of art. The meaningless letters were smoothly connected, as I had finally been taught, and both sides of the wrinkled paper glistened with ink. All of my unoriginal ideas filled the appropriate amount of space, but lay neatly confined within the paper’s one inch margins. I knew that whatever conclusion I tacked on the end would be unable to fix my essay’s lack of depth and meaning. But it met the requirements. How I felt did not matter—I had learned that in grade school. I got up and turned in my essay before the bell rang. How could it not earn an A?




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