Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Trying to Make the Grade School, For What it's Worth

I began Third Grade at West Whiteland Elementary. Who taught me there and how I did is lost to my memory and apparently all records of my life there fell off the face of the earth. My Third Grade teacher at East Ward was Miss Margaret Elizabeth Ezrah (left). She was in her mid-forties at that time. She died in April of 2012 at 105 years old. Ronald Tipton and I visited her at the Simpson Meadows Home in Downingtown 8 years before she passed and she was well mentally and physically. She still walked downtown every day and she claimed to remember us, but I think she may have just been being polite. We certainly remembered her well, however. Miss Ezrah had an important impact on my life, both our lives really, I suppose. I have her to blame for desiring to be a writer as well as my life long friendship with Ronald.
She gave an assignment not long after I joined her class . We were to write an original short story.
I had not written such a thing previously, but I was already a voracious reader of  all those comics and Little Big Books discovered at the spare room, and when you live in isolation you have a lot of reading time. In truth, I had invented stories and characters galore living at the swamp house, make-believe adventures to fill in the void of not having companions. These were just in my head, I had never tried writing anything down. I wish I had a copy of what I wrote for that assignment. I only recall it’s protagonist was a cowboy, so I guess the story was a Western. Mister X was the villain.

We had to read our fictions in front of the class. Miss Ezrah praised my story and she put it up on the bulletin board for display during a Spring Fair the school always had, an event open to parents and the public. This flaunting of my tale was  not an act that would influence my classmates and win me friends, although I did meet my closest friend as a result of the assignment (more about that in a future post).

Lets talk about me academically, just for the fun of it.
My marks were no great shakes in grade school and were to deteriorate in Junior High. This reflected both my social struggles as well as my growing disinterest with school.
In Third Grade I had as a Teacher Miss Elizabeth Ezrah, who from this photo was quite pretty in her younger years. She never married. I was only in her class for half a year and I  finished with mostly Bs. Penmanship was my worse subject with Cs across the board. Next was arithmetic, where I finished with a C, but did manage a B for one marking period. Surprisingly I got a B in spelling and I have always been a poor speller. I got straight Bs in English, Health, Science, Music and Art. The only subject in which I received an overall grade of A was Social Studies, which must have incorporated Geography and History. So what is that overall, a 3.2 average or B+.

In those days one side of the report card was devoted to what they called "deportment", subtitled “progress in citizenship and personality development”. We did not receive letter grades, simply "Satisfactory" or Unsatisfactory". All my deportment was satisfactory, except for one work habit. I received nothing except Unsatisfactory in “Works neatly and accurately”. Accuracy wasn’t the part that was unsatisfactory; it was the neatness.

I made a lot of improvement in Fourth Grade (left: Teacher Mrs. Sara Powell), even though I didn’t like my teacher that year. I received Cs in the first marking period in two subjects, Music and Math. After that I got Bs. I finished with Bs in Penmanship (that is a small miracle, my penmanship is horrific), Spelling (with an A in the final exam – another miracle), Math, English, History, Science, Music and Art. I finished with As in Geography and Health. I had final exam marks of A in everything except Penmanship (B) and Math (B).
I even improved in Deportment receiving Satisfactory in everything including neatness.
Fourth Grade was to be my elementary school high water mark. I declined some in Fifth Grade even though I liked my teacher, Mrs. Shellenburger (I am not certain of the spelling.). Penmanship and Math remained my weakest subjects. I received Cs in both. I even got my first D ever during the second marking period for Penmanship. I finished with a B in Spelling, Geography (something of a letdown, especially with a C in the final exam after starting off the year with an A), English, History, Health and Art. I had a few A’s sprinkled throughout all my subjects during the year. I finished with A in Science, Music and Conduct.
In Deportment (I wonder why there was a separate category called Conduct?) I finished with a Satisfactory in everything, although I had an unsatisfactory in “Works Neatly and Accurately” during the second marking period. The “Neatly” was circled. I also got a question mark for the second marking period in “Works and plays well with others”. I wonder what that meant? I can’t believe I kept getting satisfactory in that category the other periods.
I fell off badly in sixth grade. The teacher, Mrs. Rhonda Yost, was also the principal, but by then I had lost most my interest in school. My Penmanship finished with a C, but I had a couple Ds mixed in. If she were grading it today I'd probably get an F.  I ended with C averages in Spelling, Math, Geography, Health, Science and Music. I got an A in Art and in Conduct, of course. I was never a troublemaker.
My Deportment also went down considerably. I finished with a Satisfactory in everything, all 16 categories, but I had a lot of Unsatisfactory and Incompletes along the way. I am a bit mystified how I got Incompletes. Incomplete in Self-confidence, how does that work?
The behaviors I received both unsatisfactory and incompletes for during the year were: Accepts group responsibility (Leadership), Has self-confidence, Starts and completes work on time, Tries to do his/her best and the ever popular, Works neatly and accurately.
A note written in Teacher’s Comments is most telling “Needs more appreciation”.
I wasn’t going to get appreciation either at home or at school and things would only get worse in Junior High.
But why did my marks deteriorate? I was not stupid. I. Q. Testing was big during the 1950s. I don’t know the scores of the tests I was given by the school district, which were the Wechsler Tests. I scored high enough in these tests that the powers that be for such academic matters approached my parents to have me put in a special program for intelligent children. My parents refused, for which I am thankful. I was already persona non grata among my peers. I didn’t need something else to drive a wedge between them and me.
I do know my Stanford Binet score, taken thirty-five years ago, 136. This placed me in the second level of their scale, Very Superior 120-139. The next scale up is Genius, Over 140. This shows these tests are not perfect. I certainly should have been in the Genius level. (I hope you know I’m smiling as I say that! Yeah, sure I am.)
There were reasons for my poor scholastic performance. You can go back to the notation on my Sixth Grade report card, “Needs more appreciation”. I was not getting much appreciation at home, if you can classify none as not much. I wasn’t even getting any attention when a mark was low, other than, “if you don’t want to repeat a grade you better bring that mark up.” There weren’t any pats on my back for scoring a high mark.
My parents seldom came when my work was put on display in the school for an open house or I appeared in some show at school. My father never did. My mother and grandmother did occasionally. The best I might get from them was, “Oh, that’s nice, dear.” They didn’t ride herd on me to get my homework done either. If I said I was finished, they accepted it, but didn’t check, and quite often I hadn't done it.
Not turning in homework or turning it in late was another reason my marks suffered. I had a very good memory in my youth, not so much anymore. I could remember what the teacher said and I could remember what I read. I generally did very well on tests, except in math. My homework, though, was often incomplete or sloppily done.
I really didn’t like school very much. It was understandable with  some of my classmates ridiculing or threatening me on a daily basis. They excluded me from their social set. Several kids would not let me sit with them in the cafeteria, for instance and if I sat next to them they would move away. They chose me next to last for any teams. I was seldom the very last, but next to last isn’t good either. Many times I felt they really wanted to say, “You take him, we don’t want him,” but because it was a school activity overseen by a teacher, they had no choice. I could see it in their faces, “Rats, we’re stuck with him.”
I also felt school wasn’t teaching what I wanted to learn. I had always been a step ahead in reading. By the middle of Grade School I was interested in science, chemistry, biology (Herpetology and Entomology) and astrology. The school wasn’t teaching those things and I wasn’t interested in what they were teaching. I was pretty willful and stubborn as a child. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and didn’t care what others thought about it. In my mind school was in my way and a waste of time.

There was one thing of value I did get out of grade school. It was how Ronald Tipton
(right) and I came together. Maybe I would have forgotten now I got my first new friend after moving back to Downingtown, if back then I hadn’t written about it in an essay. It was not the usual basis for creating best friends. It was more the type of thing that creates instant enemies.
Our Third Grade teacher, Miss Ezrah,  assigned the writing of  a short story. We had to read our story in front of the class. Ronald stood up by her desk and he read what he wrote, or claimed to have written. I listened intently and then without any hesitation, blurted out, “I read that story in a
Scrooge McDuck comic.”
Ratting out your tallest classmate in front of the world, not to mention the teacher, in general is an unwise decision. Having done so, I couldn’t very well take it back. There were no do over’s for a thing like that.
When school was done for the day I headed across the lower playground toward home. I was immediately aware that the tall boy was following me. I prepared myself for a punch in the nose.
“Hey,” he called.
I thought of running for it, but stopped.
He came up to me and looked me in the eye.  Well, looked down into my eyes anyway. “You like comic books?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You got many?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.

“Wanna trade.”

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