As school begins again, and I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I’m employed at all. In fact, much of my life remains prisoner to those high school years.
What did I learn?
I learned to be eternally vigilant thanks to a couple of “friends” who enjoyed sneaking up on me in the school hallway and ripping the pocket from my shirt with a quick, downward tug from the pocket top.
Needless to say, this was frustrating for me, and even more so for my mother, who became pretty vocal to me about being tired of sewing pockets.
Unlike today, when she probably would have called a lawyer and ripped someone a new one on Facebook, she handled it differently: She told me to deal with it.
I learned quickly that pleading and begging with bullies didn’t help (it never does today, either), so I handled it another way: I grew eyes in the back of my head, and when I sensed danger, I pulled my backpack from back to front and clutched it against my chest. There were a few embarrassing hallway wrestling matches as the bullies jostled to reach my pocket while I made like a tortoise, but eventually they moved on to harass others.
They never quit bullying people (another lesson that remains relevant). They just quit bullying me.
My first experience with marijuana taught me the importance of being skeptical. While sitting in my car in the school parking lot, one of the high school “burnouts” stopped his pickup next to my window.
“Want some weed?” he asked, knowing my reputation as both naive and law-abiding (in other words, an easy mark).
He reached through his car window and held out a green-stuffed baggie. I opened it, took a whiff, and (as a farm boy accustomed to field work) recognized he was trying to sell me a bag of alfalfa, perfectly dried to look like marijuana.
I just laughed and handed it back, likely avoiding the eternal high school reputation of being an actual dope. And I particularly enjoyed the sounds of burning rubber as he drove away.
There were other lessons, too.
I told our English composition teacher that multiple-choice tests to prove who could write were stupid. To hammer home my point, I told him I wouldn’t be taking his multiple-choice final, which happened to be worth 50 percent of our grade.
I wound up with a C in that class, and I learned that logic wasn’t its own reward. I wound up admiring that guy for standing by his word and sticking it to me. Years later, doing what you say you’re going to do still seems like a good idea.
And when I thought the student council was filled with freeloaders, I ran against the most popular girl in school for president. She had no claim to or interest in the job other than being popular. The ensuing drubbing taught me a lot about politics and friendships (in plain English, don’t count on people doing what they promise), and so ended my presidential ambitions.
High school was — and still is, from what I can tell — an emotional and physical obstacle course from which no one emerges unscathed. Yet I learned more there than anywhere else before or since.
And interestingly, very little of that useful knowledge came from a book, other than the one helping cover my shirt pocket.