I have written about my thoughts on my daughters’ education, but haven’t provided any background on the education that I received and what I lived through.
I went to a private school from grades K-4 and 5-8. The break was a year of fifth grade at a public school. I was significantly younger than my classmates and holding me back seemed like the right idea. In Kindergarten I had a wonderful teacher and lots of friends. I remember spending time tracing our outlines on huge pieces of paper and riding on turtle riders down the blacktop at the playground. Kindergarten me was pretty convinced that school was going to be amazing.
That proved true until third grade. My teacher was domineering and used her fair share of humiliation when she caught a student making a mistake. I made (and still make) lots of mistakes. I misspelled the word ‘color’ as ‘colar’ once and she announced to the whole class that I couldn’t spell something that simple correctly. As an adult, it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but for a kid that made me feel about two inches tall. The school nurse got used to me coming into her office with a stomach ache. I wasn’t a big fan of school that year. I didn’t realize how much worse it would end up getting.
Middle school was when it changed from loving my friends but disliking my teacher to living in hell. Girls can be cruel and my classmates made it a point to show me that in spades. In seventh and eighth grades I was bullied. Not the ‘she didn’t like my shoes and pointed at me’ bullied. It was the ‘these kids are freaking psychopaths and the teachers don’t care’ bullying. In seventh grade, rumors were spread that I was sleeping with all the boys at our brother school. I was called ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ ‘trash,’ ‘bitch’ and about anything else you can think of. I was told I was a waste of space, my family was poor (we weren’t but it was a school where that was one of the worst things you could be), and that I was too stupid to ever do anything. It was hell.
My parents are amazing people and did the best they could to save me. I remember the summer after seventh grade they tried everything in their power to talk me into changing schools. I didn’t want to feel like I let the bullies win, so I went back into battle. In eighth grade, the teachers would ask why I didn’t try harder to make people like me. They told me it was my fault that I didn’t have friends. That was also the year that a group of girls tried to pay a group of guys to gang rape me. These were not people I wanted as friends.
I left after that year – there wasn’t any reason to care if the mean girls won. My safety was more important than going back. My parents made it clear that the decision was no longer in my hands. I was suicidal, depressed, and hated everything about learning. Learning meant school, school meant hell; I had no need for it. As an adult, I look back on that and am amazed that I lived. If social media were around, I wouldn’t have. I could go home and not hear the things being said. If it were now, those words would follow me into my bedroom instead of being stopped at the front door.
The K-8 years were only a small part of my education, but they left a lasting impression. It took almost 6 years after I finished high school (which I didn’t have a choice about) before I went to college with any feeling of belonging. Even now, there is a sense that I have to be cautious around people stemming from my time in school.
This experience should never happen to anyone. This is where my mind goes when I see the stories of kids being badly bullied in school. This is what causes kids to commit suicide to get away from hell. This is what I fight against to make sure my children never come close to dealing with it. This is teachers failing kids. It’s kids failing to be part of a community – a breakdown that starts with the adults. My daughters will be raised in a community of learning and understanding, not an ‘everyone for themselves’ environment where students are pumped full of facts while the important things are ignored