Education: Failure

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – W. B . Yeats.


He knew the names of all 250 bones in the human body and all the muscles too.

My father was medical man, an osteopathic physician, and this stuff was his stock in trade. He’d studied at the Kirksville College of Osteopathy in Kirksville Missouri class of 1934. As one of only two osteopaths in the city of Ottawa he had a busy practice. Every day brought a full slate of patients and on occasion he would have various stressed-out politicians lying down on his treatment table. Even the country’s 10th prime minister William Lyon MacKenzie King (October 23, 1935, to November 15, 1948) would find respite from his physical pains in my dad’s very capable therapeutic hands.

He was a well known and respected practitioner in our city.  Although he never said anything to me about it I had a hard time meeting what I imagined were his hopes for me.

My early days in high school were not what I’d call the best. I found the standard arts and sciences curriculum boring and overly detailed. My eyes would glaze over especially during math class. My mind would wonder worsening my already poor grasp of the french language taught by a teacher whom, it was glaringly obvious, had never spoken much french outside of the school room.

It was the 60’s and the Beatles were big. That at least that got me excited about playing the drums in band class and, if I could, I’d get there early before the class began to jam for a few minutes with another kid who played the sax. The only other subjects that interested me at all were art class and English literature.

But those two couldn’t save me come the final exams in June. In the end it was determined that I would have to repeat grade nine again the following year. Even that proved fruitless though. After going through the motions for another ten months I was found to have again missed the mark. My average grade that year was 49.9%. Once more not quite good enough for a promotion to grade 10.

It was strongly suggested that I should not return to that school but that I could get into grade ten if I agreed to attend classes in September at an all-boys technical school in another part of town.

It was depressing and demoralizing. The message that all this was sending me was abundantly clear: I was a failure pure and simple. My report card had said so in the glaring clarity of its red ink. I had proven once and for all my unworthiness to warrant another attempt at standard academics. I also felt a deep sense of banishment by being sent to a school where I would now have to mingle with boys whom I believed to be troublesome and raw in demeanor, rough, rowdy, and redneck. I saw myself – quite wrongly I realized later – as somehow higher on the social ladder than they.  I guess I had more to learn than just school work.

To my surprise, after a few months into it I actually started to enjoy the classes in the technical school and I did do well enough. I liked the feel of working with tools my hands. But I wanted something more limitless. I had heard about a new specialized art course which was being conducted at another school in yet another part of town, and it was co-ed.

My dad was able to get the transfer arranged but in order to get into the art course I would have to agree to start in at the grade ten level again. After all, the argument went; it was only a four-year course. Starting in at a higher grade meant that I would simply miss too much. Despite that the choice was an easy one to make. I agreed and things got better for me after that. At least I was able to again become interested in learning in a classroom setting. I could experiment with being creative while using my hands and my imagination.

I did finally graduate out from high school with respectable marks in art and design. But it had taken me all of six years to do it; a fairly unremarkable achievement to be sure.

Sometimes the educational system can judge us to feel like failures.

Fortunately for me I was able to seek out alternatives. Something I’ve been doing my whole life.

Seeking newness is what lights my fire.

How about you?

..More power to you all.