I had so much hope the year before I started school. I stood at our living room window every morning and watched the school bus pass by, asking my mother when it would stop for me. I wanted to go to school because learning happened there.
I Didn’t See the Point of Homework
From the moment I started school, though, I hated homework. I had been reading since the age of three, but I found homework tedious. I didn’t see the point. My very first school assignment was a math worksheet, and Mrs. McKenzie gave me a zero. I solved every problem correctly; the bad grade was because I didn’t wait for directions. My next project got a zero, too. We were coloring bunnies, and I gave mine polka-dots — pink and purple, shining on the page; different, like me.
The school tested my IQ — 148 — and moved me up into second grade. They thought about third, but I was only five. My mother said that I wouldn’t be able to physically keep up with other children, and I wouldn’t make any friends. I didn’t make friends anyway: I wore glasses, and my motor skills were poor.
The skip didn’t help academically, either. The teacher’s directions were harder, but I still didn’t wait for them. If an assignment didn’t interest me, I simply didn’t do it. If the teacher told us to read Charlotte’s Web, I’d go home and read The Scarlet Letter. My reading became so independent that, in fifth grade, my parents threatened to take my books away if I didn’t start doing my homework.
Spanked with a Glass Paddle
I was the kind of child school was made for, but the school system didn’t know it. In sixth grade, the principal spanked me: A glass paddle on the ass was what I needed to stop that daydreaming. In eighth grade, my health teacher lost the bag she’d put everyone’s homework in, and, to make up for it, gave everyone in the class a 100, except me. I had a reputation for not completing assignments, so she gave me a zero. Of course, this was the one time all year I had done my homework. The teacher called me a manipulative liar who would never amount to anything, then flagged me as an at-risk youth.
After that, my mother pulled me aside and said, “If you want to get out of here and go to a college where you can finally learn, you have to get your grades up.” Harvard and Yale didn’t admit D students. So I began doing my schoolwork on the regular. But every time I picked up that pencil, I was afraid: What if I wasn’t as smart as they said? Off and on, I had tried before. I had tried to read what the teachers wanted, tried to focus in class. But I’d failed, and now we were at the truth point: They knew I was trying, and if I didn’t get the grades, they’d see I was a fraud.
ADHD Comes to Light
Four years later, I finished third in my high school class. In part, high school was better because I finally got a diagnosis. When I was in tenth grade, a psychologist said the words “attention deficit,” and my mother cried. She’d been trying as hard as I had, battling a school system behind closed doors, begging them to teach me. I was not lazy. I was not an under-achiever. I was the child school was made for, and ADD was part of how I was made.
After graduation, I went to Centre College, a small liberal arts institution, where I majored in English and got to read whatever I wanted. I’ve since earned a masters in French, pursued an MFA in creative writing, and taken executive business classes at Dartmouth. I am a reporter, and occasionally I pull up Columbia’s website and stare at the Masters in Journalism page.
I still want to go to school. No matter how hard school was for me, the desire to learn burns within me. Doctrina Lux Mentis is Centre’s motto: “Learning is the light of the mind.” The light is not diminished by having attention deficit, nor is it extinguished by those who fail to understand the disorder. It never will be.
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