I was talking to a friend and it suddenly hit me why I have such an aversion to school. I have had negative experiences in a school setting since I was 4 years old. Granted, I have had some good moments and met people who I am friends with to this day. I absolutely LOVE learning and I think that was the only thing that I really liked about school.
When I was 4, my mother enrolled me in a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian school called Oakview Preparatory School in Yonkers, NY. I was an extremely smart child (my mother had taken me to get psych tests & even the doctors confirmed this). By age 4, I could read & write. Not just little children books filled with mostly pictures, but real books. I knew what sex was and how babies came about. I knew about my body & the things that would come about. My mother made sure that I knew the truth about a lot of things. She spent special time with me making sure my intellect was on par. When I went to Oakview for Pre-K, the teachers knew I didn’t belong there. I think I stayed in that class for maybe a week and then they moved me to Kindergarten. There, I became the class valedictorian, knocking this girl out of that spot (her name was Janelle, something of the sort). When this happened, that was the first time in my life that I experienced bullying. I just didn’t understand why I was treated that way. The former valedictorian and two other girls (I remember the other girl’s name is Janine), would constantly torment me. Messing with me during nap time, talking about me, making fun of me, threatening to cut my hair. I had two girls who were my friend (Ella & Raven). That helped, but didn’t stop the bullying.
My family moved about an hour upstate and I then went to a school called Gayhead Elementary (yes, that was the name & my very Jamaican father was NOT happy about it). At that school I was THE only black child there. I think there was maybe two Indian children there. I could definitely sense that I was different, but it wasn’t too extreme.I remember certain incidences when I would be the only one get in trouble if I did the same thing that another child did. I also remember twisting my wrist on a slide (my sleeve got caught & I flipped over the side of the slide hanging by my wrist). I didn’t get too much crap for being smart. That school wasn’t bad, I joined the Brownie club before I moved again.
Any who, the next school I went to was Noxon Rd Elementary. There, I was maybe 1 of 5 black children there. Around this time was also when I became the teachers “favorite” or “teachers pet”. My classmates didn’t like this at all. There a lot of children would test me with the “well do you know this” & “well see if you can spell this” etc, etc. One day before the next school year commenced, this big ol girl (I think her name was Brianne or Brianna) came up to me and said that all of the children in the neighborhood (that also went to Noxon road) wanted her to beat me up because they didn’t like me due to the fact that I was too smart. Imagine a David & Goliath kind of set up. She had at least 1 foot and maybe 50+ lbs on me. I have always been a skinny, small child. she yoked me up and I knew I wouldn’t win that battle so I ran. I don’t know how I broke loose and I don’t think I’ve ever ran so fast in my entire life. I went to school the next day paranoid as all hell.
I even remember when I went with one of my grandmothers to the school that she taught at. The children there were always testing me and making me prove my smartness (my grandmothers were both school teachers and they obsessed over how smart I was and how well I articulated my words when I spoke. They talked about me to EVERYONE. I was the “gifted” child). Another thing I should mention is that teachers (as well as my grandmothers) LOVED how neat my handwriting was. Imagine writing your assignment on a WHOLE sheet of paper & your mother erasing it ALL because it was sloppy. You learn how to make it neat & proper the first time. By the way, my mother has THE best handwriting out of everyone I know and she can write the same with BOTH hands.
By the time I got to the 4th grade, we had moved again to a completely different county. That year I took my ELA test. When the results came back, my math skills were that of a 11th grader, my reading was that of a 12th grader/beyond, and my comprehension skills were also that of a high schooler. (I would also like to mention that I was a discovery channel addict. I loved anything that had to do with nature. I was always watching shows like ZOOM!, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and other shows that children my age, probably weren’t watching). This was also the year where I went to Fostertown ETC Magnet School. I hadn’t been around so many other people of color since I had moved from the Bronx. MY teacher Mrs. Lehman LOVED me. She boasted so much about how smart I was. Again, no one liked this. I was made fun of for how smart I was and how “white” I sounded/calling me a valley girl because I said “like” so much. This was also the time when I started cursing to try to fit in with everyone else. My teacher noticed and pulled me aside to ask if everything was okay because my grades were dropping & this wasn’t like me. What was I to do, stay smart and friendless or dumb myself down to have a few friends? I picked my grades back up because my mother was NOT having it. At the same time I was also constantly made fun of for being skinny, my big eyes, and not being black enough.
6th grade comes around and I met my friend Nia (who I am still friends with to this day) who had just moved to town. I was so grateful for her because she too was a smart Black girl. From then on we had each other and always had a silent/friendly competition between each other. We were both made fun of for being smart & I again was the teachers pet. Always playing in my teachers hair at the end of the school day. (I still love playing in people’s hair, its soothing to me).
Nia and I went to the same junior high & high school. We had most of the same classes for most of our academic career. The teasing kept coming, the questioning about the depth of my blackness persisted, but at least I had a friend through it all. No boys, especially not the popular ones, looked my way. People would randomly threaten to fight me. I was made fun of for liking other music besides hip-hop and R&B. I went through my most awkward transitions and crucial times being surrounded by some of the worst people.
College came and I at least got a break from being teased for being smart. I also thought that being free from the strict rules of my mother would make things better. I met other smart Black people who were also of Caribbean or African descent when I went to Stonybrook University. When one type of torture stopped, another one picked up. My friends & I ended up becoming friends with the Black Greeks AND the athletes. People talked so much crap about us, I was so amazed because some of what people came up with really required a creative imagination. This school was also where I was raped & fell in the hands of a very sadistic man. I already dealt with low self-esteem and daddy issues. My home life was rocky as my mother was going through things in her marriage & I was doing my best not to be a burden (even though some days I was eating the scraps of my friends meals). So after I was raped, people were still talking about me, my life went in a downward spiral. My grades slipped, I stopped going to church, and I went into a very deep suicidal depression. It took a lot out of me. I also ended up moving out of the dorms & into my godfathers house because I couldn’t afford housing. His wife was all kinds of jealous/crazy. She ended up kicking me out during finals week. The whole next semester I was hopping in between people’s rooms and driving 2.5-3 hours back home every couple of weeks to get new clothes. I was drained. Still dealing with rumors, still dealing with extremely low self esteem, still dealing with my sadistic “lover (this is why I never look down on women who don’t leave domestically abusive situations, it truly takes a lot), still dealing with going to classes, as well as going out because I couldn’t let people know what was really going on/how I felt. It took a great deal of courage, a lot of support from few people, and a message from God for me to leave. I just left.
I ended up enrolling in the Art Institute of Technology that fall. I was so excited because I thought I was going to pursue my dreams of being a fashion designer. At first I commuted (4 hours each way when I drove down to the Bronx & took the train into Manhattan) AND I was working at the same time. The next semester I ended up rooming with two girls. One was the most disgusting person ever, the other ended up becoming the coauthor of my book that I never got paid for (that is another story for another day). In the middle of my semester, a financial aid advisor tells me that I need to come to the school ASAP. When I get there they tell me that they put my social security # down instead of my mothers and now I owe them over $10,000. FYI the Art Institute is the biggest scam of life & no one should ever go there. I ended up dropping out a few weeks later because I couldn’t afford to pay my tuition (I was paying by myself).
Since I have dropped out of school twice, many people have been guilting me for not completing college and getting a degree. My thing is, if you are going to pay my tuition and also pay my bills while I am in school full time, then by all means, I will go….but not really because 1, I don’t even know what I would go for (probably a major that wouldn’t get me any money/something I can learn on my own), 2, I don’t have time to wait YEARS to get something I don’t really want, and 3, I am not about to drown myself in more debt to appease people who are caught up in societal standards.
Today, it was brought to the light why I really don’t like school. All in all, my academic career was ultimately shitty. The love for learning got overshadowed by the not-so-good people that I encountered and the not so great experiences that I went through. Granted it all was a learning lesson, but sheesh.
I realized this year that I had been conditioned to dumb myself down since I was 4 years old because my smartness made people uncomfortable. This way of thinking also translated in my personal relationships. (Many old lovers had later confessed that they were intimidated by me & didn’t make them feel smart) For over 20 years I reduced myself to not be chastised. I am so glad that I was able to realize where certain patterns came from so that I do not fall back into them.
So no, I will not be going back to an institutionalized school setting. No, I will not be getting a degree. I will take up specialized trainings. I will continue to read and research things that I am passionate about. Having a degree means nothing to me (and to this country now apparently). I look at life as a school and I am perfectly okay with forever being a student.