Monday, August 08, 2005

Mad Cat

I entered first grade at the age of five. I was ready for school and my parents kind of fudged a few records to get me started. I always said they just wanted me out of the house. I mean, they had triplets at home, two and a half years old. But that’s a different story entirely. The fact is, I was five, ready for school, ready myself to be out of the house, and, if I do say so myself, a rather bright child.

I entered first grade reading fluently. These days that’s not such a big deal, with kids entering enrichment classes and having reading tutors sandwiched between baby gymnastics classes and baby orchestras and all kinds of other programs designed to make your child a genius, prepared to enter Harvard on full scholarship at the age of 12. Plus, teachers now are specifically trained to handle kids who are learning at different levels and have different learning styles. Not so in 1975.

The school flatly (publicly) refused to believe I could read. Even when my parents called me into the Principal’s office, had him pull down a book – ANY book – from his shelf and I read it, with no problem. He claimed I had memorized it. (Later on, when it became illegal for schools to withhold test information from parents, they discovered I had been tested and it was clear to all that I could read.)

Anyway, all this is background. I entered first grade and sat in class day after day, bored out of my mind. They had us coloring big letters, one on a page. “This is ‘A’ week!” Yippee.

One day I came home from school with a picture I had colored. It was a large egg-shaped oval on a piece of paper. Half of it was beautifully colored, in a rainbow of colors, all 3-dimensional and neatly in the lines. The second half was black. Blackest black, scribbled outside the lines with an obviously angry fist. My parents asked me what happened. I said I was coloring the picture, happily being creative, when the teacher had interrupted me and said it was supposed to be all one color. You want one color? You got it.

My parents, hippies, musicians, University educators with all the self-help books educated 1970’s parents should have, were a little concerned.

The next day I came home with a picture of a cat. Not a fuzzy sleeping cat, mind you. A standing upright cat, wearing clothes, with a grimace on its whiskered face, large claws and huge fangs. Underneath, in my first grade handwriting, was the caption “MAD CAT.”

Needless to say, my parents made another appointment to meet with the school administrators later in the week.

The next day, on return from school, I presented my parents with another picture. Looking remarkably like the Mad Cat, here was a picture of a little girl. Standing upright, with a grimace, claws and huge fangs. And just in case they missed the point, I had put a caption underneath: Mad Ruth.

The following Monday I entered the Hartridge School for Girls, and that was the end of our Public School education, with the exception of one year of high school. But I’ll write about that another time.

And when my parents come back from summer vacation, I’m going to make them find the Mad pictures and scan them. You have got to see these. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye on my own daughters’ artwork but so far the only thing remotely troubling is that in the family portrait my 7yo daughter drew…she’s taller than me.


Blogger Jonniker said...

OMG, this made me laugh. "Mad Ruth" Dear God.

Incidentally, this also reminded me of that Everybody Loves Raymond episode (aren't you glad I'm reducing your life to a sitcom? There is a point, I swear!) where Ally draws a picture of The Angry Family with everyone screaming. They all end up in meetings with the priest, etc., panicked that their own shortcomings are being exposed through her artwork and they'll be carted off to jail. Turns out she was drawing a character on TV..or something equally benign.

Jesus that egg sounds scary.

11:08 PM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Trina said...

I have GOT to see those pictures!

I guess I was lucky to enter school a tad later than you. I learned to read at 4 (phonics in preschool, plus I'm too smart for my own good), and was in gifted classes in elementary and middle school. I remember the anger at narrow-minded teachers! I've got a few funny stories about elementary school misbehavior, but they'd take up too much space here.

(((First grade Ruthie))) Shame on those ignorant people for fearing and ignoring a bright child who they didn't know how to teach!


2:25 AM, August 09, 2005  
Blogger Kate said...

I love first grade Ruthie. I so would have been your best pal if we were in school together. :-)

8:39 AM, August 09, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

I cannot WAIT to see those pictures. What a great story. I can just picture you as a little kid, frustrated as hell because the grownups weren't allowing you to do what you KNEW how to do. And letting them know. :-)

As a first-grader I was part of an experimental program that involved teaching kids the international phonetic alphabet before teaching them to write with standard English. I knew both and "skipped ahead," thinking I'd impress my teacher by spelling in standard English. Not so. I was reprimanded for being too advanced and told I could NOT write in standard English. I remember thinking even then that they were sacrificing development for conformity (and yes, those were the exact words that ran through my head). ;-)

10:13 AM, August 10, 2005  
Blogger Atreau said...

LMAO! Can't wait to see the pictures! I had some really great teachers and some that were real duds. My parents asked me every year if I wanted to go to private school but the only non-parochial school was on the other side of the city.

12:43 AM, August 12, 2005  

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