Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Pivotal Point

A thought expressed on my statewide e-mail list, VaEclecticHS, was that, in school, it is "near impossible to be accepted...and do what is right for yourself." In my experience, that seems true. While I was in school, I walked on that edge many times. Fortunately, for the most part, I did what was right for myself, even though it meant withstanding disapproval from teachers, administrators, and fellow students.

I was a goody two-shoes in the elementary years, but in middle school I began to recognize that the sytem had some serious flaws, and I started to take action contrary to it. It was a gender issue that awakened my consciousness: being denied the education I wanted--solely on the basis of my gender--was an offense that fired my anger and resolve.

The incident began at the end of 6th grade, when choosing classes for the following year. I signed up for Wood Shop, after the woman who was staffing the sign-up had answered my question, telling me that girls were indeed allowed to take this class. I turned in my forms and skipped away, my heart light with pleasure at the thought of learning some of those things that, in my family, were relegated to the privileged and powerful world of men and boys. How excited I was, imagining myself using those tools to build useful, durable things in which I could take pride!

Now, picture a 12-year-old girl's face, when she receives her class assignments the morning of her first day of middle school. She unfolds the paper with anticipation, only to discover that, rather than the Wood Shop she longed for, she has been assigned to Home Economics.

Looking back, I see that as a pivotal point in my life. The searing injustice I felt at that moment was not just a reaction to the school system's pushing me aside, but also to a larger sense of being relegated to a second class, within my family--where the boys had a measure of privilege and status that was denied to the girls--and within the larger world. At twelve years old, I well knew the sting of descrimination, and I determined it was time to stand up and fight.

With steady support from my mother, I resisted the school system's attempt to sweepm me under the rug of the Home Ec. class. The authorities tried various methods to keep me in line: force, manipulation, intimidation, lies, and distraction. My mother's guidance was perfect. She acted as council, but empowered me with the responsibility of taking action. To each of the school's attempts, I responded firmly and calmly, until they had run out of excuses and tactics, conceded that they lost, and let me into the class. They lost the battle to keep a girl from learning what she desired to learn, and I won the ability to determine for myself what I would learn--at least for one period of the school day, for one half of the school year.

By the time I had won my case, the quarter was 1/2 over, so I entered Wood Shop at a disadvantage. Still, my interest and enthusiasm garnered me a "B" for the grading period, and I made an "A" for the second quarter. Although I suspect it was partly due to the shop teacher's admonition before I came into his class, my fellow classmates were polite, and seemed to accept my presence. They even indicated respect for what I had done, and for what I created in class.

So, I made my little mark in history, being the first girl to enroll in Wood Shop at that school. Through this experience, I learned something of the importance of being oneself, of speaking up, and of holding out for what one wants. I discovered that, with support and determination, I could stare down The System and change it for the better. It is remarkable what one can learn from life when meeting it head on.

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