Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Tale of Two High Schools

San Andrea High School Larkspur, CA

Today's post is a response to the GBE2 prompt: High School.

When I attended Redwood High School, there was a couch in the woods by a park. It was close enough to walk to from our school, which had an open campus, and we tended to congregate there to smoke cigarettes and while away the hours during which we supposed to be getting an education. I was selective about which classes I missed. Never Drama or English or Peer Counseling. I usually headed out there for Math or Science or P.E., none of which seemed worth attending. My math teacher, an older man with a beard and the appearance of a frustrated and bitter Santa Claus, was given to calling out at us in great frustration,

"You think this is useless information, but what are you going to do when you're old and you want to build an airplane in your garage???"

Whatever credibility he might have had was totally undermined by this tendency.

Biology should have been interesting but wasn't. My teacher appeared to be simultaneously frightened and deeply angry with all of us. I found this phenomenon somewhat fascinating. In all my years of life up to this point, I had never inspired fear and rarely rancor. The temptation to sneak up behind her and snarl was too great for me to go to her class. Politely, I stayed away.

I hadn't always been this disinterested in my education. In fact, the first semester of freshman year, I was placed on the honor roll. The powers-that-be sent me a letter informing me that, were I to continue to produce excellent grades such as these, I would be able to wear a gold tassel at graduation. Almost as good would be a silver. Somehow this dramatically diminished my interest in this achievement.

In the middle of my sophomore year, I transferred to an alternative continuation school, San Andreas. I understand that it still exists in some form. Given educational politics, I hope it has not been ruined. At that time, we were allowed to smoke on campus. The rationale for this, quite accurately, was that were this forbidden, we would all just slink off and not attend class. I had a history teacher who smoked in class. To my enchantment, he did not flick his cigarette but allowed it to collect ash until it formed a glowing Eiffel Tower of ash at the end of his smoke. Finally, it would become top-heavy and fall. He was an absorbing teacher, but as absorbing was the spectacle of that cigarette, half-ash, in his hand. He looked like Jabba the Hutt and we all adored him.

Our science teacher swore like a carpenter with a nail in his foot. We remained totally awake in his class, waiting for the next expletive to roll over us conjoined to some imparted knowledge of Biology. Once, in his class, we had a bake sale and raised money to buy an acre of rainforest. The English class was called "Reading and Writing" and consisted of a commitment for a specified period each day to either read or write. I read the collected works of Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare and wrote poetry and short stories. I had no problem at all getting an education in this respect once I was left alone to do what I wanted. In Math, we worked at our own pace to do worksheets with a teacher to help as needed. If we made mistakes, we corrected them and never moved on until we understood. In the art class, my friends made demon-head ash trays out of clay. I took drama and started an underground newspaper.

My junior year, our English teacher put up on the board the following words:

"California High School Proficiency Exam."

Why had no one told me of this before? By simply taking a test, I could earn a certificate that was the legal equivalent of a diploma. I spent some time studying for the math portion and went to take the test. A few months later my results came in: I had passed. Having nothing better to do, I chose to finish out my junior year anyway and participated in the graduation ceremony in June. A few days later, I started junior college and was able to maintain almost a 4.0 there.

San Andreas was a special place. I hope it still is. It was special because it was a lifeline to those of us who could or would not make it at the three regular high schools in our district. It was more special because the adults there chose to see us, not as threats, though any number of us might have been packing knives. Neither were we seen as failures, though by any measure we may have been. We were seen as people. There was nothing oppressive in any sense that they wanted to inspire us to do better. We were not lectured or urged. We were just known as individuals.

For me, that was enough.


  1. Sounds like a pretty cool HS experience. Were they relaxed with attire?

  2. Both students and staff wore whatever they wanted and we called all of our teachers by their first names. :)

  3. Enjoyed reading this as your high school seems so very different from the one I studied in!:)

  4. Now that's a laid back high school, Imma thinkin'! Enjoyed this a lot. ♥

  5. Sounds like a great high school to have gone to.

  6. I attended Del Valle Continuation High School, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I adored my teachers, and made a lot of wonderful friends. When I was told that I had to attend a continuation high school after missing one year of school due to my debilitating anxiety, I decided I would much rather quit school altogether. Thankfully, I came to my senses and graduated in four months.

  7. It's good to hear about someone who found the right school at the right time. I really enjoyed reading your clear memories of that time.

  8. What a cool school! My daughter wanted to send her kids to the Waldorf school because of their wonderful respect for individuality, but the one near us closed its doors a few months before her daughter was to start.

  9. never heard of such a school...strike that..maybe its what i think MONTESSORI schools are? at any rate..INDIVIDUAL..writers don't plagiarize..well real writers..cuz they know themselves...hehe love this

  10. Sounds like you were given the opportunity to learn about what works for you, at your own pace. Thanks for sharing, Tara.

  11. Sounds like a great school.
    Very entertainingly written blog, too

  12. Nice blog! Interesting high school! Good job in Junior College!

  13. What great writing. I feel a certain kinship, as I too spent time smoking my education away (though it was banned at my school) and ignoring science (which now fascinates me).

    I must say, the way you write up your science teacher he sounds like a hoot. Because how *do* you know you won't one day want to build an airplane in your garage? I mean, you never can tell where life is going to take you! :)


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License