Education is invaluable, and when opportunities for expansion and cohesion are negated, everyone suffers.  I am reminded of such a situation from many years ago in elementary school that I have now dubbed — “Amway or My Way” — and I will share that recollection with you now.

The idea of an elementary education must be one of rapid growth — or at least it should be in every circumstance.  When I was in the fifth grade or so, there were two teachers who handled 30 students each.  The teacher I was assigned to was known as the “fun” teacher and the other teacher was the “mean” teacher.  We generally had a lot of fun in class, but emphasis was never placed on intensive learning.  Our teacher, proudly from the South, openly admitted she wasn’t good in math or geography she didn’t like teaching those subjects, and so her deficits became our giddy reality.

When the end of the year arrived, and we were going to be told our new room and teacher assignments for the sixth grade, a change happened that would affect our entire class for the rest of our lives.  We were informed by the principal that something special was happening for the first time in the history of our Midwestern school.  Both of our fifth grade teachers were “moving up” to teach the sixth grade and we would all be staying together as a class, with the same teacher, for our final year in elementary school.  What a dire mistake!  Keep the kids together if you must, but at least switch teachers!

I was devastated.

The rest of the class cheered.

I didn’t know if I could handle another year of so much boring “fun” with a teacher who clearly preferred reading glossy magazines during class instead of teaching us anything important and everlasting.  I actually liked the “mean, Old Maid” teacher instead our “fun” teacher because the other class always outclassed us intellectually when we interacted.  They had a tougher teacher who made them sweat and work and, in the end, they won by being smarter than those of us stuck with our fallen Southern Belle.

The principal told us we could switch to the other teacher if we wanted to — but even if we wanted to move — it would never happen because to go against the grain of our brainwashed happiness would be foolhardy in such an elementary situation.  From birth, we were taught to blend in and go along, and to stand up and say, “I’ve had enough here, I’m going ‘mean.'” Would be a brand you would never outlive or ever be forgiven for expressing.

And so we all suffered another year at the hands of “I can’t read a map or a math equation” and the entire class lost two years of incredibly important learning.  Some of us have never been able to fill in those holes missing in our basic education.

Our Southern teacher, always prone to tears and drama, told us as we “graduated” from sixth grade and into Junior High School — and the frightening seventh grade — that we would hear from her again when we graduated from high school.  She was going to give each of us a gift and throw us a big party at her house because we were all so special to her.

Fast forward seven years or so, and sure enough, during the week of our graduation from high school, the Southern Belle called each one of us and told us to go to her home for our reunion party and gift.  I politely declined the invitation and gift.  I had to work.  She told me, in that awful Southern drawl, “I’d baay sor-raay” for missing it all.

The week after the party, I asked one of my reunion classmates what happened at the party.  He mumbled something.  I asked him again what the “big gift” was, and he mumbled again, a little louder this time, “Amway.”

“Amway?” I asked with a puzzled look on my face.  “She gave you Amway stuff for graduation?”

“No.” he mumbled.  “She wanted us to sell it.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to fill in the holes he was leaving out.  “She wanted us to sell Amway for her?  We’d be under her pyramid or something?”

“Yeah, something,” he mumbled.

I was cringing inside!  Of course she wanted us to work for her and make her rich.  We were always her chattel, her “one-of-a-kind” two-years-of-suffering kind of class, and of course her gift to us after all these years would be to reunite with her and sell Amway products for her so she could thrive off our backs once again by having us do the work while she read her glossy magazines.

I stifled a laugh and asked my friend how many of the 30 kids showed up to the reunion.

“Two, ” he mumbled as he walked away.  “Me and Tammy.”  Tammy was his girlfriend since the fourth grade.  They broke up soon after the Amway reunion.

“Ah!”  I thought, “I was not the only one who, perhaps, in the interleaving years, realized how much we didn’t learn during those two, ridiculous, years stuck in a math-less, geography-less, glossy, Southern haze — and our actual gift after all those years was to finally be able to say “no” to our tormentor so we would never have to suffer in her company again.

3 Comments

    1. It was like a bad dream that lasted two years in person and then haunted you for another seven until the other shoe dropped. Finally being able to say “No” to her was a terrific release of emotion. It’s good to know I wasn’t alone.