My Failures as a Student

Tags: books

During my junior year of high school I was such a terrible student of English that I’m pretty sure Mrs. Reynolds sighed with disappointment when I passed the AP English test through brute force and luck. Two years later my sister failed one of her quizzes with Mrs. Reynolds, and it came back “F - Don’t be like your brother.”

During my senior year of high school I was such a terrible student of English that Mrs. Wareham sent a letter home to my mom asking her to remind me that if I failed English, I failed high school. I still remember the look of disappointment when Mr. Steinberg asked if he’d see me at the spring play audition and I told him I couldn’t because I wasn’t doing well in English. The play went on without me, of course. I imagine he thought “damn, kid, high school is just the beginning. Don’t screw it up already,” while shaking his head.

In both cases, I failed to read the material in a serious way. I decided that I wasn’t interested in the books, and I wasn’t interested in serious study of fiction writing, so I shrugged off the work and did as little as possible. I remember discussing the audacity of English teachers assigning us 50 pages of reading a night. I remember jealously learning that the non-honors students were creating grammar puzzles for homework while we were reading or pretending to read 50 pages a night.

The same thing happened with a political science course in college. Truman couldn’t be a realistic expectation for someone with serious math and computer science studies. It was obviously an assignment to each us how to creatively fulfill coursework requirements without actually doing the coursework.

In all three cases, I skated by on previously earned aptitude and racked up a bit of intellectual debt. Just like we can build technical debt into software projects, I did the same with my education.

Years later, I’m paying off that debt by reading a great deal across a number of subjects. The variety expands my mind in new directions and simply makes me a better reader for the next book to land on my desk.

Aside from the Amazon marketplace and Kindle books, I can find a treasure trove of great material at the sales put on by the Friends of the Library. I browsed the selection three separate times this week and walked away with books each time. Everything in the picture below rang up to about $20

My haul from the library book sale

I wish I could have the years back in which I shrugged off so much reading. I’ve reversed my position on it because so many of the people that I respect and admire read voraciously, and it is no coincidence.

If you’re in Lancaster, mark your calendar.