What Grade Are You In?

[Comedy - Be ye not alarmed.]

For those of you that don't know, I was homeschooled from birth. Literally, our parents never stopped making us learn. Sometimes, if we didn't learn anything new for more than an hour, they'd get out a whip and swish it threateningly, while saying "If I don't see some learning happening in the next thirty seconds, I'm gonna flay a couple of hides!"

Sleeping was difficult.

So were summers, when other kids were gleefully dumping their entire school year's worth of knowledge down the drain of cheap sugar candies and summers spent riding bicycles, we were learning that you should lift with your knees, not your back, and how to remember the recipe for pancakes (it's called "the rule of two", I'll post it sometime).

In fact, looking back, the vast majority of "learning" was actually "doing work our parents didn't want to do." Though it made us pretty self-sufficient, it also allowed for some entertaining disaster moments (8 year olds and mixers full of flour sometimes make waffles, and sometimes create huge flour-clouds which cover the entire kitchen in a thin layer of white powder. Whoops).

We were once required to complete our chores on Christmas morning. Before we opened a single present.

Not that I am bitter about that.

Where was I? Oh yes, Grades!

One of the most annoying things about homeschooling is interacting with victims of the public school system who had somehow missed the memo that there were children out there learning things on their own, in family groups, without the aid of our glorious and illustrious public lockup program for adolescents.

As students of the "unschooling" method who followed a mantra that assummed the standard education archetype was the worst way to manufacture useful children, we didn't learn in set patterns, groupings, or levels, so there was no way to equate our educational level to a grade system. Even if we had attempted to use a method, we'd have been forced to grade by subject anyway: "I'm an 11th grade art student, a 3rd grade math student, and a 5th grade English student", my sister would have been able to say, at the age of 8. It would have been a brain warping and useless metric.

So we simply ignored the concept of 'grading' altogether. As long as we were learning, ranking our learning was a pointless task. There were only the two of us for daily comparison anyway, so it was simple. "My sister is better than me at art. I am better than my sister at spelling." That was all the comparison we needed. For us, "the year" ended in December and started in January. The idea of a year that ended in May and started in August was completely foreign to us both until we started University courses in our teens.

However, the aforementioned victims had lived in a world of grades for 2/3rds of their 'learning' lives, and didn't even class children by ages anymore. Supermarket checkout girls were the worst.

Nothing confuses a fresh-out-of-high-school kid more than seeing a 10 year old and a 7 year old in line at the store on a Wednesday afternoon in February. And the question that is always asked during the ensuing conversation is "What grade are you in?"

Now, I was not a particularly stupid child, nor was my speech normally lacking in eloquence. However, I had no idea what "grade I was in." How would I know? I didn't take tests to rate my performance against some arbitrary statewide or national metric, and really had no clue.

So I would stutter and look confused and say. "Um. I, uh, don't know?" And I could tell from the look on the face of our interrogator that I had just reduced my mental rating to "retarded child" in her eyes, and obviously the explanation for me being in the store at this time of day was that I was too stupid for even the short bus to accept.

In truth, I was dying to say "I'm seven, you asshat. Just once, I'd like one of you intellectually-stunted mentally-degenerate register jockeys to just ask my age! Or would that be too hard for your assembly-line molded, classroom-diminished brain?"

Or whatever the equivalent would have been in my seven year old vocabulary (I'm pretty sure I would have replaced "asshat" with "mean lady!" for instance).

So it is that I have always resented the concept of grades, and being asked which one I'm in. I stick to asking children their ages, when I'm forced to interact with them at all, and then proceed to ask them about anything but school.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


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