Saturday, February 2, 2008

American School

Within a day or two of seeing my new house, I was also going to my new school.

The new school was the Taipei American School. The online descriptions of this school tell you very little of what it was like in 1957. For one thing, it's moved since then. For another, back then it was so overcrowded that there were two shifts of students, a morning shift and an afternoon, each a fast-paced four hours. The same teachers that taught the mornings would teach afternoons. I drew the morning shift upon arrival, so I had to get up in the dark, dress, get breakfast, and walk to the highway, where a bus would come to pick up me and a handful of other American kids from my immediate neighborhood.

Even with the two shifts class sizes were enormous. My class had around 75 kids. We were in a long narrow classroom that had five files of desks extending away from the front and the blackboard back to the hinterlands. I was initially seated in the hinterlands but complained of not being able to read the writing on the board from there so I was moved to within 10 feet of the front. I could read the board there by squinting at it if the writing was large enough. Sometimes I had to get up and walk over to it.

To make up for only four hours of instruction the teacher gave us massive quantities of homework.

Once again, I had to prove myself. You would think, since almost every student there was a child of parents staying only temporarily in Taiwan, that there would be a culture that accepted new students easily. But no. The standing assumption by both teachers and other students is, you're a dunce until you prove otherwise. Even if the other students only arrived in the school 2 months before you.

The task was made worse by the Christmas show. The school had an annual Christmas show for the benefit of parents in an assembly hall, and my class was going to sing a song on stage. The song was We Three Kings. It was discovered that I didn't know the words of this universally beloved musical masterpiece. Ergo I was a dunce.

My parents were also stunned to learn that I didn't know We Three Kings. "You loved that song, and you used to sing it all the time." My Mother guessed eventually that it was probably part of the musical knowledge that was destroyed by the doctors in Maryland.

It didn't help that my speech was still slow. I was still laboring to speak by visualizing the written words as I went along, and I hadn't mastered inflection.

On top of all that I had become a fanatic about proof. Nothing convinces morons that you're dumber than they are than constantly demanding explanations from the morons for all their moronic pronouncements.

[Above: Nothing but maple trees in this Vermont park, as you can plainly see.]

An example of how I was treated as a moron: Our geography book had a section on New England states that I had to read for homework. The next day in class I pointed out that the book's statement that New England has mostly maple trees was wrong. I was asked what made me think I knew more than the authors of the book. I said that I'd lived in New England for over 4 years and while there were maples, most of the trees were other kinds. I was told with a smug smile that maybe I wasn't as observant as I should have been.

The breakthrough that earned me some respect happened after Christmas. My parents got me a globe that year. I had the instructions to the globe with me the day the teacher tried to tell the class during geography lessons that latitude lines go pole to pole and longitude lines run east-west parallel to the equator. Everyone laughed when I raised my hand to tell her it was the other way around. The teacher gave me an argument and when I asked her to look it up said with a smug smile she didn't have to, she KNEW she was right. So I got out the instructions to the globe, which included that piece of information, and that was the end of the smug smiles where I was concerned.

Every new school was like that. It would always take some minor demonstration that the squirrel spinning the wheel in my head wasn't dead.

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