After finishing my eighth-grade stint in private school, I returned to public school at the beginning of my freshman year. When transferring back to public school, the school system made an issue about my ‘substandard’ private school education. Even though I was only out of their clutches for one year, they explained that I would likely be behind and would need Special Education to catch back up. After much coaxing, my parents reluctantly agreed to put me in Special Ed. I wasn’t sure what that meant and was in for a rude awakening.
Special Ed was where they put the behavioral problem children. The classes were ‘team taught’, which means that two teachers would guide the class. I started off on a bad foot with the class. In private school, we had to call teachers either ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’. When I called Mr. Rollins ‘sir’, the prisoners became agitated.
“Sir? Did you just call him sir?” one student scoffed.
“You should all be referring to me as ‘sir’,” Mr. Rollins announced.
Cackles of laughter from around the room made his comment appear absurd.
Our work looked to be on the second or third grade level. The assignments were ditto sheets with fill in the blanks, spelling words from seven years ago, and coloring assignments. When I saw our work, I was disgusted. As you may have perceived by now, I wasn’t the most studious child on the block, but even I realized the problem of staying in special ed. I wouldn’t be learning anything for the next four years.
Spelling tests were also on the elementary school level. I aced every test. Each assignment was an easy 100%. In fact, the only question I ever got wrong was during a spelling test. The word was ‘parallel’. Being dyslexic, I couldn’t remember if the two L’s were in the middle of the word or the end. Both seemed to look right. I finally decided to spell it ‘paralell’.
When the tests were graded, Mrs. C. called out the results. I scored a 95. Without seeing my paper, I knew which word was wrong. Then she said, “Eddie, you cheated on this test.”
Did my ears deceive me? ‘Parallel’ was the only word that was even close to being hard to spell. Why would I need to cheat in order to spell, ‘Would,’ ‘Could’, ‘Should,’ or any of the other words on this easy test. It was absurd to think cheating would be required. “I didn’t cheat,” I said. “Why would I need to cheat?” I had a 100% average up to this point, so it if anything, it should be a surprise that I missed a word.
Mrs. C. pointed at me and said, “I know you cheated. I saw you cheating.”
We bantered back and forth between accusing and denying until I issued an ultimatum. “I’ll prove that I didn’t cheat,” I said. “I’ll stand in front of the chalkboard for everyone to see. You call out the words and I’ll write them down. If I don’t get 100%, I’ll prove you right and you can give me a zero on the test.” I said this with complete confidence because I knew the only word I could have missed.
She backed down.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this confrontation more than made up for calling Mr. Rollins ‘sir’. After class the miscreants proclaimed me as their new hero. I stood up to the teacher and showed her up in front of the whole class. “That was great, man!” the worst behaving student said as he patted my back. Wow. I felt so honored. Though this wasn’t my intention, it was nice to not be considered the class nerd.
One problem remained. There was no way I could spend four years learning third-grade math and spelling. The class consisted of students from all four grade levels, so I knew it wasn’t going to get any better. A couple of months into the school year I went to my teachers and said, “I want out of special ed.” Though I hated school and barely squeaked by, I still understood the need to learn something. And I didn’t want to be an idiot when I graduated. A half-wit, maybe. But not an idiot.
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. C said. “You’re parents requested that you be in special ed. Unless they fill out a request to have you removed, you have to stay.”
I went to the school office and got the forms, took them home, and explained my predicament to my parents. They filled out the forms and I turned them in. Mrs. C looked at the forms and said, “This gets you out of Study Skills, but you can’t get out of Special Ed.”
Study Skills was an hour of study hall. While study hall counted for no school credit, Study Skills did. The rationale was that since special needs kids have a harder time learning, they needed the extra study time. So they were required to have an hour of study time and it counted as a class grade. How is that for a difficult ‘A’?
I knew Mrs. C’s claim was false. I read through the forms and the school office said this would get me out of special ed, but this teacher didn’t want me to get out. From the beginning she knew I didn’t belong there and she seemed to resent it. Though I am not sure why. After discussing this and listening to her insistence that I was locked in, I realized there would be no reasoning with her. Not a problem. I had a plan.
McEachern High afforded a few privileges that were similar to college. At the end of each quarter, students were given scheduling cards. They went to the classes they wanted and signed up. While some classes were set in stone, many electives were not. For me to get out of Special Ed, I just needed to go to the teachers for the normal classes, sign up, and the next quarter I would be free. So I decided not to argue with the teacher and just take matters into my own hands at the end of the quarter.
On sign-up day, our homeroom teachers gave out the scheduling cards. My heart sank when I received mine. Mrs. C had filled out all my classes with Special Ed ones and attached a note that read, “Eddie. For your convenience I have filled out your schedule for you. Just sign this and give it back to me in first period.”
I could feel my face turning red with anger. She knew I could sign up for regular classes but was determined to stop me from doing so. That’s when I made the decision to take drastic measures. I took a pen and scribbled out all of her class selections. I skipped all my classes that day, knowing she would demand my schedule card if she saw me. I looked at my class options and went to each teacher and signed up for class. Nearly every teacher looked at my scribbled out card and questioned it. “It was a mistake my teacher made,” I would say. “But there’s room to write the correct class above it.”
At lunch my classmates found me. “Mrs. C is looking for you and she is asking everyone if they know where you are.”
“Don’t tell her you saw me,” I pleaded. Skipping class was a bold act of rebellion. I got a wink and a nod from my classmates, then disappeared from sight again.
I hid the entire day, only surfacing when the bell rang to rush to a classroom where I could sign up. Then I disappeared from sight again. At the end of the day, I found my homeroom teacher and turned in my schedule card.
I was certain that I would get detention for skipping my classes, so I dreaded the next day. But it came and I headed to school knowing I’d have to face Mrs. C. As expected, she was angry. Very angry. She demanded to know what I did with my schedule card. I told her the truth – I had given it to my homeroom teacher, just like everyone else did.
“Did you just sign it and turn it in?” she demanded.
“I did sign it and turn it in.”
“Did you make any changes?”
“What?! I told you to just sign it and turn it in! What changes did you make?”
No point in denying it now. “I took Special Ed off my schedule – just like my parents requested.”
I thought her eyeballs were going to pop out. She started screaming at me and insisting that I wasn’t authorized to leave Special Ed. She went on yelling for a while, but I didn’t listen to the rest of her argument. While her voice reverberated in the background, I was just thinking, “I have escaped. And there’s nothing she can do about it now.” She knew it. I knew it. Now all she could do was vent.
I supposed that the purpose of Special Education was to keep everyone within a controlled system. There were a few learning disabled students there, but most of my classmates were behavior problem kids that were pushed out of sight. They rarely, if ever, crossed paths with the main student body. In my experience, Special Ed wasn’t designed to teach or learn, but to keep the crabs in the bucket. If one tries to climb out, they are to be grabbed and pulled back in.
It would be many years before I truly took my education seriously, but when I looked around the room I saw a difference between my ideals and the ideals of those in my class. While I wasn’t very motivated to achieve and for the most part, didn’t see the relevance of what was being taught, I did care about learning. I stayed in the C’s and D’s range, but I was learning. My biggest problem was that I thought I could learn all I needed in class and was unwilling to give up my free time to study. Unless my friend Tim was in class, then learning anything was hopeless. But at least class was fun. Learning itself wasn’t the problem. My dyslexia and lack of motivation were my biggest obstacles while growing up. But as you’ll see later, a few events in life would greatly motivate me.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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