Friday, June 10, 2011

Smartass gene.

I used to joke that science will someday find the smartass gene in my family. When it comes to education, I come from a long line of Ne'er-do-well's who made good. It seems a Sprung tradition to avoid institutional authority.

My Grandfather, Harold, ca. 1949

State schooling is a relatively new thing in society. Prior to my father's generation, most kids weren't required to go to school. Previous to the great war, it was for those who either could afford to be schooled, or those who were very active in their churches. We were neither, coming from a long line of farmers and mercenaries, German and English stock who came across the pond to make a new life in religious freedom.

My grandfather started operating heavy equipment in the 1940s, building a highway in Nova Scotia during the second world war. My father, born in 1946, went to school in the first institutionally mandated public school system through the 50's and 60's.

My Dad. I love the hair in this one. ca. 1960

It's no wonder educators didn't have the resources to identify and help kids with special needs in those days. They were coping with the baby boom with its unprecedented number of children flooding the system. It led to a Darwinian version of school that reacted the way it knew how. Disciplinarian Principals thrived, and teachers took a laissez-faire attitude. Children either passed or failed, and it was the teachers' jobs to simply lay out the classes without ensuring it was understood.

My father dropped out to operate heavy equipment, fix and drag-race cars, and generally start a life. School in those days couldn't prepare him, and so he took an apprenticeship operating mobile cranes at 16 and never looked back.

Even though he didn't finish high school, he's no slouch. He learned how to fly airplanes through sheer determination, while still running heavy equipment, and went on to win awards, one for the highest score on a flight exam ever given (at that time) by the Ministry of Transport. He taught meteorology and flight training with Skycraft in Oshawa, and then flew DC-3s, Twin Otters, and 748's in the arctic as an airline transport Captain with Bradley air and FirstAir. He needed to learn in his own way, and did just that.

Dad in the right seat of a DC-3 sometime around 1982

My brother, Larry, was also different than other kids, taller and ganglier, but friendly and kind to a fault. He still has a heart of gold, and would literally give away everything he owned if it helped out a friend. In school he had similar difficulties to my father's. He was labelled and ignored, simply because he just could not learn in the narrow-minded way that teachers had set out for him. They tried moving him closer to the blackboard, and then moving him in with all the troublemakers in a 'special' class, but this only served to single him out. Now, of course, there is a recognition of different learning styles, and different approaches are geared to that, but back then there was nothing.
Larry, around 1975

He, too, went straight into an apprenticeship in the tower cranes. I can't blame him. Misunderstood and mislabeled, what else is there to do but go where your skills and strengths are appreciated?

I later learned what an intelligent, and clever thinker he is. When I started my apprenticeship, he was my teacher, my mentor, and my coach, making sure I learned it right the first time, and showing me how to be a productive and safe operator. I owe him my profession. I could write an entire novel on rediscovering our friendship after many years of not getting along, but that's for another time.

Larry and I in a Pecco, Peterborough 2005

Looking back, I see that even though I was perceived as the opposite of Larry, I went through nearly the same thing. As a child I was supposed to be the black sheep. The (now laughably) 'smart one'. First Sprung to go to University. First to be 'bookish' and artistic. Even though I did well in school, I never got straight A's. If I had an interest in something, like Physics or Geography, I would get near perfect marks. If I didn't, as in (ironically) English, I wouldn't. I had odd obsessions. Early on I could read. I don't ever remember not understanding words. I could read the newspaper at five years old, and yet it never translated to anything more than being a bookworm, hiding in the library while other kids took up sports and theatre.

On the other hand, it took me until 26 months to walk, and I had trouble with speaking to others, especially in groups. I mumbled to myself often, and also would repeat what people said to me, but in whispers, as if trying to find the meaning. Loud noises bothered me, painfully, and different textures also bothered me, which meant I developed defensiveness. It only makes sense now, not wanting to get hurt, but at the time it socially handicapped me. I ended up preferring to be alone much of the time rather than having to deal with people.

Larry and I ca. 1976

After high school, I didn't want to go into the heavy equipment because of the mess and noise, and tried instead to apply myself to academia. It was always an uneasy fit. I should have, from an early age, gone with what I was good at. I was a natural pilot, and learned, as my brother did, to operate equipment. Where I am happy now is a combination of academia and construction. I still write, and I still work with machines. I would love to get my pilot's license (I know, I know... after flying for nearly eight years, trained by one of the most experienced arctic pilots in the country, I never wrote for it...), but aside from a few things I would take back if I could, any anxiety I had about life has been banished long ago. I feel as if I am where I was meant to be.

Flying with my Dad around 1997 in his Taylorcraft. Loved this plane!
Now I worry about my kids. In looking at my Owen, I see nearly a carbon copy of all the social difficulties I went through as a child. I always worry also when Cole comes home from school having a rough day, because I know how hard it is for a little guy to admit to anyone that he's anything but popular and successful. I think it was a shock to my parents when we moved away from Havelock to find that it had been such a horrible time for my brother and I, because they always asked how our days were, and we always said they were fine. I don't think any parent wants to hear that their kids are having a hard time, but as painful as it is, it's the first step for making sure our kids cope.

That's not to say I want to intervene. I think they should all fight their own battles, whether within themselves or in standing up for their own rights, but in order to do this, they need to know they have someone in their corner, even if it's not the winning corner.

I consider it a badge of honor to have survived being an outcast, and sometimes being outright bullied. It made me who I am. To think 'survived' is too strong a word is to ignore national suicide statistics among young teens. I often wonder what could have become of me if my family had not been so strong. I know that I never would have spent so much time with my parents had I had friends through school, and yet the skills I rely on today, the kindness and generosity of my mother, and my father's sense of humour and affability, were things that socially I had to learn from them before going out in the world.

I also have reason to hope that schooling has changed, that there is a place even for a bunch of Ne'er-do-well's to stick around and learn from it. What gives me faith is that I know they will not be forgotten in a special class, like my brother, or be driven out through apathy like my father. Nor will they be left to sink-or-swim like myself. Armed with new learning models and an understanding of how to help kids get what they need, schools have an interest in helping every kid get through, whatever their style of learning. Now, if my kids will be an outcasts, they will be educated outcasts, with every opportunity to apply that roguish defiance to any field.

Who knows, with the amount of time Owen spends in doctors offices, perhaps he'll become a geneticist and answer for us that typically Sprung question. Which part of which chromosome controls the middle finger?

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1 comment:

  1. It's good to see you writing dear:) we both know owie will be a brilliant hacker charming ladies and bringing the concept of a fire sale into reality lol
    Also next time I'm home I'm teaching the little terror so skateboard and listen to punk rock :D