Isn’t/is not

It was August of 2012 and I only had a few months left to enjoy life as I knew it. December 21, 2012 was near

Joking. It was August of 2012, and I was sitting in my AP Composition class. It was still the beginning of the school year, so my teacher was explaining to the class how to do a 40 minute timed write. It was scary because, well, 40 minutes for a 3 page essay? Bur she gave us extra time for the first one, thankfully.

Anyways, I heard some girl say “Don’t use contractions! Mrs. (name omitted) doesn’t like them. She said that once when I was in her class last year.” I made sure to remember this for Friday’s timed write. But it scared the heebie jeebies out of me. I’m so used to using contractions – what if I accidentally put one on paper? How much extra time does it take to write words out? I mean, there’s a time limit!

I don’t think I used a single contraction for any piece of writing I completed for that class. I got into the habit of writing both words on paper and in typed essays. It became so much of a habit, in fact, that I just did it for my essay an hour ago. It’s April 2015. How many contractions have I avoided in the past 2 and a half years?

I didn’t write all of my words out in AP Comp because it was the secret to an A. I just wanted to do anything to make my teacher like my writing. After all, she’s the one that decides my grade. I didn’t want her to cringe while grading my work. I wanted approval. I really don’t think contractions would have made much of a difference. But I didn’t think it wasn’t worth risking, and for that reason, I changed myself.

Honestly, I think it would’ve been worth it to write contractions on my timed writes. I might’ve saved a minute overall – enough time to reread my work and quickly fix any errors. I remember there were times where, on accident, I’d write a contraction, then cross it out and write the two words. What a waste of time! Why did I do it? Because I thought that the less I bothered my teacher with her pet peeve, the closer she’d be to giving me a good grade.

That’s the stupidest thing ever. I wanted that good grade, though. That’s all I really cared about at the time. Now, I was never told by the teacher to avoid contractions. My teacher never mentioned anything about this annoyance in class. But I did it because it’s what I’ve been taught my whole life – to forget about myself and appeal to authority.

The school system, or at least the one I experienced, hugely centers around the idea of putting grades before everything. Students often become so obsessed with their grade point average that they become different people. We’re taught obedience rather than originality – and that’s heartbreaking.

“But they’re just contractions!”

I know, but the contractions are a metaphor for something bigger. What I’m saying is, sometimes we immerse ourselves into schoolwork so deeply that we begin to lose ourselves. I really wonder what other ways I adapted to fit the expectations of school. The education system somewhat ruined me. I would probably be a different person today if I had cared less during high school.

I understand why we need to do well in school. Those grades strongly determine what college(s) you’ll be accepted to, which is a huge part of your future. But is it worth losing part of yourself over? I’d like to think that it isn’t, but I don’t know.

While writing this, I was reminded of a post I saw on Humans of New York (HONY). If you don’t know, HONY is an organization that takes pictures of people in New York and writes about them. The diversity of their posts on Facebook (Humans of New York), Instagram (@humansofny), and Tumblr (humansofnewyork) is impressive. There was a picture of a kid that said he spilled water onto a computer while trying to measure the pH of water (It’s 7.) I read about a woman who moved to New York from Texas after retiring that likes to smoke marijuana. Once, a man explained the meaning behind his 10:2:7 tattoo. He spent 10 years, 2 months, and 7 days in prison and wrote in his journal often during that time. He was very intelligent. During his time, he received a call from a former Principal who wanted him to speak to kids because she believed he was truly a good person. Within two days of being released from prison, the principal called again. Another woman told HONY that her grandfather was dying in a hospital at the same time that her daughter was being born. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see her.

One HONY post that I think about very often was posted months ago. It is, “His grandmother and I are raising him. I worry about putting him into the public school system. I was a teacher for so many years. I’ve seen so much confidence destroyed by the standardized system. Every human is born with the natural curiosity. I’ve never seen a child who wasn’t inspired. But once you force someone to do anything, the inspired person is killed. I dropped out of school myself in 7th grade. So I know. I taught a GED course for years, so I’ve seen the end results over and over. I’ve seen so many kids who have complexes and insecurities because they were forced to do something they weren’t ready to do, and then they were blamed when they weren’t able to do it. What we call education today is not organic. You can’t take something as complex as the human mind, compartmentalize it, and regiment its development so strictly.”

Read the previous paragraph. Read it again. And again. Let those words –  let all of those words – let every single one of those words sink in.

In a way, I think the pursuit of a higher GPA turned me into a person that I didn’t want to be. I became so used to the idea of losing myself to education that I did it on a small scale even when a teacher never told me to do so.  I focused on earning good grades so intensely that I forgot to figure out what I’m actually good at. I mean, I took an advanced placement writing class, but didn’t realize that I want to major in journalism until a few months after graduating.

I took that class because I enjoyed writing, but it became so stressful once I actually had to worry about what I was writing. Then, I started a blog to write whatever I want. And that’s when I rediscovered how fun writing can be.

School takes two things away from people that makes life really interesting – creativity and originality. I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish we were allowed to retain our own personalities while still getting an education, but I guess education means uniformity. I don’t know what the future of the education system will be, especially with common core being implemented. I’ve already graduated high school, so I guess I don’t need  to be concerned. But I still am, because I’d like students in the future to feel free to be unique.


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