The Crooked Road to Learning

A few conversations I had this week has brought back experiences I have had with the educational system.  I was not a great student throughout all my years of education.  I don’t think I can even say I was a good student, because I wasn’t.  If I was a student today, I would probably be diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  As a child in the classroom, my mind wandered—a lot!  I recall in the third grade watching the buffalo (really bison) out the window of my classroom.  No, I didn’t go to school during the pioneer days in the 1800’s, but I did go to school next door to Grants Farm in St. Louis, Missouri, where the wildlife roamed its property.

I don’t know why I couldn’t concentrate, but I know I was always daydreaming in class.  Part could be that I was one of the youngest in my class, having December 31 as the cutoff date for 5 year olds to kindergarten in the school district where I started my education.  It might have been good had I been held back a year, but that was not discussions in the schools in the 1950’s.  

I muddled my way through elementary school and junior high, and then on to high school.  I didn’t really study, and no one questioned it.  My dad came to America at age 10, and did not complete high school.  My mother, a first generation American, likewise did not go to high school.  Neither of them had any experience with what secondary education was.  My dad was a successful building contractor, and my mom was his office manager.  Both were very smart, and were business savvy.  I was never asked if I had homework.  No discussions were ever had about my educational future after high school.

I don’t think I really cracked a book open during my high school years.  Maybe I opened them to study for an exam or to do a required assignment.  It was the unspoken expectation in our family that we girls graduate high school, work in my parents’ office, then get married and stay home to raise children.  My senior year in high school I came to the realization that I did not want to work for my dad.  My friends were talking about going off to college, and I had no plans.  My grades were average, which is pretty good for one who does not study.  My last year of school, I took four courses to assure myself that I would graduate—clerical practice, bookkeeping, home economic III, and speech.  I carried a B average my senior year!  The one class I had to work in was speech, as we were taught how to prepare and deliver different kinds of speeches.  The first speech we had to deliver was a speech to influence, and I gave a speech on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.  I got an “A” on the speech and my teacher told me that I was a very influential speaker.  That was all I needed to hear, and I was motivated to work in that class because someone saw an ability in me of something I loved to do—talk!Invitation

I proceeded to the counselor’s office one day and told the counselor that I thought I wanted to go to college.  The counselor told me I was not college material.  I had not taken all the advanced courses my classmates had taken to prepare for college, it was doubtful that I could be successful in the college setting.  My desire NOT to work for my dad was greater than my desire to believe this counselor.  I enrolled in the local community college, and was accepted on academic probation.  I studied that first semester and removed myself off academic probation.  I had no clue why I was in college other than I wasn’t living at home working at a construction company office.  My major reflected that.  I selected sociology as my major because it did not require a foreign language or anything more than first level mathematics.  What a horrible reason to pick a major.  I muddled through those classes, which today I cannot even speak to—I minored in psychology, and I remember so much more from it because I found it much more interesting.  I couldn’t major in psychology because it required more of those harder courses, so I stuck with my major and minor.  My dad willingly paid for my college, but he was very clear that I had to do this in four years, so I muddled my way through, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology.  What I was going to do with this major is another story, and for another time.

Fast forward many years.  I was now a mother of four sons.  When my oldest was about 9, and the youngest about 3, my marriage had fallen apart.  Now I was a single mom with no money, working and highly stressed.  My kids, are in school, some doing better than others.  I was good at asking them if they have homework.  The oldest two never seemed to have any homework, and they never brought books home to study, and there was no online method to check.  Report cards showed the real truth—they also were not studying.

The question begs, “What happened with these kids in the future?  I have four sons, and none of them used the same path to adulthood.  Let’s take a look:

My first son took five years to get through high school to graduation.  His senior year, his younger brother decided to drop out of school.  Oh my!  I don’t know if things have changed since those days, but at age 16, one could decide to permanently sign themselves out of high school. I was in a panic, and foresaw a future of doom for him.  Now, son #1 bad gradesthought he might want to do the same, but he had only one semester until graduation.  I told him to hang in there.  If he graduated, I would give him a big party, and people who attend graduation parties bring gifts and usually the gifts were money.  (I will use any bribe to get him to stay)!  His eyes lit up.  Money did not come easy in our family at that time, and he chose to hang in.

Now as son #2 was dropping out, I had a great conversation with his high school principal.  Although this son was often in and out of the principal’s office, it also gave the principal time to get to know him.  Dr. Jones told me to make three rules for him.  The first was that he should not delay in getting his GED.  The second which he said was extremely important is that I require him to get a job.  He said most kids lose their way when they are allowed to just sit at home.  The third thing was that if he passed his GED, have him take one or two classes at the local community college.  I was rather surprised by this last one, but I went about following his advice.  I purchased a GED study guide at the local bookstore.  The book has a pretest in it, and it is a good way to see what areas he might be deficient to be able to pass the GED.  A friend of his also dropped out, so I offered to tutor them both toward taking their GED as soon as possible.  Once they took the pretest, I knew what subject matter I could bypass and help them in the areas they were weak.  I do not remember how long we did this, but it was in the following semester of school.  They both took the exam and passed!  I called the principal to give him the good news about my son, and he asked me the score on the GED.  I grabbed the paperwork sent, and read back the numerical score.  Upon hearing this he told me that the score was high enough to get accepted into the biggest state university.  He told me that he knew my son was bright and was learning in the classroom, but refused to let the teachers know.

Son #3 was a self-disciplined child his whole life.  I never had to ask about homework because I could observe daily his studying, and his grades reflected it.  By the time he hit middle school, he was being honored for his grades, and in high school, he was taking advanced credit classes.  Sometimes, we ignore signs of trouble when we see things going so well.  What I didn’t see was the stress level he was at, and how it was affecting him.  His senior year, he dropped a class, and was only taking the exact number of credits he need to have to graduate.  His GPA was high, and I thought all was well, until the week before graduation when I received a phone call that he had flunked one of his classes and did not have enough credits to walk with the class on graduation the following week. I was floored.  I had already sent out the graduation announcements and the invitations to the graduation party.  Once again, Dr. Jones knew exactly what to tell me.  He said that his GPA was really good.  He just needed an elective of anything to get credit.  His suggested he just take a simple home study course, and take the exam at the school, and he would have his graduation credits fulfilled by July and final transcripts could go out to college with no problem.  So that is what he did.  He and nine other students of the 100 who did not make graduation, had a mini graduation ceremony in early August.  It was actually the most fun and interesting graduation ceremony I have ever attended.

Son # 4 struggled with school also.  He like the oldest, was held back a year in his early elementary years.   He had to work to get passing grades.  In high school, he started playing sports, but found his place in choir, Madrigals (song and dance group), and drama club.  He was also active in Young Life on campus.  His is the only one who graduated in four years!

So what happened with their various methods of getting through high school?  The beginnings were rough for them all.  The first two started a band.  They were playing full time, and traveled the country, had an album, and a lot of radio play.  Recording companies were noticing, but then then whole Napster thing happened, and the recording industry took a step back for a while to ensure the safety of their copyrights.  Gasoline prices skyrocketed, and a traveling band decided to call it quits and find a different line of employment.  Fast forward several years and you find:

Son #1 living in San Francisco.  How did he get there?  He came up with an internet sensation that millionaires funded and required him to be in the silicone valley area.  A few years ago, he was honored by his high school as a distinguished alumni for his work in the ever growing high tech world.  Just last week, he was back in St. Louis and stopped at the school and talked with a group of kids who are high risk for dropping out.  He was there to encourage them to stick it out and graduate.  How did he grab their attention?  He showed on the screen one of his report cards that showed less than adequate grades.  He shared his struggles and his success in a world of technical designers and venture capitalists.

Son # 2 is currently the owns his own business that is “certified, focused, and committed to helping organizations succeed with Apple.” The company is “partnered with industry leaders and dedicated to providing innovative technology and services to strengthen and secure your organization. Apple empowers today’s modern workforce to do something truly great and we are passionate and prepared to help you succeed personally and professionally.”  That’s all quoted from his website because I don’t know how to explain what I don’t know.

Son # 3 waited until his 30’s to change his course of study, and graduated the top student in the business department at the the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL), and continued getting his CPA certification, and a Masters of Business degree.  He has struck out on his own with his accounting and business consulting firm.

Son #4 after getting his degree in Mass Media, decided St. Louis wasn’t the place to find employment.  He packed up his car and drove to California to see if he could find an opportunity there.  He was hired to a temp position at what was then the ABC Disney Cable Network, and 12 years later is still with the company now called Walt Disney Television, a division of The Walt Disney Company.  He has worked his way up in the technology of bringing Disney to us and others around the world.

All of them went by different paths.  All of them have had ups and downs, twists and turns in their lives.  Haven’t we all?

There are times I am speaking with parents who are agonizing over their children’s academic and other decisions.  I point out my four sons, and how they all did it differently, and none of them quite how I would have planned it for them.  My advice is to just love your children through the thick and thin.  They will mature and find their way.  We never learn from the easy stuff, so why do we think our children should?  

I wasn’t college material,  but I have a Masters of Business degree, and had a very successful career for years in Human Resources.  Some of my kids didn’t go to college, but found their passion and have been able to turn it into a successful career.  Some went to college and then later changed their focus.  How on earth do we know what to do in life when we are only 18 years old?  

However you perceive your past education, be it good or not so good, time changes things and we make the decisions what to do with it.  It’s not the grade on a piece of paper that makes us who we are.  I haven’t met a single person in my adulthood who asked my what my GPA was.  Thank goodness for that!

What I do know is that we continue to learn all our lives, and if we are honest, it’s what we do with those life lessons that is important.  I am extremely proud of how my sons, through their twists and turns, have a focus on their careers.  More importantly, is they have a focus on life.  They are loving husbands, dads, sons, sons-in-law, brothers-in-law, friends, and neighbors.  They are well functioning human beings.  They survived their mother’s (me) ups, downs, and sideways of life.  Our family is stronger for it.  My boys have each other’s backs.  

Would I have changed anything if I could?  As much as I want to say yes, in hindsight, I see that what we we have and are today, is a product of our trials of the past.  I guess I wish I could take hurt and sorrow from their lives, but I cannot, and we are all stronger because of it.

Don’t fret if your child seems to academically going sideways.  Encourage them to hang in there.  Pray for them.  Like it or not, God can change circumstances around something, and can help open their eyes to their beautiful lives and future.  Parents, it’s not over til it’s over.  I cannot guarantee that it will look the way you want it to look, but it might just look how it is supposed to look.  As Mark Twain once said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”Mark Twain


  1. This one hit home in so many ways. It shows us that even when your are struggling with your child through school, nine times out of ten everything works out. My oldest is now an IT director for his company and has traveled around the world to update their systems. My second son is running his own cycle company and is prospering (he is the one I worried most about) My youngest is my daughter and is a nurse.
    I wish when they were younger I could have seen the future and didn’t stress so much.


  2. It boggles my mind how different our paths were. I can’t remember how old I was when the expectation of college reared its head. My parents hadn’t been to college, but it was just expected that I would go. And I think sixth grade was the last year that I didn’t have mountains of homework every night. I’m not sure why I had to work so hard. Yet we both ended up in jobs that were well-suited to our skills — you dealing with people and me, well, not dealing with people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A good descriptor of our careers–“dealing with people,” and “well, not dealing with people.” Our crooked paths take us where we are supposed to be!


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