My first eight years of education, and so far, my only “formal” education has been in an Amish parochial school. How quaint to have been educated in a small one-room Amish schoolhouse with about a dozen other students, you might effuse excitedly. Well screw you! Amish parochial school stunted my intellectual growth and that pisses me off.
When I was a young Amish boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, I was fascinated with the night sky. I looked to the stars and I marveled when comet Hale-Bopp appeared in 1997. I dreamed of becoming an astronomer or an astronaut but of course I knew that I would never become either of those–I was Amish. Sometimes I wished my parents were normal so that my dreams would have a fighting chance of becoming reality.
My Dad, who was a great father despite all the religious crap, gave me one of those little rotating star charts one Christmas. With a cheap pair of binoculars and that star chart, I spent many enjoyable evenings outside, identifying constellations and writing notes about individual stars and planets. I read many astronomy books and taught myself ‘stargazing’ until I was able to find most specific visible stars, several of the brighter nebulas, and of course the Andromeda galaxy and the visible planets.
Academically, I did well in the Amish parochial school compared to the other students. I found the work easy and would work ahead on my material because I found it fun. My Amish teacher didn’t find that amusing and warned me several times not to work ahead of the other students. One day she had enough of it and spanked my offending hand with a ruler. That day I learned that it was important not to take initiative and not to do more than is asked of me.
I was always the nerd in school. As soon as I had an individual lesson finished I would go to the small library along one wall and grab several books to read. Often during my schoolwork I would think of some subject (e.g. radio astronomy) that fascinated me and upon completion of my schoolwork, I would go to the bookshelf and select the “R” encyclopedia. After reading the entry I would go back and select several more encyclopedias so I could read related subjects or more in-depth entries. This behavior was of course not normal and the other Amish students, many of whom had nothing but religious books at home and didn’t particularly like reading, would mock me for it. I became used to the word “bookworm” being used like most people would use “child rapist”.
Many of the Amish in our community liked to hunt. The men were quite competitive about it and always bragged about who shot the deer with the biggest antlers. I felt compassion for the helpless animals and told my fellow classmates that I would never harm an animal. I quickly became used to the word “environmentalist” being used like most people would use “child rapist”. Of course I didn’t like being mocked and after many hours of heart-wrenching rumination, I decided that I would show them and would become a better hunter than any of them. Years later, I actually did.
One day while reading through our encyclopedia set at home, I learned that Jupiter had quite a few moons. I was amazed by this knowledge as I had only been aware of one moon up to that point. Some weeks later I mentioned this fact in passing to my fellow classmates. They informed me none too politely that there is only one moon. It didn’t take long for me to get used to “stargazer” being used like most people would use “child rapist”.
That evening I told my Dad what had happened when I tried to enlighten my classmates. My Dad told me gently that he believed me that Jupiter had more moons and told me that the other students just didn’t know any better. It wasn’t very consoling, I wanted my friends to like me, not my Dad. To me, the concept of intellectual superiority was alien. I was told that I was “good at school” and “good with numbers”. Nobody told me that I was smart. Nobody helped me understand why I was so different or how my weirdness would help me later in life.
I stopped gazing up at the night sky and I put away my star charts and astronomy books, thinking wrongly that it was something that only weird people do. I stopped reading so much, tried harder to fit in, and withdrew into myself, intellectually. To this day I would rather sit silent than correct, even a friend, a factual error that he or she has made. It is a tactic I learned in Amish school to appear normal.
I can’t help but think that if my parents had been a normal family and had provided me with the education that I needed and desired, I would be doing great things by now. I like the idea of freedom when it comes to the educational system. I fear that if primary education is restricted to only state-run or heavily regulated schools, we could end up with a propaganda problem down the road. But Christ! Being intellectually stunted in a religious school just doesn’t feel fair to me.
Many years after leaving the Amish, I discovered a webpage with an experimental high-range I.Q. test designed by a psychologist and research scientist. I decided to try the test and after working through the number sequence problems, I submitted my answers. A day or so later, I received my score report. According to the associated statistical report for that test my score equates (at least theoretically) to an I.Q. a little higher than 160 (s.d. 16). To the ***holes who mocked me in Amish school–take that! Now if only I could get over it.