Monthly Archives: April 2010

There are places I remember all my life

For several New Years of the past I would resolve to let go of various “residual hates”. These, for me, were things that if I thought about them would make me really angry and upset or just sad. Sometimes these “residual hates” would take the shape of an ex, or friends, but no matter the year one remained the same: The Linden School.

For the most part I lack any residual hates at the moment. No boy is yanking unpleasantly at my heartstrings. No friends past, present nor future are making me fret. Hell, I’m even happy with my family at the moment! So it was surprising for me to feel that drop in my stomach as I looked over at the table next to me at Il Gatto Nero Monday night to see my old Homeroom teacher sat behind a plate of calamari.

The Linden School is an independent, women-centred, Toronto school, and a decade ago  I attended it for four years, which as it turned out, was two years too many. My mother didn’t want me going to a public junior high. I forget what her exact reasoning was, but it doesn’t really matter. So she had me sit the PSAT in an attempt to secure placement at St Clements School: A fancy all girls private school where, in spite of the fact you were forced to wear the ugliest tunics ever, I really wanted to go. Unfortunately my PSAT scores we slightly off-balance, something like the 90th percentile on the math half, and the 12th percentile in English. Oh how the tables have turned! I was waitlisted (#3!!!), but in the end was shuffled off to The Linden School, where one of my friends had been since the fourth grade.

Grades seven and eight were fine, other than being annoyed about a strange dress code, I came out relatively unscathed. I might have even learned some things! To be honest I have managed to block the majority of my time at that school out of my mind. But by the end of grade nine I knew I wanted to leave. My parents, however, weren’t to be persuaded and I was sent back in September to start grade ten.

I was the last year to go through OAC in Ontario, which meant if I finished highschool at the normal pace I would be part of the “double cohort” and according to the media, be doomed and never get into University. I was also a pretty smart kid, with varied interests, so I had decided to fast-track and escape this “double cohort” doom, which meant that to get my OACs in Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus I would have to do two years of math in one. Two of my good friends joined me on the quest, and thus at the end of grade nine we started grade ten math by correspondence. That in itself was an ordeal. We had all planned to be done the sections of the course over the summer. Of course, none of us had even started when September rolled around.

Every October Linden celebrated something called “the week without walls”. In an ideal world, I assume this was supposed to take the students out of the classroom for some real world learning. This year our class was supposed to go on a camping trip. The idea of camping with my classmates and teacher in October, over my birthday, was quite unpalatable. I didn’t really see what I was going to learn, and frankly I always hated week long school nature adventure trips (ugh anyone else forced to go to Pine River in grade six?). So I opted out. Now here’s where you can tell I was a big nerd. Sure I didn’t want to go camping. Sure I wanted to stay home. But guess what I wanted to do that week. Sleep? Watch TV? Go to the mall? Drink beer? No. No, I wanted to stay in school, alone, and do math. Yes people, I wanted to get some one-on-one time with my math teacher while everyone else was gone, and forge ahead with the correspondence course I was doing.

Unfortunately me refusing to go on the trip started up a small revolution of sorts. Two other girls also wanted to no longer go, and instead stay at school and work. And then a third didn’t want to go, so she could go to the mall and to smoke and do drugs. Guess who got in trouble? The pot-head with a nicotine addiction? Nope! She got a Dr’s note (apparently) and was allowed to “do what she had to do” away from the other students, as long as she went on the trip. No, I got in trouble. FOR WANTING TO DO MATH. I was letting my classmates down, because if I didn’t go  the price would go up for them, and it wasn’t fair. I wasn’t showing school spirit. I wasn’t being a good person. A good woman. I was a bad human being.

But stay in school to do math I did, while my friends all toked up in the woods. After “the week without walls” was over the principals (there were two of ‘em) called a meeting with my mother and me (we brought my sister too, just in case, cos she’s kinda scary). The meeting opened with the eviler one  scowling at me asking: “If you had a magic wand, what would you do?” I, of course, thought to myself “SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS”, but just shrugged and stared at my feet. I forget what happened in the interim, but the end of the meeting closed with both principals proposing that Linden really wasn’t the place for a girl like me, and that I should take a week off and look for other schools.

Yup. I was suspended and basically expelled for wanting to do math instead of going camping and getting stoned. I wish I was lying, and I wish this was all made up, but it’s not. Sigh.

I took that week off. And an extra one. But in the end I decided to go back. My parents had paid the non refundable tuition, and I guess I thought, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Upon my return, the entire school was basically rallied against me. The teachers made fun of me in front of other students. The friends that stayed my friends were often called into the office and explicitly told by the principals that I was a bad influence and they should stay away from me. My homeroom teacher was cruel, and behaved reprehensibly. Once I walked into homeroom and she was laughing and laughing with the guidance counselor and some of my classmates saying “I can’t wait until Maggie is gone, then we can have a party and play pin the tail on the Connie {my mother}!”

I was a good kid. Especially compared to a lot of the girls in my class who were constantly up to the mischief that most 15 year-olds are. Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. I wanted to do math, eat ice cream cakes and listen to Our Lady Peace. And for that I was punished and ostracized by my school. Sure kids are cruel, but it’s the fact that the teachers were the ones that incited all this. Grown adult women, who worked at a school that expressly wanted to teach girls to be upstanding citizens, speak their minds, fight the good fight. At the time, as a 15 year-old, I knew it was bad. But now, a decade later, I only just realized how truly reprehensible that school’s behavior was. What adult treats a child like that? What adult turns other children against each other? And for what? Because I wanted to do math?

It boggles my mind.

Essentially, I stopped going to school. I would come in late. I would leave early. Or I would hide in the dark room all day. Or cry under desks in empty classrooms. Somehow I managed to pull good enough marks, nothing lower than a 75% for the most part. But I was broken. And I was angry.

So, seeing my homeroom teacher, one of the very women who put me down, and essentially terrorized me for no good reason, eating calamari, and then later at the concert I was at, brought all this back. All this residual hate and bitterness for that school. I wanted to say something to her. I wanted to shout and scream. But then I thought to myself, no, don’t. Because I am better than that. I am the kind of girl, woman, person, who can now see that it was because of that horrible year that I am where I am now. Because of Linden I was able to go to boarding school in England. I was able to meet amazing people, and truly exceptional and inspiring teachers who believed in me, and respected me. I was able to attend a top UK University, and once again be inspired by intelligent and thoughtful professors and students alike. I was able to re-establish myself in Toronto and surround myself with intelligent, ambitious friends.

So Linden, thank you for treating me like such utter crap.

Thank you for giving me one of the worst experiences of my life, because it opened up a whole new world to me.

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