A List of Things I Learned at School
Features, Humour, Internal
January 13, 2020
Illustration by Yoohyun Park
Grade 1: Five plus four is eight. “Knit” is spelt with a k because yes, silent letters do in fact exist by some trick of modern language. Don’t try to get the bin of puppets down from the shelf by yourself, or the supply teacher with wrinkly skin will yell at you. Also, Argiloff is a weird name. Normal names sound like “Parker,” and “Scott” and “Johnson.” (I know this because Ms. Mooney can’t pronounce it properly, but she’s an adult so she can pronounce everything, and the other kids stared at me when she tried).
Grade 2: Monarch butterflies are hard to raise properly; a lot die in the little plastic sanctuary by the window before you can release them into the rock garden in the playground. The Ancient Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphics — neat little pictures of rivers and whatnot, and worshipped half-man, half-bird people. They made mummies too, and their faces are black and wrinkly because the sand dried out their flesh long ago. Mrs. Tarleton will show you pictures and the other kids will be scared, but you won’t be because you saw a mummy at the ROM with your grandparents when you were four. Make sure your interest isn’t obvious, however, or the other girls will scrunch up their noses and call you gross for not covering your eyes like them.
Grade 3: A right angle is 90 degrees. Obtuse is more, acute is less. Think, as Ms. Netley said, “a cute little angle.” Holes is also a pretty good book, though you can’t help your sense of literary rage at Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather” for messing things up. Ms. Netley will see you reading it and give you books from the Grade 6 syllabus for your reading test instead of the standard third grade one. Don’t be visibly proud though; the other kids from room B8 won’t let you join their game of four square, and the next few recesses will be spent alone on the monkey bars.
Grade 4: The teachers lie. It is indeed hard to make new friends, even if you “treat them the way you’d like to be treated.” Over the summer, the other girls will inexplicably become friends, and on the first day they’ll sit in clumps on the carpet. You’ll in turn be lost because last year you could sit anywhere. Later, Kate will make a point of walking across the classroom and demanding you move so she can sit with her two friends, despite there being four empty chairs at the table. If you point this out and ask if she’s “literally blind,” she’ll pick up your plastic green chair by its legs to try and tip you out of it, before loudly whispering about how ugly you are to Allison. Also, most rocks on Earth are igneous, but being good at school doesn’t matter if you’re not good at being liked.
Grade 5: All internal angles of a triangle must add up to 180 degrees. Additionally, if your classmates deem it that you’re ugly and socially inept, no matter how nice you’ve tried to be, accept that being smart is your last viable asset. If Sam tells you you’ll never be a good dancer, use the word “subsequently” in a sentence and laugh when her eyebrows crumple. If Abigail mocks you when she thinks you won’t hear, sit beside her next time you have a math test, and slam yours on the table upon completion, a clear announcement that yes, you’re done and she’s on question five. If Emily complains that you’re in her group, leave your perfect spelling test in plain sight with the knowledge that she’s dyslexic. When they make you feel unwanted, make them feel stupid in your presence, and save your hurt for the confines of your room.
Grade 7: There is a world outside of Maurice Cody Junior Public School, and the realization that you never have to speak to any of those kids again is nearly as liberating as finally having your own locker. There are also countless kids at Hodgson Middle School who will laugh at your jokes and treat you like you’re a real human being, as it’s surprisingly easy to be funny when you no longer feel the need to stifle each word. Making people feel stupid is also dumb and emotionally immature. Don’t do that. Algebra is surprisingly easy too.
Grade 9: Your friends from middle school will start drinking weekly, and then nightly because to them teenage vice is an integral piece of the high school paradigm. You’ll always stay home, and they’ll always make sure you feel like trash for it the next day. They’ll regularly get you kicked out of various establishments in the Yonge and Eglinton area due to their propensity for shouting obscenities in public. One of them will bring Vodka to the food court at lunch. They’ll all pour it in their coffee and bring the impromptu cocktails back to their fourth period classes. Consequently, you’ll let all eight of them clean out the entire pack of mint gum you just bought yesterday, because a watery Tim Horton’s brew is no match for the omni-permeating stench of liquor, and despite all they’ve put you through you don’t want to watch them get expelled. Then you’ll realize how different they’ve become, and they’ll leave you alone at South Street Burger on your 14th birthday when they realise it too. Two of your old childhood friends, ones that never drank in food courts or got escorted out of Sephora, will show up instead. You’ll realize that friends don’t let you brood with an overpriced milkshake alone.
Grade 12: Driving is a lot more difficult than your mom and dad made it look. Also, five plus four is not eight; it’s nine. Argiloff is not a weird name. Being interested in mummies is not gross. Reading novels above your grade level is not a just cause for social exile. Being good at school is not useless. Making people feel stupid will not make you feel better. Friends are not meant to make you doubt yourself daily, and getting bullied was not a curse; in childhood, I learned the lessons that most learn in early adulthood. Being forced to fight for my confidence at a young age taught me to recognize hatred as thinly veiled jealousy, to spot a toxic friend as easily as one would spot a Boeing 747 amongst a flock of Canada Geese, to recognize that mistreatment can only persist if you believe you’re deserving of it, and to understand that my self worth exists not because of other’s opinions, rather, in spite of them. A lot of monarchs died in that little plastic sanctuary by the window all those years ago, but I remember now that the butterflies who survived were the ones who made their cocoons first, as they were the first to emerge and be freed into the playground. I was forced to start metamorphosis early by the other caterpillars who used to torment me, but now I’m among the first to make it out into the rock garden.