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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs


Sweat and Sour
10/04

The graduating honors students at the high school where I sub-teach are 80% female, so when a male from that group shows here at the community college where I spend hot or cold days I take an interest. Skip isn’t overly bright but compensates with hard work. After graduating from high school he joined the Navy in order to attend college on the GI bill. Now in his first year at this little institute on the mesa, I asked him yesterday how classes were going.

‘Chemistry and Physics are tough.’ I said I’d be glad to tutor any time. ‘That’s ok. I’m the only one in the classes.’ The enrollment in each at the term’s start was five, but by the third week all the rest had dropped out. ‘They couldn’t hack the material.’

That’s true; there are two other reasons that are personal theories. Perhaps these explanations apply to other geographies where students are sweat and sour – great kids but academically dumb.

About half the high school students in this town sit close in class and cheat off each other year after year until the diplomas are handed out. Many can’t add two-digit numbers or compose a grammatically correct sentence. They are quick to retort that they can overhaul an engine and throw a punch. When I politely pointed out the easy solution to the school superintendent, he nearly took my head off. ‘They learn at their own rate!’ he yelled and shooed me off. I had told him to put the classroom chairs apart so the students couldn’t chat and cheat. The typical method is for the two most proficient students to finish a test quickly and pass an answer sheet around. Hand signals are also popular. Our student body score among the lowest on the California standards exams (the high school is in danger of being taken over by the state for this) administered by state proctors who place the students far apart and allow zero talking during testing.

The second reason is that non-sciences are emphasized over sciences. The most popular is the worthless, evil psychology. It’s also the easiest to pass. The least popular is math, the language of the universe. It also requires a strong base.

Curiously, the sex roles in academics have been reversed from my generation. After WWII and throughout the Space Race the accent was on science, and this is where I found my niche. ‘First a scientist,’ I’m fond of saying. Guys studied it while girls usually, at best, went into teaching. I thought it was a shame. There were great exceptions. Now we find that female graduates pursue science while males take social science or psychology. “Girls are goal and long-term oriented,’ a counselor explained. ‘’They think about families and careers. Boys are just worried about where to get their next hub cap.’

Skip is the modern exception and I hope there are more like him around. ‘Thank goodness the teachers volunteered to continue to work without pay,’ he states. ‘Each text cost $120.’

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