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True Stories by Steve Keely
Sweat and Sour
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
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
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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