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© Copyright 1998, Jim Loy
I was a "gifted child." That is not so much a brag, as a diagnosis. I had great difficulties with school, for a number of reasons, as gifted children often do.
It's hard to sympathize with a gifted child. It's like the poor little rich kid. Being a billionaire may have ruined his life. "Ah, too bad."
One problem was boredom. Math was simple. The classes dragged, we went so slowly. I hated and loved algebra. I don't think I did very well at it, B's and C's. I didn't read the book. I didn't hand in all of my homework. But, I aced the tests.
How could I learn algebra without reading the book? The teacher would give some examples, or answer some other students' questions (I didn't ask questions), and I would pick up the ideas. And then I could do it better than the teacher could. I actually understood the ideas, within seconds, better than the teacher did. It was simple.
I loved geometry. I raced through the book in a few weeks. I wanted to prove everything. I proved that the volume of a pyramid or cone was 1/3 the area of the base times the height, the book gave that info without proof. My proofs were roundabout and inefficient. And, I found out when I got to college, my proofs were often backwards and incomplete.
I usually didn't do my homework until the last minute, and then in panic, I couldn't finish. My study habits were terrible. Some of my teachers called me lazy. I believed that. But I couldn't change, either.
My worst classes were English. I couldn't read (very well). I couldn't memorize. Poetry made no sense. I didn't know what the class was about. And I had those terrible study skills. I sat in the back of the class, and watched the clock (and the girls), and tried to look inconspicuous.
Some things came so easily. I never practiced my trombone. But I was very good, earning a place on the Band Hall Of Fame at Columbia Falls High School. At Montana State University, I performed Rimsky-Korsakov's Trombone Concerto before the music faculty. I didn't hear the applause afterwards, because I was so nervous.
Schools seem to have a policy nowadays, of not allowing a student to participate in sports or music, if his/her grades are bad. My grades were bad. I think I would have dropped out of school, if I had not been allowed to be in band. At the very least, I think my grades would have gotten worse.
I almost never entered a library. I didn't know how to find things there. And I was not good at reading. I now read about a book and a half a week.
In Jr. Hi., Mr. Jacobson ran the Science Fair. I couldn't wait to finally have a teacher who could interest me. Right away, I was disappointed. I wanted to know what sines and cosines were (I saw them in a math tables book). He had never heard of them. I was ahead of him, in math, from day one.
Anyway, I think that the great ease with which I did certain things, music and math, seduced me into thinking that I knew how to learn things. I did not. I did not even know how to sit down and read. I had to skim books. I don't think that I ever read an entire book (except Mickey Mouse Comics) until I was in the Army.
My memory is strange. I have terrible short-term memory. I say out loud, "Remember the name of that movie, L. A. Story." And, 30 seconds later, I cannot remember the name of that movie. In school, I could not memorize spelling words or vocabulary words. And I would really work on trying to memorize. A teacher told me that I could remember the things that I wanted to remember. But there was plenty that I really wanted to remember that I couldn't. I have very good long-term memory, remembering the moves of chess games that I played many years ago. My memory is visual, rather than verbal. I cannot remember names or quotes. But I can remember chess positions, and paintings.
When I got to Montana State, I found that my high school education had been very inadequate. At Columbia Falls, I had been the best math student in the whole school. At MSU, I was behind everyone. They had all had calculus. I had not. Most of them had had a foreign language. I had not. It was a shock. I felt betrayed.
So, I'm making excuses for the failures of my life. A little. I have many regrets. But, I've done some neat things. I learned a lot, eventually. I'm still learning, my study habits have improved, and I'm teaching myself. And, mostly, I enjoy my life.
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