My father always planned for my brother and I to go to college. He was the youngest of eight children and I was his youngest. Still, very few members of our generation had gone to college and none of his immediate family had. So by the time my brother and I were in school, there still wasn’t much experience with the whole college process.
In order to facilitate his plan, he and my mom moved us from the town where he had been born, a town in which they were both comfortable, to one where none of us seemed to belong. He worked during the day in the Post Office and at night, he managed a bowling alley. My mom went back to work as a switchboard operator. We moved so that my brother and I could attend better schools. They held out until my brother was about to start 9th grade (which had to be a difficult transition for him). I was supposed to be starting 5th grade.
That’s when I became aware of the plan. In one of the very few times that my father interacted with school administration, the certainty of his plan was revealed. In that meeting, the Principal tried to alter the schedule:
“We think Dan should repeat the 4th grade.”
“Well, the school he’s coming from doesn’t have a very advanced curriculum, and he didn’t exactly shine in that environment. We’re worried that he will struggle, if we place him into 5th grade.”
The woman who would be my 5th grade teacher concurred, but my dad was unimpressed.
“I don’t like that idea. I’d like to see him start in 5th grade. That’s the plan.”
I kinda-sorta liked the idea of repeating 4th grade. Having been born in November, I’d go from being one of the youngest kids in the class to being the one of the oldest. I might actually do well in 4th grade, and no one would have to know I was held back. The teacher appealed to my father’s logic, but there was to be no encore performance for me.
“There’s so much that Dan hasn’t seen, he’ll be at a terrible disadvantage come September.”
“You’re his teacher?”
“I would be his teacher, if he entered 5th grade.”
“Give him some of that stuff he doesn’t know. I’ll see to it that he reads it before September. Give him extra work. He can do it. Do whatever it takes, but he’s going to be in your class in September.”
I was only 9 years old. I didn’t get a vote. I did some of the extra work, and I managed to do as well in the new school as I had in the old one. My brother went to college and became a teacher. I went to college and discovered a career that barely existed when I was in 5th grade. My father was correct in his assumption that we would get a better education in that new school system. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t like it, but a few years after moving there, I became aware of the field of computer science, the field in which I have worked for almost 40 years. Thanks Dad – you’ve been gone 33 years now, but we still remember you.