(with apologies to Lewis Carroll for the title). Or wot I lerned at skewl.
Of course I had one of them superior edumacation wotsits. The honest truth is I’d rather have been just about anywhere else I could think of (I had pretty little experience of anywhere else, really. My idea of ‘anywhere else’ were the bush or the beach both of which I considered running away to quite regularly.) and I imagine that if my teachers had had any alternative that didn’t involve penal servitude or the death penalty, I could have been a good reason for taking that up. I was the bane of the existence of several, something I put way more effort into than schoolwork.
I was also the class clown, and the smart-arse who was an expert at distracting teachers – two pastimes which I figured early in my passage through the splurting, gurgling, churning gut of the education system was a better position than being being a know-it-all or worse, teacher’s pet. I read a lot and fast, and math was always logical, so I’d made those mistakes early. Trust me, you don’t want to be the smallest kid, and worse, have your mother a teacher at the school — junior school — and be goody-two-shoes. I learned that lesson well and quick. By the time I got sent off to boarding school… I’d learned enough about being a social chameleon to pass distant muster.
I figure the number of ‘odd’ kids is probably way higher than even other odds, let alone the ‘normal’ ones, ever guess. Being a ‘chameleon’ is that important – and we’ve evolved to be fairly good at it. I think for a lot of kids it becomes so ingrained they become whatever they’re imitating. Casualties of the system if you like, or Darwin in action. Some eventually (by the time marriage, kids, jobs and responsibility set in) grow out of it, and gradually become independent-thinking adults. For others it’s like we’re sorbo-rubber — the minute we get out of there we go right back to being ‘odd’, because we never fooled ourselves, even if we did so with varying degrees of success to our peers.
The ‘cool kids’ or ‘mean-girls-table’ were of course adept at spotting the fakes too. They liked being the top of the pecking order, and while chameleon might let you off with a minor kicking, or if you fought back hard enough (another lesson learned), mere disdain — you weren’t ever going to be one of them. This, post school, was a serious advantage to the ‘odds’ because being at the mean-girls-table used not to be much a recipe for success in life, and they tended to stay there. It’s spread into higher academia – particularly the humanities and a fair number of professions where independent thinking is not valuable – bureaucracy, modern journalism, politics, and from there infected profession which need independent thought and real ability – from engineering to authorship. Problems result -like falling down bridges, and books no one wants to buy, no matter how hard they’re pushed.
Writing is a somewhat more complex challenge than school. At one, fairly recent stage, you had to pass the mean-girls-table and be seen to be one of them to even get in to most publishing systems. On the other hand really a lot of the present reading audience are ‘odds’, valuing originality… but also wanting someone who belonged to their set. And so many writers still suffer from ‘school’ ideas of fitting in to what the mean-girls-table demanded, not what the other ‘odds’ wanted.
That entry bar has changed. Now there is value in un-learning the chameleon behavior. On being odd, and finding that audience.