"My Life As a Troublemaker"
by Jamaal M. Watson
Student, The Lab School

 

Welcome to the second half of our program... My name is Jamaal Watson... and together with my buddy Victor, I'm the creator of "Elvis Impersonator"... If you went to our school records you might find us listed as "troublemakers"... and "below average" in many subjects... And if you went around the whole country you would find millions of kids set down in secret records the same way...

Why do schools do that?... What's it supposed to mean?... Do the words "troublemaker" and "below average" tell you anything useful?... Earlier this year Senator Bob Kerry of Nebraska asked Victor and me to breakfast at the Algonquin Hotel... He listened to our analysis of what's wrong with schools for three hours... No school official or school reformer ever asked our opinion on anything before... but I understand Senator Kerry is running for President... does the time he spent with us troublemakers reflect badly on him, or does it reflect badly on schoolpeople?...

Let me tell you a few other things about Victor and myself that schools don't know... and wouldn't care about if they did... together we talked Annie Nocente, the great Marvel comic book creator, into a personal apprenticeship... each week we snuck out of school to her studio for private lessons in story-telling... (Mr. Gatto covered for us)... Victor was written about in The Christian Science Monitor... I won three citywide essay contests and got a job as a con-sultant... paying $15 an hour... Victor and I visited 20 different engineering companies to watch how they did their work... You won't find that in our school records, but you may find us called "troublemakers!"... Victor and I took a second day off each week to go to the public library by ourselves... I think we learned as much there as we did in all eight years of school put together... Yes, we had to sneak out to do it... yes, Mr. Gatto covered for us again... I think he must have trusted us to use the time wisely... schools aren't supposed to do that, of course.

What kind of business is hated by its customers... and dislikes its customers in return?... Only one... it's called "school"... Take a walk to your local school and look at it closely - who would put a kid in such a place and ring bells in his ears if they liked him?... Have you ever noticed how few adult people ever talk about their own school days or even remember them? Shouldn't 12 years make more memories... if they were good years?....

Here to tell you more about why the school idea is worn out... is my friend and eighth grade teacher... John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year for 1991...

Back to the Gatto page