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how I learn, part 1

September 19, 2015

A conversation I saw on Twitter about racism in schools got me thinking about what was good (or not) about my schooling experiences as a kid.

Considering the time period of kindergarten through 8th grade, I guesstimated there were perhaps as many as 5 projects I had worked on, probably in subject matters that I liked, that I enjoyed. When I counted them up, it was a bit more complicated than that, but…

  1. ART ~ Finger-painting (1 instance only). Kindergarten/possibly 1st AV, the public school.
  2. FIELD TRIP ~ Wastewater treatment plant. 1st or 2nd AV (public) or SJ (Catholic).
  3. FIELD TRIP ~ Jewish synagogue. 2nd or 3rd SJ (Catholic).
  4. BIOLOGY ~ Genetics in your family. 4th grade, Miss Pfeiffer! SJ (Catholic).
  5. SOCIAL STUDIES ~ Oklahoma history. [NM had already been picked.] 4th SJ (Catholic).
  6. ART HISTORY ~ Profiles of (male, white, dead) artists. Volunteer mothers taught these sessions every other month. Naturally there was no budget for actual art classes. 4th SJ (Catholic).
  7. SOCIAL STUDIES ~ papier-mâché sculptural map of Israel. 6th SSPP (Catholic).
  8. “SCIENCE” ~ names of ‘street drugs’ (so we’d know to avoid them). The parts I enjoyed were: lots of drawing + metaphors + storytelling. 8th SSPP (Catholic).


Not exactly a “project”, but when my public school kindergarten teacher discovered I already knew how to read, I was allowed to do my reading time with 3rd graders. That was fun. I spent a lot of time at the (tiny) school library.


Ages 5–13, my top interests were:

  • ART


*Would have really really enjoyed making things in school, but… there was only that 1 map. (I made things at home all the time.)

I attained reasonably decent grades in school, despite being despised by teachers, administrators, and kids alike. The (rare) nice teachers never seemed to notice I was being mistreated; the (common) venal or cruel teachers either looked the other way, or joined in. Telling my parents and expecting help…. Hahaha. Oh, that’s funny. Yeah, no.


I think I had…. hmm, maybe 3 teachers in high school who ‘knew me’ as an individual, and hoped I would do well in their classes. {POLITICAL SCIENCE, CHEMISTRY, ART HISTORY}

I had 1 teacher in high school who challenged me to delve deeper into the source material, and to creatively engage with it. I excelled in her class senior year, and it was awesome. {POLITICAL SCIENCE}

But mostly…. I learned on my own.

I read. All the time. I practically lived in my high school’s library. Also, our town’s public library. I spent more of my discretionary income on books than anything else. (Still true.)

I asked people a lot of questions. Including recommendations for books to read.

I’ve interviewed people.

I’ve taken classes, at various places. By the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I’d attended 5 colleges in 3 states, over a 15 year period. I also took these classes/workshops/seminars:

  • plant communities of Indiana at Franklin College (Franklin, IN);
  • controlled burn training (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, IN);
  • botanical illustration at the Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL);
  • many different art media at the Indianapolis Art Center;
  • database, Adobe software classes at IUPUI (Indpls, IN);
  • private weaving lessons (Arcadia, IN);
  • private sewing lessons (Sparks, MD);
  • fabric collage at Potomac Fiber Arts Guild (Bethesda, MD);
  • science writing, writing, poetry at the Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD);
  • urban gardening at the Smithsonian (DC);
  • biodiversity at Koshland Science Museum (DC);
  • conservation biology at the National Zoo (DC);
  • various software, creative classes at Community College of Baltimore County;
  • an online copyediting class;
  • poetry at writer’s retreat (Ghost Ranch, NM).


Hands-on stuff:

  • Photography
  • Collage ~ mostly paper
  • Painting ~ mostly acrylic; sometimes oils, or watercolor
  • Fiber art
  • Graphic design
  • Balancing objects ~ mostly papers and metal; sometimes seeds, leaves, flowers, rocks
  • Visual poetry
  • not-gardening
  • Interior design
  • Exploring my synesthesia


A learning situation where the instructor actually cares about the student, as a person? Beyond the subject matter? I wish I could imagine a situation like that, with me in it. But I can’t.

Oh, wait. Therapists. But nothing that’s educational springs to mind.

Definitely not my parents. Maybe Aunt Carol (although I can’t recall any situation where she was explicitly teaching me something).

Autistic people are not supposed to be impossible to love, care about. But maybe I’m an exception.

Luckily, there’s always more to learn. I learn very very well when I’m solitary, and self-directing things.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 20, 2015 12:46

    What about an art therapist or something?

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