At the age of ten I was already in high school. At Morant Bay High School in St. Thomas, eastern Jamaica. When I did my Common Entrance examination while at Easington Primary School, in the same parish, to try and earn a place in high school, it was because my teachers felt I had the aptitude. Despite my age. It was by dint of faith my teachers put in me, and luck that my name was even put forward, because I was so young, and places in high schools were limited at the time. Some felt that I was taking the space of an older student who maybe was about to “age-out” of being able to do the exam. Back then, the average age of high-school qualifiers was twelve. Anyhow, I did the exam and aced it.
Upon reflection though, I may have been book-smart, but I lacked the street-smarts of my older cohorts. I was gently reminded of this by memories sparked by some commentary in my primary school Facebook page this morning. I had initiated a discussion about remembering the names of our teachers back then and matching them with the grades we were in when they taught us. Back in those days, we had one teacher for each grade who was our form teacher, and the teacher of all subjects. English, Mathematics, Science, Geography were taught by the same teacher. I did not know what it was to have a dedicated subject teacher until I hit Morant Bay High.
So, in reaction to my initiated discussion topic about grade teachers, an alumna posted about some of her memorable moments at Easington. She mentioned going to pantomimes at the Ward Theatre and learning and reciting poetry at our National Heroes’ Day celebrations. And she highlighted participating in our annual festival celebrations in commemoration of Jamaica’s independence from England. She selected books from the library van that used to come through the district. She talked about cleaning out the deep freezer at school. She also included some of the not-so-pleasant memories, like when her time came around to help prepare lunch at the canteen for the students. Her reminiscences triggered my own reflections. Both pleasant and not so pleasant. But, guess what, they are the things that taught us valuable lessons and prepared us for the world. So, let me get back now to my lack of street-smarts, and how Easington helped me learn. Two things I will never forget that showed my naïveté, but also opened my eyes. Lessons I was not formally taught in the classroom back then.
Here is the first lesson: One evening I was walking home after school with classmates. Don’t ask me how old I was at the time. Can’t remember. Maybe seven or eight. Anyway, one of my classmates from Heartease, a district adjoining Norris where I lived, opened my eyes. And the eyes of some of our other classmates. We had just come down the incline after crossing the Yallahs River through the Easington Bridge, and turned the corner right by where Mr. Brown, the shoemaker, used to live. He declared, quite knowledgeably, “It inna di dictionary!” Of course, we asked him, “What?” And he loudly and excitedly blurted out, “Sex!” We were shocked! We had thought the word “sex” was taboo, only to be whispered among friends who wanted to seem cool. And so, we were quite surprised, shocked even, to find out it was a word that was so good-up, good-up that it was really in the dictionary! What a revelation!
And here is the second lesson: Again, I cannot remember what age I was, but some of my classmates went to Yallahs River, down the road from school, to tief a swim during lunchtime. They came back after with balloons they said they had found there. Just before the bell rang for classes to recommence, they threw them away. I was always the youngest in my class, and though I was book-smart, as I said earlier, I lacked the street-smarts of the older guys. Like those who managed to breach school and go to the river at lunchtime and come back, without being caught, with the balloons. Well, I thought throwing them away was a waste, and so I picked up one and went into class with it. What fun I would have blowing it up and playing with it later! But the anticipated fun was short-lived.
As we filed into our classroom some of the guys were laughing under their breath. Even when our teacher started the lesson there were still stifled snickers. The teacher paused and asked what was going on. I, too, wondered what the joke was all about. Suffice it to say, that was when I first learned about condoms! Nuff said! I was not punished, but maybe it would have been a good substitute for the embarrassment and teasing I suffered afterwards!
I could recount other stories of practical, life lessons I learned during my days at primary school. But the two I have given are good illustrations of how our social encounters during school and beyond, especially in our formative years, help educate us. And so, help prepare us for the future. Back in the day, many of us did not get formal lessons about things like sex. We learned through our friends. Or we figured things out ourselves whenever we were faced with situations, biological and otherwise. And these lessons were very valuable, for they helped set us on course to grasp other lessons more easily. In other words, life is stacked with lessons, formal and informal, academic and extracurricular, and social and personal, built on each other. I often wonder how much better I would have done academically if I had not been two years younger than my cohorts. If I had awaited the right age to start high school. For one of the things I have come to realize is that levels of maturity are often correlated with how easily one learns in the classroom. Not just learn, but also clearly understand. But, I have a doctorate now, so I guess I have not fared too badly in the end!
What lessons did you learn in primary school outside of the classroom?