LOVELAND, OHIO - FROM MY CORNER by Warren McClellan
When it came time for sixth grade, my school (there were two classes per grade level) put me in a "split class." There were fifteen sixth graders and fifteen seventh graders all in the same room. We were forever called the "The Split Class." In those days there were no orientations, parent information nights, requests. No, you showed up that first day, and they dealt you out like a senior playing canasta. You swallowed hard and went where they pointed. I was dealt out this way—"Oh, you’re in the split class"—without even a hesitation or stumble over "split." "It’s in 108 down the hall and to the right."
I did the swallowing hard and on my way racked my brain about what I must have done to anyone while in fifth grade to deserve The Split Class. I remembered kicking a ball that clipped Sister Rosario across the forehead while she was on playground, sending her habit flying and exposing to the world she had hair dyed blonde! Then there was the time I was at the blackboard and was being squeezed to decode and define the word of the day "fatigue." Stumped, I offered, "Fatty’s glue--that which holds heavy people together in one lump sum." Lights out! Those two missteps must have been the impetus for my sentence to The Split Class.
I went to108 and slinked into a desk among the other sixth grade detainees. But they had this privileged smirk on their faces! The seventh graders greeted my eyes with a glare when I sneaked a glance that way. As it turned out, I was one of the split dirty dozen to be experimented with as a 1950’s version of giftedness. When it came time for social studies (always my hardest subject), it was wonderful. For one period I heard of the struggles of our founding fathers. The next moment, eavesdropping on the other class, I heard how the West was won and we became united. I covered 400 years of history in two days, all with a happy ending.
And math, WOW, one minute I was wrestling with fractions and common denominators, but on the horizon I could see that they would soon disappear and give way to shapes and letters with geometry and algebra. But this was the best part (even better than the huge difference between sixth and seventh grade girls), if you knocked yourself out with the sixth grade stuff you could go to a desk in the middle of the room once occupied by a seventh grader and "do" seventh grade. I figured if I could keep this pace up I could be outta here by thirteen, or maybe fourteen tops, and could go do the stuff that I really wanted to do like hunt, fish, and play ball with all the other kids jettisoned by the split classes.
But something must have gone horribly wrong with this experiment because the next year there was no split class. They never asked me, but I suspicion it had something to do with what would happen if a 13-year-old was done with all the work they had in mind. That next year they just dealt us out again and pointed me toward Mr. Gleason’s room for seventh grade. Yikes, my first man teacher. What did I do wrong in The Split Class?
I’m not sure if it was this "split experience," but I have always imagined a school that was "student driven." In this dream, the teacher experts decide on the body of knowledge that every student at that juncture must know to be "culturally literate" and earn going ahead to the next level. The student is periodically "tested’ on this content and asked to demonstrate his/her competency, but once these demonstrations are in the books, the student can start chomping at the next chunk like a crazed Pac Man. Then at some point on the voracious Pac Man pathway, the student earns time and coaching to go explore special interests—those things that really excite him, the things you would chase even if you weren’t in school. Things like astronomy, building a hydroplane, or a total eclipse into the arts to the point that the student cries for the common stuff.
Before I went to kindergarten, I always read my cereal box cover to cover, sent away for the free stuff (decoder ring), and doodled what the Lone Ranger looked like with his mask off. But when I got to kindergarten, it all started with letters and sounds, which obviously never applied to fatigue. The reading was all about Sally, Dick, and Jane. They were no match for the Hardy Boys. Now, a half-century later, proficiency testing is our attempt at tapping the cultural literacy depth, but it is also our Sally, Dick, and Janes. We seem to be doing something to the student with this "tapping" that is tying them up in knots instead of unleashing them to venture out. I know I shouldn’t complain as we are designated an excellent school and I lead it!
It must have been that Split Class.