Mississippi Educational Brilliance

When I was growing up, Mississippi was ranked 50th out of 50 in education in the U.S. And though I know the school systems have gotten infinitely better since then, I wanna share some book-learnin-type nuggets I experienced in school. (And sadly, every one of these is entirely true.)

For me—as for hundreds of my schoolmates, I’m sure—fourth grade was the Year of Punishment.

There was Miss Rothan, the math teacher. Though she taught multiplication and division extremely well, she had a temper. More often than not she’d throw chalk, an eraser, or whatever was handy, at a kid who gave a wrong answer.

Across the hall was Miss Rayburn, who taught reading and used an unusual method of punishment. Instead of taking you out to the hall for a whoopin, she’d say, “Commere, boy.” Once you got to her desk she’d thump you on the forehead with her middle finger.

That finger was about the size of a magic marker, and the nail as big (and as thick) as a nickel, so along with the half-hour headache came a big red mark in the middle of your forehead that left you looking like a Pakistani immigrant.

At the end of the hall was our history teacher, Miss Lee, otherwise known as Evil Incarnate. In addition to giving brutal paddlings on an almost daily basis, sometimes she’d make a kid come to the front of the room, tell everybody to put their heads down, then make the kid hold out his hand and give it a vicious smack on the palm with her paddle.

I gotta give her credit, though; she was creative. If a kid REALLY acted up, she’d make him do The Scarecrow. You’d have to stand at the front of the room holding an encyclopedia in each hand while your arms were extended parallel to the floor. After five minutes your bony little arms would be DONE. But if you even started lowering the books, she’d say, “Boy, GET them arms back up!”

So it’s no wonder that, at the start of the year, the fifth grade teachers were always amazed at how well-behaved their new students were.

Sixth grade, though, was a walk in the park. We’d been warned by older students about Miss Thomas, the science teacher, who was in her 70s and suffered from mild dementia. Before she retired at the end of that school year, Miss Thomas tried to teach us that:

A. The sun has a bright side and a dark side.
B. We travel around the sun once every 24 hours, thus giving us night and day.
C. The moon is only a few miles from Earth.
D. All the lunar exploration is a hoax, and the lunar landings were filmed in Hollywood.

Fortunately, we were already old enough to know better.

Then there was my ninth grade Civics teacher, Miss Wilson. She clocked in at about six feet, 250 pounds, and had a big greasy red afro. She’d sit at her desk grading papers, alternately scratching her oily head with her pencil and chewing on the greasy end of it as she graded. (Was she thirsty? Or hungry? I could never figure it out.)

Anyway, she’d come around to each student to check our homework about twice a week. I sat behind Carol, who was smart as a whip and who, unlike me, always did her homework.

Carol and I had a system: Miss Wilson would check Carol’s homework, and while she was writing down Carol’s grade, Carol would hand me her homework over her other shoulder. I’d erase Carol’s name and write mine, then Miss Wilson would check “my” homework.

So it’s no wonder that to this day I know absolutely nothing about Civics.