I attended Arts Magnet the entire span of my high-school career. I can’t really say I did much that was spectacular while I was there. I suppose I influenced a few people and left an impression on others, but I was never really in a position of power while there. Like anyone at that age, my job was to go to school and get good grades. I suppose I did okay on the grades; it was Magnet policy to remove students who failed classes to make room for those with the "drive for achievement". I never held any political office while I was there—I don’t think I even ran for any sort of class president or secretary position while there. I wasn’t particularly popular and it’s not like we had any real sports to excel at. I never starred in any plays while there and I didn’t graduate with highest honors because I never took the computer science course.
That’s always sort of irked me; I took plenty of honors courses but because of one class, I didn’t graduate with highest honors. I had been told it would not be necessary. I remember after graduating high school, I took a computer science course at Eastfield Community College just to see what had held me back. It was nothing but Pascal programming and I left the class unimpressed. It’s not like it really held me back that far anyway—I never really tried that hard to get a scholarship, despite what my parents and teachers thought.
And my grades were pretty average, as I see it. I may have been in a number of advanced classes, and I may have done well on all my tests, but homework was my weak point. I saw it as a great imposition on my time away from school. I suppose if I had seen true adults bringing work home constantly, I might have felt differently about it. Probably not, seeing as how homework had always been justified to me as "teaching yourself how to study". I didn’t understand how four + years of that was really going to get me anywhere but in another school, doing the same thing over and over again. When I did attend college, I never had mindless fields of equations to solve or handouts to complete. I wrote a few papers while there and did a few lab experiments, but it was nothing like high school.
But the real world isn’t anything like high school or college or anything like that. I suppose if one wanted to be a priest or monk, seminary would be a lot like that. But then, joining a religious order requires a great deal more than good grades and no amount of studying will prepare a person for that.
For the most part, I got along with my teachers, despite my homework failings. I did well with class participation and was willing to explain things to other students. I received a 100 in chemistry once for helping another student pass the course (I had made a deal with Mr. Diffy) and I suppose that gave me a small claim to fame as the only student who had ever made two 100’s in a row for that class. Later, at Mountainview Community, I took a chemistry course with the idea of going into forensics. It might have been a mad desire to explain things and figure out how they work that drove me to that course. I never did finish the course because my three jobs at the time didn’t allow me to concentrate on my studies. And by that, I mean, I was having trouble staying awake in class. In a chemistry class, that’s dangerous. I didn’t feel safe quitting any of the jobs I held at the time—even though I was living at home—but it might have been as well, considering I moved out shortly thereafter.
But back to high school. I suppose I could have continued on an English course, considering how I was doing in those classes. I admit that I never read Whuthering Heights or The Scarlet Letter, but I did read the Cliff notes and made an observation in class once that, "It’s interesting to look at the deaths of the main characters in both novels and the disposal of their last remains. Heathcliff has himself buried directly over Katherine, so that their dust might mingle but Dimsdale and Hester, even thought they are buried side-by-side, have a plot of land between their bodies to prevent their dust from mingling."
The English teacher beamed. "I’m glad someone in this class is actually reading the books."
I remember getting a nasty look from a friend of mine for that.
I was willing to be a shit-disturber while in that class. One incident I remember clearly was a grammar review concerning prepositional phrases and whether they were adverbial or adjective. The sample sentence was:
Karen likes to work with the handicapped children at the YMCA.
Now it’s pretty easy that the prepositional phrases are "with the handicapped children" and "at the YMCA". The argument was about the phrase "at the YMCA" and whether or not it was adverbial, describing where Karen likes to work, or adjective, describing which children. I had said that it could be either, but the English teacher was adamant that it was solely adverbial and described where Karen liked to work. I crossed a boundary with her when I declared that both phrases were adjective because they described the object of the sentence: the gerund "to work". Then, just to be obstinate, I diagramed the sentence on the chalkboard.
I passed the class nonetheless.
But this was Arts Magnet, so there were other classes besides the usual scholastic what-have-you.
I had started as a freshman in the Visual Arts cluster, concentrating on pottery and sculpture. We had a basic design class, which was mandatory, and I remember one assignment we had to design a cube. Each face of the cube had to be a strong design, and then the cube as a whole had to work as a design. I made mine out of foam-core, painted the inside rainbow colors, painted the outside black, hung a prism in the center of the mess, and cut holes in the cube walls.
My design teacher at the time, Wanda Hill, remarked that she had been giving the assignment as long as she had taught there and no one had ever cut holes in the cube walls.
And the weird thing was, I wasn’t proud of that. I was disappointed with all the other students who had come before me. I don’t know if that makes me self-depreciating or an elitist or what.
Anyway, after my freshman year, I transferred over to the Theater cluster with a concentration in theatrical design. I did a grand total of three set designs that went into production: "Glory Sister", "Maggie Magalita", and the Reconstruction show. "Glory Sister" had been written by the department director’s husband and was a mostly miserable production. I was the assistant designer of the piece and did the centerpiece for the show—a giant stained glass window. I had an assistant for the Reconstruction show and assigned him the centerpiece for that—a fireplace with mirror. "Maggie" and the Reconstruction show were both held in the Experimental Theater, which had a huge air duct over the stage area. Most students got around the duct by building a wall around it, but I wanted to be difficult, so I put a diagonal across the duct and simply pretended it wasn’t there. It caused a mild issue between the Shop teacher and myself, but I think the sets both looked pretty good.
I also took a Playwriting (or "Playwrighting", depending) class. One script, "Espirit d’Escaler" made it for a Dark Night Reading and made a mild tour with an international conference for art-oriented schools. When Oak Cliff tried to secede from Dallas, the "Oak Cliff People’s Community Theater" asked for submissions and that was picked as a play for production. I remember the director asking me my schedule so I could make it to rehearsal. I explained I was in school until 4:15.
"Really? Which college are you attending?"
"Uh, no…I’m in high-school still."
The second play, "Page One" actually went to production for the New Plays festival and the audience laughed—which was the point. I’d just like to say now, it’s harder to get people to laugh than cry; but if you can make someone laugh, you can get them to do anything.
I guess really the biggest thing that ever went down during that time period was the walkout. The Robin Hood bill had passed and the Dallas Independent School District was looking at some severe budget cuts. Arts Magnet started to loose teachers left and right. The really sad thing was, teachers were being shuffled all around the school district based on seniority. We were losing fresh, new teachers, out on their first teaching assignment, and getting people who had been teaching middle school for the last 20 years. When one history teacher insisted her class say the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of class, there was almost a riot. The teacher she had replaced, L. Dean Webb, had actually made the class interesting.
And we lost it. A great telephone campaign started across the district. We were going to walk out, sick out, whatever out, and there would be a rally at the main DISD administrative building downtown.
My mom dropped me off at the rally site that morning. She knew I was going to miss school and I guess she figured this was worth missing school for. It was the only unexcused absence I ever had on my record, even with a note from the parents.
At the height, we had over 5000 students marching and chanting around the building. I spent most of the rally chilling out in the shade with a security guard, chatting about the day’s events. I guess that was my parental programming coming to the fore; "Always know where the gun is." I had picked out where the gun was and decided to stick with it.
Apparently, the rally shook a few people in DISD administrative and they had an "open forum" that night. The building was packed! Parents, students, recently let-go teachers, teachers who were still employed. A complete mess. They didn’t have room for everyone who wanted to speak. It was pure bedlam. The fire department actually showed up to inform everyone they were over occupancy limit.
So there was a second "open forum" at the Griner Middle School in Oak Cliff (right across the street from the first 7-11 ever, honest!). Anyone over 18 was allowed in the main conference while Those of Us Who Can Not Vote Yet were shuffled to a gym to listen to Dan Peavey answer any questions we had (read: lie to us). Dan Peavey was removed from office three years after this incident due to some rather racist things he said on the phone to an individual with a tape recorder.
When it was mine turn to speak, I asked how it was that the administration could justify the 2% pay raise they had received, while at the same time firing teachers and cutting school programs. He launched into some tale of woe involving the Robin Hood bill and poor property tax revenues. After about five minutes of droning, he stopped—rather suddenly—and gave me a look of "why are you still there?"
I leaned into the mike. "Thank you, now could you please answer the question?"
The cop stationed next to the microphone informed me I was only allowed one question at a time and that I needed to go sit down. What crap! I walked out. I was going to go across the street for a Slurpee (and that 7-11 is closed now—what a shame!).
Half the audience walked out with me.
So, like I was saying, I wasn’t really popular in high school, or did anything that spectacular while I was there.
Back to the Index.