Part 6 - Stupid is as Stupid Does
I am not a well-educated individual. There are a lot of things I do not know, in reference to book smarts. I attended kindergarten through most of second grade as a child. After the death of my adopted sister, social services once again started investigating the care of my siblings and I. My biological parents simply reversed their initial strategy in evading them, by bringing us back across the state line from Tennessee to Kentucky.
They did not enroll us back into the school system. My father declared he was going to homeschool us to family and church members. He insisted the school system was failing our generation, and as a retired college professor could give us a better education. He had me write, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” every day in cursive. This sentence holds every letter in the alphabet. He also gave me some math assignments, though I never advanced to fractions or algebra before these two aspects of my schooling ended.
I received extensive schooling in reference to our health food store. I started helping them on their workdays shortly after we moved back to Kentucky. I did not read books like Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer, etc. To this day, the only school syllabus reading that I’ve read as an adult is, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. My adopted Daddy gifted me this book, stating is was a crime to have not read it, I treasure that book. No my friends, I read articles about vitamins and minerals, health studies, supplement dictionary books, and things of that nature. By age twelve when I started working full-time, I had extensive knowledge of the body and natural remedies. To anyone who spoke with me about their ailments and needs, I sounded intelligent. There was no way of knowing I was being neglected academically. People do not generally ask children if they can do fractions, who the twelfth president of the United States was, or some science question that I can’t even make up today. No my friends, I would have stared blankly at those question with no guess of an answer to give.
Schooling is not essential for survival, however, it does make a life of advancement more easily obtained. I learned basic math through working. I oversaw my parents finances and therefore learned how to tally a checkbook. I regularly passed funds back and forth with customers, and learned to count change back without a computer. Something I have learned is a lost talent with a lot of children today who have attended every year of schooling. I have stood in a checkout line on more than one occasion, where the cashier did not receive the calculated answer from their register, and did not know what to do. I honestly feel this is an inexcusable fault of our system. I learned to do percentages by a discount day we held monthly. Twenty percent off Tuesday. A lot of the population cannot do percentages, even back then. Customers would always ask me what twenty percent off a product would make it. Walking back and forth from the counter for a calculator, for every customer, on every product would have been a nightmare. I learned that if you move the decimal place over to the left one slot, that gave you a ten percent amount, to answer the question I simply had to double that figure and then subtract it from the total price. Simple. Doing this every month, made this form of calculating come easy. To this day I can do percentages in my head without hardly thinking, but if I was offered a million dollars to do a fraction or algebraic problem on the spot, I would fail every time.
Despite a lack in education, I was never stupid, I was ignorant. And ignorance my friends, can be educated. We’ve all heard the famous line, “Stupid is as stupid does” from the movie Forrest Gump. It is one of my favorite movie quotes, because of the depths of its truth, and relatability. There are many levels of intelligence, it does not always take an expensive education to excel in life. Benjamin Franklin was a high school dropout, and yet one of the founding fathers of the United States. Walt Disney and Charles Dickens were both high school dropouts who became successful authors, whose literary works are treasured today. Work ethic is a form of intelligence, social skills is a form of intelligence, manners and respect, compassion, curiosity, ambition, and raising children are all various forms of intelligence not taught in a public school setting.
I was hired without an application or interview by one of my customers at the health food store. He acknowledged my potential to be a good worker, from observance, not an ability to fill out paperwork or answer generic questions. However, this same man who acknowledged my intelligence, later would cut me down unintentionally for my lack in education. He had an older customer who was a regular at his billiards. This man once gave me a simple math question in the form of a story, with my boss present to watch the unfolding of my confusion. Now mind you, I had never advanced in my homeschooling to word math problems, and therefore had never been exposed to answering a math question that was told in the form of a story. He took me off guard with his question to begin with, then upon completing his story, asked me to answer the underlying math question, which mind you, was simple. I was thoroughly confused 🤷♀️ I’ve never been one to venture a guess when I don’t know a thing, and simply stated, “I don’t know”. To which my boss responded, “And this is the kind of idiots I have working for me” 😂 Now, at that time, I found no humor in this statement. It cut me to my core. We are always far more offended by what we perceive to be a truth, than a generalized statement. My boss and I cut up back and forth all the time, we did not have your normal boss/employee relationship, I back talked him like he was my best friend and it was my right. I know he didn’t mean anything by his statement. Honestly, I think he often forgot I only held a second grade education.
I have many instances where someone made a comment about my intelligence, due to my inability to answer, react, or pronounce something correctly. As a writer today, it was merely a short thirteen years ago, one of my close friends made fun of me for mispronouncing, “Chaos”. I had never seen this word before, and mind you this was before the era of YouTube at your fingertips. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 18, and at that time it was one of those brick Nokia phones. To be honest, even today I use an iPhone 6s Plus, and I still don’t use it to its full potential. I’m not a technologically competent person. Anyway, so I sound this foreign word out in front of my friend without hesitation. “Kah-Oh’s” was my attempt 😂 She almost died laughing and hardcore made fun of me, also without any thought of hesitation. It didn’t matter in this moment that words like, “ Echinacea, ashwagandha, turmeric, and ginkgo biloba” would roll off my tongue with surety and ease, because normal people don’t read words like that 😂 I would have bet you a million dollars in that moment, I would never be a writer.
It was my billiards boss who encouraged me to go back to school. In between our cutting up, and trash talk, we held many deep conversations when working together. I never indulged an idea of going back to school, I was too far behind academically, I felt confident catching up was an impossibility. He insisted that wasn’t true, constantly praising my competence and intelligence, and stated I could learn anything. He offered to help me, vowed to work with my hours to make it possible, and gave me the encouraging push I needed. I was actually looking for a GED office when I walked through the wrong door of the high school. It happened to be an extension of the high school, an evening program for working teens. I was eighteen with a second grade education, trembling uncontrollably as I sat in the office explaining my circumstance. I was working full time for my boss, and cleaning houses on the side at this time. Adding school into the mix was extremely intimidating. The administrator I spoke to was incredible, she was encouraging, patient, and compassionate. The placement test she gave me, showed I tested around a 6th grade level. However, starting me at 6th grade would have been far too strenuous on my working schedule and ability to stay afloat financially on my own. She placed me in 11th grade and I was lost. Every teacher in that building spent extra time and effort in helping me complete two grade levels in a year timeline.
My program only interfered with my work schedule at the billiards one night. I was an hour late every Thursday for my shift. I’ll never forget my bosses reaction during that first transition period of my start. I dated another man child for a short period when I started school. He had a bad rep of being violent with his partners, something I never experienced for our relationship was short lived, between school and work, I didn’t have time or energy for needy boys. My boss didn’t like him from the get-go and tried to convince me to move along faster than I did. That first week of school, I walked through the billiards door an hour late and my boss starts coming at me with a strange expression I could not understand. My heart literally skipped a beat as it looked like he was PISSED! My whole body stiffened as he grabbed me up in the biggest hug I’d ever experienced 🤷♀️ He exclaimed, “I thought you were dead!” And I’m telling you, I could tell he really believed it 😂 I had never been late before and he convinced himself that boy had killed me, and he had sent a coworker/friend down to find my body in my rental 😮 I apologized for being late, and assured him I wouldn’t let anyone kill me 😂 I ended my relationship shortly after that. He made me feel truly loved to this day in recalling that memory. I’d always loved my boss and I knew he loved me, but in that moment I realized the depth of his affection. Working with people who love you like family is suppose to love you, is a treasured blessing.
One very long year later, I stood in a line of high school graduates at age nineteen, and gripped a diploma I thought I would never obtain in a lifetime. My adopted Daddy was present, and his actions of a proud parent would never allow anyone the knowledge I was not his blood.
I would read a positive pregnancy test one month after graduation and my life would forever be changed. I named my baby after my best friends daddy and would spend countless hours at his duplex after her birth, learning how to be a parent. He encouraged me to attend college stating, “Knowledge is the only thing in this life that cannot be taken away from you”. I once again worked two jobs while attending college, and received my associate of arts in business administration before my baby would turn two. My daddy supporting and encouraging me the whole time. This was before he legally adopted me. He kept my daughter, his treasured grand baby, at the vibrant age of 81, gifting me free time and hands to devote to work and studying.
There is no such thing as a mind too old or set in ways to learn. For those unfamiliar with Carol Dweck, I highly encourage you to read her work on a, “Growth mindset”. She is brilliant and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her studies. We’ve all heard the youthful mind is a sponge, and it is more difficult to learn when you are older. This has given us a “Fixed mindset”. It has also been stated the average person needs seven repetitious moments of learning, for long term retention. Now with that said, every individual is different, obviously those with an eidetic memory will recall information easier than others. However, I have never read this rule of thumb to be tied to a certain age grouping. Meaning? We each have the potential to expand our intelligence to the day we die. No matter how much schooling or life lessons one possess, there is exponential knowledge to be obtained for any one person. Exercising your brain is as important as the rest of your body for optimal health, and has been proven to slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I am not a highly intelligent person. The small amount of education I’ve received, I had to develop a strong desire to achieve. It was difficult, it was tiresome, and it was worth it. I cannot go head to head with anyone in book smarts, nor would I want to. My intelligence does not compare to another, we’ve each experienced different things in life, expanding our own knowledge, and there is a lot left for us to learn.
Coming soon, “Burning Halos” the conclusion of this six part blog series.