How I Became A Radical In Opposition To Authority-Part One
My world outlook and disposition to this world has more or less been settled since I was the age of five. I didn't believe in "God". The words "Jesus Christ" evoked an instinctual revulsion. By employing basic logic and plain common sense by observing the society around me, I was a dissident from the very beginning. By the age of six, I already began to see the blatant lies and untruths that were presented. For example, I was told that the United States was a "free country". I pointedly asked my grandmother why everything costs money if we lived in a "free country". My grandmother gave a tortured answer to explain the difference between political rights and the economy. Her explanation was unsatisfactory and I became aware that what was the prevailing "wisdom" was in fact a compendium of euphemisms and falsehoods.
By the time I entered elementary school, I began to observe the basic structures of society. While I had teachers in Kindergarten and day care, my family was the only authority figures whom I had recognized. However, First Grade was my entry to the world of authority and hierarchy. My teachers were to become the first authority figures to hold power over me. Then I observed the hierarchy of authority within the school. The Dean was a higher rank over the teachers and in this particular school, he played the role of enforcing discipline. Discipline meant being scolded and threatened with having my family called. The next level was suspension and the ultimate threat was expulsion. Above the Dean was the Headmaster whom the teachers taught us to revere and hold in awe of.
Already the regimentation of school made me chaff. However, unlike most of my fellow students, I made the conscious decision to resist. Apart from school officials being adults I saw no reason why they had any legitimate authority over me. None of them appeared to be more intelligent than me. All they seemed to do was to manipulate us through fear and a system of rewards and punishments, with the latter being employed more than the former.
By Second Grade my hatred and resentment of authority was cemented at the age of seven. I had a particularly heinous teacher who, in retrospect, was extremely reactionary and if I recall correctly seemed to lean towards Nazism. My predominant form of resistance was not to do my schoolwork. I would do my homework but I would never bother to study for tests. I never bothered to read or seriously answer the questions. As a result my grades were really poor.
Towards the end of Second Grade I was suspended from school because I punched a kid in the eye who had bullied me since the beginning of Second Grade. Fortunately, my grandmother came to my defense and cursed out the dean accusing him of discriminatory treatment. Getting suspended was good for me. I didn't have to go to school for a week. Throughout the rest of my school years through High School, suspension was the least effective deterrent to make me conform. When the class would get too noisy or rowdy, to keep us in line the teachers would yell: "Who wants to get suspended?" The class would immediately hush but I would raise my hand. I hated school yet it was compulsory to attend. Being suspended was official permission not to go to school. It meant an additional one to two week vacation! So the threat of suspension never held sway. I was suspended once again in Eighth Grade for the most stupid reason. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I switched from the private Episcopalian school to public school in Third Grade. This was in 1980. New York public schools were wild and there was hardly any discipline. My Third Grade teacher was more wretched than the previous one. However, I wasn't alone with my rebellious spirit. We used to insult and swear not only to her but to all the teachers and officials in the school. There was nothing that would happen to us. Our parents weren't called. Public schools didn't have detention and suspensions were only for the most extreme offenses.
Still by the age of nine I was forced to accommodate and make some concessions. Up until the second half of Third Grade I had been considered illiterate. I wasn't close to being unable to read. I just never liked to take tests. But then I realized that the teachers considered me to be stupid. They treated me as a moron. I took great exception to this. Especially when the teachers and officials were in fact stupider than I was! I realized that this was all a game. I decided to actually take spelling and reading tests seriously. In March 1981, I took the New York State Reading Test which all Third Graders were given. To the astonishment of all the teachers, my score came within the top 90% in all of New York State. I didn't suddenly learn how to read. Indeed, the same month of the test I read my very first novel on my own. I read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne. It was more than 200 pages and I read it within a week.
By the age of ten I began to see more of how society was structured. None of it made sense. Indeed, the world seemed stupid. It was when I first came to see the true function of the police. I had come to despise "the law". My first serious history and political lessons were about the Civil Rights/Freedom movement in the American South. I read that it was "against the law" for Blacks and whites to sit, eat and live together. Meanwhile the laws in New York were still stupid and nonsensical, though obviously not as absurd as the segregation laws. Signs and public service announcements which said: "It's the LAW!", made me question the entire political and legal system. When I realized that people could go to jail for doing things which didn't harm anyone else, I became hostile and suspicious. I had a long debate with my uncle about this. I hated "The Law" and found no reason to obey it. My uncle explained it like this: "Laws are meant to protect people." Though I didn't think it at the time (I was only ten), the question which dogged me was the following: Which people do the laws protect? I have never felt "protected" by the law. To the contrary. Since the age of ten I always knew that laws were out to harm and restrict me.
My most serious challenge to authority was with my mother. I wasn't fully raised by my mother. She shouldn't have had me in the first place. I only lived with her for seven years of my life. My mother brutalized and physically tortured me. On many occasions she tried to kill me including a particularly horrendous time when she took me to the ledge of a window on the 31st floor of a high rise apartment and threatened to jump off with me when I was nine. Before that that particular incident, I had already decided at the age of eight when I was forced to live with her after a three year reprieve, that I was going to leave her. When I reached ten, the abuse reached unbearable proportions. I ran away from my mother three times. Eventually my extended family had to intervene. An uncle took my mother to court to gain custody of me. It was a traumatic experience having to go to court. The final decision was to be determined the day after my eleventh birthday. Regardless of the judge's decision, I wasn't going back to my mother. Had the judged ruled in my mother's favor, I wasn't going back. I was willing to risk being put in juvenile detention. Fortunately, the judge ruled that I wasn't to live with my mother.For most people the first authority figure is their mother. I not only defied my mother but I was victorious. If I defied my very own mother, other authority figures didn't stand a chance.
My battles against my school teachers raged. I called my Sixth Grade teacher a dog to her face during class. The very worst teacher that I ever had was in Seventh Grade. She made the fatal mistake of stealing my New York Mets baseball cap for no reason except malice. I not only reclaimed my cap in defiance but I penned a character analysis (character assassination in reality) essay of her and submitted it. She was deeply hurt by it. To her further dismay when she had a conference with my uncle about it, he defended me and threatened her.
In Eighth Grade I entered into trench warfare with my teacher. In retrospect I feel slightly sorry for her. By this point I had attended Catholic School despite being an Episcopalian and an atheist. She did everything possible to make me conform and submit. Unlike public school, this Catholic school had detention. Each Wednesday school was only in session for half a day. Wednesday was detention day. The first time I was given detention in Sixth Grade, I realized what a joke it was. For two hours one just sat in a classroom and wasn't allowed to talk. Doing homework was encouraged but for the most part one was just supposed to sit down and shut up. Big lousy deal! I would just space out and day dream. Sitting still for two hours not speaking isn't any particularly difficult feat. My Eighth Grade teacher sent me to detention every week. I always thought the reasons were stupid. Back in the 1980s profanity was very common among children as I alluded earlier. In Eighth Grade I had a verbal spat with a female classmate. A common insult was to tell someone to "suck my dick". I honestly didn't even understand the connotations of fellatio. It was just something I picked up from the other kids. I told this girl to suck my dick. It sounded nastier than saying "kiss my ass" or "go to hell" or "fuck you". She complained to the teacher and I was sent to detention for it. In Public School there wouldn't have been any sanctions for saying that. My grandmother was scandalized but I brushed it off. However, my main avenue of non-conformity was refusing to do my homework. Each week I was sent to detention for "incomplete homework". Then I would insult and offend the teacher. I was sent to detention for "disrespectful behavior". Yet none of this deterred me. My grandmother and uncle were exasperated. Usually I would be given a detention form on Thursday and Friday. I was supposed to give the form to my family and have them sign it before the next detention session. I always waited until Tuesday night before I would inform them. They were incensed that I waited until the night before. They told me that I had to inform them the day that I was given the form. Of course I ignored them and kept waiting until Tuesday night.
Seeing that detention wasn't changing my behavior or attitude, my poor teacher had to resort to more unorthodox means. She would prevent me from entering the classroom on certain days. I was supposed to stand in the hallway for the entire day. All this did was make me bored. When I was allowed back into class, I would make a cutting remark to the teacher. At one point I spent an entire week out in the hallway. This was silly and I told my teacher that she was "a stupid moron". I would've rather have been suspended. I was wasting my time getting up early each day and commuting to school.
What confounded my teachers was the paradox between my recalcitrance and my intelligence. Educators have a foolish notion that bad behavior goes hand in hand with poor academic performance. That wasn't so in my case. I refused to do my homework because it was a waste of time. I had passed all my tests. In fact, I had the highest reading scores in my class and I was by far the best writer. This made teachers pull their hair out in frustration. I would rub it in how I thought they were stupid and intellectually inferior to me. They were left with a dilemma. They couldn't quite expel me because I was neither violent (To the contrary I used to get beat up by other students practically each day at school. I was the one was was bullied and ostracized.) nor was I an academic failure, which were the two primary reasons children were expelled. Moreover, I wanted to be expelled and they sensed it. In fact, expulsion would've been the ultimate victory. The other weapon used against students less severe but (in my mind at least) more serious was to be retained or left back in the same Grade. I did live in mortal fear of being left back as it meant an additional year of school. So I made sure that I studied and passed all my exams.
By the time I entered High School, I was now an adolescent and had become smarter. I went to another Catholic school which took discipline slightly more seriously. This school had three types of detention: Disciplinary, Attendance and Math. The former was more or less as it was in the previous school. If one was late for school or even late for class, then they had to go to Attendance detention. The Math department had its own detention for students that misbehaved or did poorly. I spent most of the time in Math detention. Still, this wasn't enough to deter me from conforming. I had my first battle in High School with my Ninth Grade English teacher, whom I couldn't stand. During the first exam of the semester I didn't feel like doing it. She asked me: "Do you want to take the exam?" I answered truthfully: "No of course I don't want to take the fucking test!" I expected that she would force me to take it. I was caught off guard when she didn't hand me the exam and let the rest of the class take it. I felt stupid and relented to take the test.
To compound the situation was the fact that I was in a Catholic school when I didn't believe in "God" in the first place. It was my first insight into the practices of Roman Catholicism and its theology. I was left cold the first time I ever heard "Hail Mary". Protestants don't worship Mary. Religion class always began with the Hail Mary. Protestants also don't worship saints. I quickly understood that Roman Catholicism was nothing but idolatry. Praying to Mary and the saints was the most preposterous thing I had observed in my life up to then. Then there was Confession. That was another oddity that I couldn't quite get my head around. Protestants don't have confession. The Episcopal Church had a general confession which is part of the weekly service. It's just a pro-forma statement indicating that we had not been able to live up to the exceedingly high standards laid down by Jesus and Paul. It's simply a 30 second prayer which is read from the service program. Once a month during Religion class we were taken to the school chapel. I observed my classmates go into a closet for a few minutes and then come out. I asked my teacher what was going on and he explained it to me. Out of curiosity I actually went in to see what it was about. I didn't know what I was doing. First I looked for a light switch for surely one wasn't supposed to sit in the closet in the dark. I heard something move in the wall to the right. The priest gave his usual introduction. However, his voice came from below. "Hello?" I said unsure of what to do. "Yes go ahead with your confession. Please kneel."
"Just kneel down and confess."
I ended up stumbling around in the confessional. I made up some story about telling too many lies. The priest immediately knew that I wasn't a regular. Later I learnt that one was supposed to start with: "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It's been X months or years since my last confession."
That encounter had left me thoroughly unimpressed with Roman Catholicism.
This high school was my first experience with authoritarian fascism. We were issued identification cards which we were to carry on us at all times. Any teacher, official or even student enforcers could ask for our ID at any time. Most of the time, being asked for your ID was effectively being arrested. That certainly meant detention. Between the idiotic religion and the authoritarian measures, it only increased my defiance.
It was in Ninth Grade that I lost my only battle with a teacher. My Math teacher was a sadistic psychopath. In fact, he was the only teacher whom I actually feared. The passing grade of this school was 70. In Public School it was 65. This Math teacher failed me for the year with a grade of 69.4. I had to go to summer school. It was a quite a blow for me. Indeed, it was worse than detention or expulsion. My free summer was shot to hell as I had to go to school instead of being free.
Needless to say I didn't last very long in that school. I went to another Catholic school before I quit that due to the racism of the white students. The reason why I was sent to Catholic school was twofold: The first being that it was thought that I would get a better academic education and would be better prepared for university. The second was the fear that Public School was too rough and given my slender build and my refined manner, that I would be brutalized. Actually the opposite was true. Though I did have my share of fights in Public School, I had never been bullied, maligned and mistreated by schoolmates than in Catholic school.
At the age of Sixteen I had my very first job. I worked in the mail room for a Wall Street law firm during the summer. I took my attitude problem with authority to this job. I defied the orders of my supervisors. However, the afternoon supervisor wasn't having it. He wasn't a softy like the teachers at school. Moreover, he was actually smarter than me. He was also a big burly Black man from the Lower East Side who at the time resided in Harlem. I was out of my league. He found innovative ways to punish me for my insubordination. He was only the second and up to now the last authority figure to make me bend. Still, no one has ever broken me. Only two have made me bend but none have broken me.
I returned to Public School for Twelfth Grade which was the very last year of High School in the United States. After 6 years of Catholic schools I was back into my natural element. Since this school didn't have detention, which didn't even faze me in the first place, I knew that I could do whatever I wanted. This school's method of discipline was what was called a "Dean's referral". All that entailed was a trip to see the dean who would just berate and intimidate. No one is going to do that without be striking back. All threats of a Dean's referral were immaterial to me.
One of my courses for the first semester was Economics. I actually enjoyed the class and learnt more than I had expected. Again, I rarely did homework because it was a waste of time. It was bad enough that I had to go to school. I found it offensive that I had to think about school at home. Besides, homework didn't help me learn a goddamn thing. Everything I needed to learn was told in class or I could read it on my own. This was confirmed that I never scored less than 90% on all my tests for Economics. One day, the teacher told us that we could gain extra credit (the asinine terms American schools came up with!) if any student would give a lecture one day about any topic related to Economics. I took him up on it. One day I taught the class about the deregulation of the airlines. I knew quite a bit about aviation. Before I discovered that I was a poet and had a calling for writing, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. I had even taken a couple of flight lessons. Though I hadn't traveled overseas yet, I had traveled extensively throughout the United States. By the age of 16 I had become a veritable authority about all things related to American aviation. I knew all the models of commercial airliners. I knew just about everything about the various airlines and their history. I have flown ever since I was a year old. The first time I ever took a flight by myself was when I was five. I've had the travel bug in me all my life. Indeed, at the age of sixteen I had already decided to abandon the United States. My hatred and antipathy for the USA had been firmly entrenched by 1988. I knew that I wasn't going to spend most of my life there. I wanted to travel and live around the world. Being practical (it's strange that I was more practical as an adolescent than as a mature adult but being a poet does that) I wanted to take up a career as a commercial airline pilot. I would've been able to travel the world for a living. I was opposed to deregulation. I had observed a noticeable decline in the airlines during the 1980s. So I gave the lecture on that. My classmates were interested and a lively debate and discussion had developed by the end of the class.
The end of the first semester had arrived. The Economics teacher read out all of our final grades. Since I had never scored less than 90% on any exam and since I was the only student to take up the "extra credit" offer to give a presentation, I was sure that my grade would be 90%. When the teacher announced my grade of 80%, I went ballistic on him.
"HOW THE FUCK DO I ONLY HAVE 80%! I NEVER SCORED LESS THAN 90% ON ANY MOTHERFUCKING TEST! I DID THE EXTRA CREDIT PRESENTATION! 80 FUCKING PERCENT!"
The entire class was bowled over with my outburst. The teacher was absolutely flabbergasted.
"Well you didn't do half the homework assignments. That's why I gave you an 80.", the teacher replied.
I wasn't having it and I let him know.
"THAT'S FUCKING BULLSHIT! I DIDN'T DO THE FUCKING HOMEWORK BECAUSE I DIDN'T NEED TO. ONLY ONE OTHER GIRL IN THIS WHO FUCKING CLASS EVER SCORED HIGHER THAN ME. YOU KNOW DAMN FUCKING WELL THAT I UNDERSTAND ECONOMICS. GIVE ME A 90% RIGHT NOW!"
The teacher said that I only deserved 80% and had I done my homework I would've received a higher grade.
"FUCK YOU YOU PIECE OF SHIT! YOU THINK THAT YOU'RE SO FUCKING SMART BECAUSE YOU WENT TO COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. YOU ARE THE DUMBEST FUCKING TEACHER THAT I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. YOU CAN SUCK ME DICK AND KISS MY ASS! TAKE A LONG WALK OFF A SHORT CLIFF YOU UGLY MOTHERFUCKING COCKSUCKER! DROP DEAD TWICE. I FUCKING HATE YOUR GUTS. YOU'RE JUST JEALOUS BECAUSE I'M SMARTER THAN YOU. YOU'RE FUCKING LUCKY THAT I'M A SENIOR OR ELSE I WOULD WAIT FOR YOU AFTER SCHOOL AND KICK YOUR MOTHERFUCKING ASS FROM HERE ALL THE WAY BACK TO ALBANY! A FUCKING 80. THAT'S SOME BULLSHIT AND YOU KNOW IT!"
The teacher sat with a combination of awe and horror. His face registered pain. His entire body seemed to crumble and whither under sustained and relentlessness assault by me. Seeing him shrivel up before me only encouraged my attack. A stupid girl in the class who was a member of the cheerleading squad came to the teacher's defense. He had a high pitched nasal voice. She kept urging the teacher to: "Give him a Dean's referral! Give him a Dean's referral! Give him a Dean's referral!" She only added more fuel to the fire. I turned my ire at her: "SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU YOU FAT UGLY PIMPLE PIG FACE BITCH!" That quickly shut her up.
Unfortunately for me I failed to move him to give me the grade which I still believe to this day that I deserved. He was the teacher who got the worst of it. The sad thing about it was that I actually did like him and he was only one of a handful of teachers in twelve years at eight different schools that I actually learned something from which is still of value to this day. I didn't have him for the next semester. On the last week of school before graduation I had a yearbook and went to all the teacher that I had asking them to sign it. He wrote the most positive message in my yearbook:
"To K. A gifted intellectual who will one day be known as a famous scholar and musician. Soar with the eagles, not with the turkeys!"
To be continued....
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