I am sure I am not unusual in the fact that as a child I was told to be quiet and stop asking questions. As children we are expected to learn about the world around us, yet during our most formative years we have our ability to acquire knowledge quashed by overzealous adults taking away one of our most effective tools: the ability to ask questions.
Grade Seven was going to be the worst year of my academic life. I was to become a ward of the notorious Ms Simmons. This diabolical woman took the ideas of the adults around me to new perverse levels. Now I was not only going to punished for asking questions, but also for not being able to answer them. I had a feeling that this was going to be a long year.
During the first few months on my incarceration, my lust for knowledge found me in constant trouble. Perfect child that I was, I could not understand why I was spending more time at the front door of the classroom and in detention, than I was sitting at my desk. Who did this woman think she was? I needed to take action.
One day when I was feeling particularly brave I found the courage to ask Ms Simmons if I could see her during my lunch break. In the minutes leading up to the bell I was sweating like a menopausal fifty-year-old woman on a cocaine binge. What was I thinking? The last thing I wanted was to talk to this woman. I probably would have been safer spending my lunch playing red rover with the cooty-infested boys.
I prepared for the worst as I approached her oversized desk. I examined her. She was close to fifty, rather plump, with her hair in a lioness mullet. This throwback to the 70s was going to be no match for my youth and audacity. ”Ms Simmons, how am I supposed to learn if you don’t like me asking questions in class”, I said with all the bravado a twelve-year-old girl was capable of. Ms Simmons looked at me and replied in a monotone voice, “Janie, I don’t mind questions, you just never shut up”. Before I could protest at what she meant by such an outrageous statement she went on to tell me that I must drive my parents ma! Whatever, what would she know? A few years later I would go on to date her eldest son. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
She stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Any bravado I had managed up until this point was gone. Finally she began to talk. ”As you are so eager to learn I will give you extra tasks that will not involve you asking me questions.” Great, just what I needed! My plan had backfired worse than my parents’ car. What could I have possibly done wrong in my twelve short years on Earth to justify a year with this monster of a woman? I studied her face and was convinced she was not even human. A smile formed at the corners of her mouth as she gave me my first task.
The next week would be spent researching Ancient Greece in the school library. Within three days, as much I would hate to admit it to the twelve-year-old me, I actually started to enjoy my research time. Those Ancient Greeks really knew how to have a good time. Near the end of this week, instead of jealousy, I was actually beginning to feel superior to my barbaric peers who spent valuable time playing on the sports oval when they could have been studying,
A week, though, is a long time in the societal structure of primary school girls and my status had slipped. Rita had decided I was not “cool” anymore and she would rather be fest friends with Liz. Her behaviour made it clear to me what I had to do. She could be best friends with Liz, but the bitch was going to give me back her half our best friend’s heart. It had taken me two months delivering the local paper to save for those.
After collecting information, and exactly a week since our first meeting, I returned to Ms Simmons when the bell rang for lunch. “Janie, tell me what you have learnt about Ancient Greece”, she asked me between bites of her sandwich. I prattled on with stories of war, architecture, politics and language. After allowing me sufficient time to prattle, she asked me what I was most interested in. I explained that I was most interested in how girls lives in Ancient Greece. She wanted to know what in particular I wanted to know about how they lived. I remember quite clearly at this point I wanted say, “Did they ask questions?”. It took all of my strength to resist the urge to be a smartass. Looking back now I regret censoring myself. Instead of going with my initial witty response, I explained that I wanted to know if girls were educated in the same way as boys. She put her sandwich down and said, “There is your question, now go and answer it”. I was now completely sure this woman was the Devil incarnate.
The next week was spent specifically looking at literature regarding the education of women in Ancient Greece. Mum was not particularly impressed at this point as my research involved a fun day out for us both to the State Library. I was learning more doing my own research than I could have learnt from asking Ms Simmons 100 questions in class. i was also feeling quite smug in my realisation that teachers were a somewhat overrated commodity.
While I was walking to school with Rita, I diplomatically asked for her half of the best friend’s heart. ”Janie, I want to be your best friend again”, she said as she was gulping her can of coke. ”You said you wanted to be best friends with Liz now”, I replied as if I didn’t give a damn. ”She doesn’t want to be best friends with me now”, she mumbled back. Hmm, I was not going to be best friends with someone who was using me as their backup plan but I could definitely go some coke. ”Ok Rita, ca I please have your other can of coke?” She thought on it for a second before undoing her backpack and passing me the other can, before I was even halfway through the can I was thinking about the potato chips she would be sharing with me during little lunch.
My mum was quickly tiring of my constant chatter about my research topic, so when the lunch bell rang that day announcing my next meeting with Ms Simmons I was actually excited. Ms Simmons had created a monster. We chatted briefly about the education of girls in Ancient Greece before she gave me my next set on instructions. I was sent away to begin my first essay!
I began my essay completely convinced that it would be published and sit rightfully alongside the great authors of the Western world. After much thought I went with the creative title: The Education of Girls in Ancient Greece. My genius knew no bounds! I took a pair of my grandmother’s reading glasses and popped out the lenses; if I was going to be famous I had to look the part. During this week my parents surprised me with a typewriter! I thought I was so cool, until my friends laughed at me because they all had electric typewriters. Elitism was alive and flourishing within the walls of Hemmant State School. This did not worry me in the slightest though, as I had a constant supply of coke and potato chips thanks to my best friend.
The day I was to hand in my first essay finally arrived. I wore my hair in two French braids and was treated to bacon and eggs for breakfast. A typewriter and now bacon and eggs; my parents wer obviously aware of my future potential as their cash cow. The rest of the year was spent writing essays, eating potato chips and drinking coke. On the odd occasion you could still find me standing at the door of the classroom or in detention. Perfect as I was, I could not fight the urge to be a smartass all of the time.