My Education, if I Only Knew….. a Grandpa tale

20 Jan

I sit here today a bit over 64, being somewhat reflective (not!), thinking about what I wanted to share with you today.   I have George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” slamming in my ears, but I know this post wasn’t going to be about music. In fairness I have been kicking the thought of my education and all the time I wasted in high school and even in the military schools I attended, and what could have been had I actually applied myself way back then.  In part this post also came about because yesterday I sat with Cari at the kitchen table practicing her multiplication tables.  Cari is in the 3rd grade and has not yet committed these to memory. We sat for over an hour practicing, we me giving her little lessons, and offering math truths as I knew them. And basically had a good time, I wouldn’t allow her to quit, and I wouldn’t allow her to just guess.   I know the truths (about math) I shared with Cari were correct because my wife (the math whiz) didn’t correct me. It was enjoyable to just sit with her and help. 

But this story is really about me, so let me get to it (btw Nickelback is pounding now).  When I went to school (1st grade thru 12th) I would have been the poster child for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), but that term hadn’t been invented.  If my grades had been a touch worst I might have gotten to ride the short bus (very non PC) to school. I was probably only a stupid smile or two away from being called retarted (extremely  non-PC), but the simple truth is that school really didn’t keep my attention. It wasn’t interesting enough, it didn’t stimulate me in a way that made me want to excel.  Throughout my entire education process, the classes I found interesting and stimulating I did extremely well.  You could look at any given report card and find I got an F in “English” but I got an A in “Reading.” (3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” now blasting away) Another example would be that I got “C’s” in Math but “F’s” in Algebra.  I had found out early in the educational process that I did not have to apply myself at all in order to get just barely passing grades, so I didn’t. And there was no penalty at home, sure I got yelled at, and I got “grounded” all the time. But it wasn’t enforced and I had a job outside of the house, so that kinda took the wind out of being grounded. Also, the folks didn’t know my hours or my schedule so it was easy to get around being grounded. I cruised thru the first 13 years (I did the 3rd grade twice) of school without putting in a lick of work.  But again, the classes or components of classes I liked I did great.  So as a result, I became an extremely lazy student.  (Garth Brooks “Thunder Road” is now slamming) I only (studied) when it was absolutely necessary.  The day before a paper was due, or the night before a big test, I was the poster child for cramming. Imagine that, a student with ADD trying to cram. LOL LOL. Sometimes it worked mostly it didn’t.  But I did graduate high school, it took a summer school English class, and Mom begging, but I did graduate.  In my HS class were approximately 283 kids, I was something like 265 in ranking.  It is hard to imagine that many students who accomplished less in HS than me. 

These bad habits continued into my Navy career but really stopped while I was in Radioman “A” school. My class at NTCC San Diego was the last class of radioman school to teach and require a level of skill in Morse code.  I was lazy, and I was just getting by, all the other components of being a Radioman had my interest, and I did well in those aspects. But if I flunked out of Radioman “A” school I would end up on the deck crew as a boatswain mate, which equated to really really hard dirty work, that I knew I wanted to avoid.  The minimum standards (in 1969) for graduating from Radioman “A” school in Morse code was to be able to receive 12 words per minute (wpm) and transmit (6 or 8 not sure which) wpm with no more than 5 errors, over a 5 minute period.  On the last day of qualifying I could transmit 8 wpm, but I was still hung up on receiving the minimum 12. Test after test I failed. Each test was a different message using all characters on the keyboard.  But the light came on, and the dots and dashes became songs and I qualified 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 wpm in separate tests over a 2 hour period. I went from the slowest code reader to the 3rd quickest in the class, and graduated “A” school in fine shape.  BTW I never in my Navy career actually copied a real Morse code message.  I really didn’t have much of an issue with class room training the rest of my Navy days, and all things considered did quite well during my active duty time.

When I got out of the Navy, it was suggested that I might want to go to college.  It seemed like a good idea, and an easy way to make some money.  I did have the GI Bill working for me.  So a few months after I got established in my job, I enrolled in Northern Virginia Community College. Because I had been out of HS so long I was required to take a college prep math and English classes.  These where were a snap, and I pretty much aced both of them.  Thus I started my college career.  I started with the same attitude and study habits that I had 10 years before in High School. The 1st couple quarters were easy because I chose classes I wanted to take so I put the effort in. But the next quarter I took classes I was required to take and did very poorly.  So poorly that the VA counselor called me to his office and said “Bill, if you don’t pick you grades up, you will have to pay the government back all the money you have received to date.”  That equaled about $1,800 over 6 months, folks if you don’t have 2 nickels; $1,800 is a crap load.  LMAO, folks I took a 1.69 GPA and converted it to a 3.27 over the next 3 years.  I never had to pay a penny back, and I loved college.  My favorite courses were those that required reading and comprehension, and simplistic math courses. I aced Accounting I, II, and III.  The math was simple; it was just knowing and understanding the rules. Economics for whatever reason was another class I loved and did extremely well.  The science classes gave me issues, and required every bit of effort I could muster to get thru.  Business Law was another class I found to be easy because it was all about reading and understanding the rules.  But my most favorite courses were the political science classes.  It allowed me to be opinionated and I was graded pretty much on my ability to be opinionated LOL. How cool is that. 

One of my favorite college stories involved an English Literature course.  It was mid-term time and the test consisted of 10 questions. We used “blue books” to complete the test.  The kicker was that each question started off “In your opinion” blab blab blab.  The next week the test came back and I got a B+. I was so pissed. I stood up and questioned the professor how my “opinion” was only worth a B+, she was quite shaken that anyone would question her, and was even more put off when she couldn’t successfully tell me my opinion was only worth a B+, and I demanded an A instead of a B+ and suggested we take it up with the Dean of English at NVCC.  The professor decided that maybe my opinion was indeed worth an A.  As soon as she said she would change my mid-term to an “A” most of the class stood and made the same demand.  And while she stared at me with daggers in her eyes she gave anyone that asked a better grade, (who answered all ten questions with something other than BS)  based on their opinion she gave them the better grade. 

But the professor won in the end.  When finals came around, it was the single most difficult test I have ever taken, period. But, while it was difficult it was fair. Also the word opinion was not on the test in any form. LOL LOL. (“Boom Boom” by The Animals is playing now) I killed myself taking that test, and barely had it turned in on time.  The next week I got the test results and I got a “B” for the test, I stared at the B and said quietly to myself “Thank You God!  I ended up getting an “A” for the course, but it was the hardest “A” I ever got. 

College was a wonderful experience, but my career started to take off and I made the decision to concentrate on being a Dad and my career.  Two of the best decisions I ever made.  I love being a Dad and granddad, and I had a great career. 

I rarely do could’ve, would’ve or should’ves.  It makes no sense to try and second guess myself all the time. I of am of the mind that if I changed one thing, that action then ripples thru the rest of my life, making slight or large changes in every aspect of my life from the time of the change forward, for the rest of my life. I have so much to be thankful for that, I don’t want risk any of it to change any one thing.  But as successful as I have been, I can only wonder how much more successful I could have been had I applied myself way back then. (Melissa Etheridge’s “Refugee” is playing now and almost seems appropriate) I am not going to speculate, but, damn I don’t think there would have been a mountain I couldn’t have climbed.  I hope this is a lesson Cari learns early, and takes to heart. 

Thank you for indulging me as I took this trip in the wayback machine.  Education is so very important, and it doesn’t have to be college, our world requires all manner of folks, with all manner of skills. Yes some of those skills are learned in college, but in this day and age, that is not the only place to get an education that you can build on, that you can support a family on, and reach all manner of success. 

While writing this I have listened to at least 25 songs. Each song has provided some level of influence.  The artist included: John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Garth Brooks, Brooks and Dunn, Seether, AC/DC, Five Finger Death Punch, Nickleback and Marilyn Manson to name just a few.  It has been a very enjoyable afternoon.  I hope you have enjoyed yours as well.  Take care, if you have any comments, suggestions or thoughts you wanted to share, please do.  Bill


Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Grandpa Stories, Observations, Ramblings


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21 responses to “My Education, if I Only Knew….. a Grandpa tale

  1. benzeknees

    January 20, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    OMG – you’re the only person I have ever heard of who actually likes Nickelback! They are an Alberta band & I can’t stand their music! Similar story to yours except slightly different. I had a horrible time my whole life with maths. I had to take a summer school course to pass HS. But every other course I sailed through. I didn’t take notes in class – I barely paid attention! And I always passed! I wasn’t a straight A student, but I would say a good B student (all without any work at all!) A couple years after leaving high school, I decided I would like to improve myself & signed up for a couple of University night school classes. All of a sudden I was in trouble! The subjects didn’t come easily to me & I didn’t know how to study! I had to learn how to study at 20 years old. I did well in all my classes but I spent a lot of time studying!

    • FlaHam

      January 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Benze, LOL I have been a fan of Nickelback for 8 or more years, I truly enjoy 95 pct of what they create. Great house band, earthy songs and lyrics, what’s not to like. What I enjoy most about the political science classes I took was the classroom debate. I truly enjoyed that. I don’t remember getting an A on any report card. I may have gotten a couple in for conduct, but those teachers really like me. LOL, And when I got a B which I did a couple times, my dad thought I had changed the grade. That was back in the day of paper handwritten report cards. LOL I feel so ancient. Take care and have a good week. Bill

      • benzeknees

        January 21, 2014 at 3:11 am

        BTW, a further coincidence – I was an accounting clerk for 15 years (everything up to the financial statements).

  2. Rosey

    January 20, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    It sounds like we have similar learning abilities Bill! LOL I struggled with algebra myself. Math not so bad, like you got “C”s in it and Fs in algebra too! how funny…but honestly thank you for sharing because I have wondered if taking an accounting course would be a good fit for me. This helps a lot! hope you have a great rest of your day 🙂

    • FlaHam

      January 20, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Rosey, Anything I can do to help I will. I have a great time in accounting, the instructor became a great friend, though we have lost touch. He made accounting easy. It really is about following the rules. The math part is simple. I hope you have a great day. Take care, Bill

  3. rebecca2000

    January 20, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    I used to get in trouble for talking all the time in in school. I would be what they would call double labeled in todays standard. I am gifted with learning disabilities. I had a scosh of ADD, dyslexia, and a very high IQ. This lead to trouble with finishing my work first and chatting. When I made less than stellar grades my teachers thought I wasn’t trying.

    Once I got to middle school (which I hated) I was a model student. I learned to overcompensate for my letter flipping and changing classes every 50 min helped the ADD. I graduated with honors in the top of my class and was the teachers pet or every class I took.

    Just a couple of weeks ago my little man was diagnosed with ADD. I’m so glad because I felt helpless to help him with his studies. He is doing so much better.

    • FlaHam

      January 20, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      Rebecca, I can’t imagine that LOL you in trouble for talking, surprise surprise. But I can imagine you being the teachers pet, and expecting that status to carry you thru adulthood LOL. I have no idea what my IQ is, but I suspect it is somewhere near north of normal. I am sure it was tested at some point, they tested for everything when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why some of the expectations were so high, and when I didn’t live up to them the disappointment so vast. I am so glad your little man is doing so much better. I am sure you are quite helpful as a Mom. Take care, Bill

  4. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

    January 21, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Great about speaking up in your Lit class asking why your opinion wasn’t worth an A! And, that the whole class followed. Another great post my friend. 🙂

    • FlaHam

      January 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

      Paulette, Yes it was fun, but no good deed goes unpunished LOL LOL. As I said, the test she gave for the Final was the hardest frigging test I have ever taken. I was prepared and only got a B, a lot of folks in that class who stood up, didn’t fare nearly as well for the test or final grade. Thankfully I never had another test from her. Take care, Bill

  5. Chatter Master

    January 21, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Despite all of the struggles you explained about your education I got stuck back on Cari being in the third grade. I believe third grade to be the most difficult grade in education. Hands down. So many changes!!

    I couldn’t help but chuckle at each song change.

    And you have had some incredible experiences Bill. Adding up what matters most, I am not surprised it’s being the husband, dad and granddad over everything else. 🙂

    • FlaHam

      January 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Colleen, I like the way you put it “struggles” the reality is and was that I was lazy from K1 to K12. I only applied myself when I wanted for what I wanted. I just hope that Cari doesn’t become lazy. She has great parents, and I am sure they stay more aware than Cari wants them to. I have been fortunate, I have had a good life, with little to regret, and I have been put into situations, or created situations that become the material for great stories. All I do is tell a story. I would give myself an A- for both truthfulness and accuracy of the stories I share. Though I suspect that my daughter would probably say I am grading on a curve. But, my writing is easy compared to yours, I just get into the wayback machine and let my fingers dance on the keyboard. You are being creative everyday, whether it’s a stick people one liner, or a longer narrative, you are being creative each day. It amazing, and I love your stuff. Take care and have a wonderful day. Bill

      • Chatter Master

        January 21, 2014 at 9:07 pm

        We seem to have a wonderful and strong admiration for one another Bill. 🙂

        • FlaHam

          January 21, 2014 at 9:49 pm

          Colleen, Thank you! We do indeed seem to have a mutual admiration going on. And it’s not a bad thing. Take care, Bill

  6. huntmode

    January 21, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I enjoyed your way back machine story re education, Bill. For me, we didn’t have the ADD or the whatever acronyms of today are. I had an extraordinary amount of energy and they would send me to run around the track during home economics or whatever. It holds true today – if I rest for 10 minutes – I’m a short distance sprinter in everything whether it be studies or exercise, but never, ever running… LOL. I did some college courses after dropping out of high school in the last 2 weeks or month… (how’s that for dumb – just got tired of lying). Took two classes and the GED and graduated with a HS diploma somewhere around 21 or 23. Took courses as time went on, but it was guerrilla warfare for me. “Get in, get the info, get out.” Then, after 9/11, I went back to school in 2006 and completed my BA in Social Sciences/History in nine months testing out of classes and taking some college courses. I enjoyed the challenges so much, I went onto my Master of Arts degree in Strategic Intelligence – Intelligence Operations – loved it. I remember discussing what I should study and I came away with the thought, “Damn it, if I’m going to pay for it, I am going to enjoy it!”

    • FlaHam

      January 22, 2014 at 8:14 am

      Hunt, I was never diagnosed as having ADD, I was labeled as lazy. And being honest I don’t believe they used ADD as a term way back then. My point is you found your way, and you got the education from which you have built a lifetime. That’s the key. Though I do need to reiterate that college isn’t always the answer for everyone. The key is education, be it trade school, or specialty school, or being trained for a specific field or specialty. Smiling, that was also the key me in college I was paying I was going to enjoy it. Take care, Bill

  7. kgbethlehem

    January 23, 2014 at 1:33 am

    john lee hooker huh? nice..

    one thing i took out of this beautifully written piece was the need and love for education. and English lit was a class you enjoyed no doubt. greatly enjoyed this read…

    • FlaHam

      January 23, 2014 at 7:00 am

      Kay, Thank you Kay, I truly appreciate your comments. In this day and age, it is vitally important to have an education, it doesn’t need to be college, but to be successful you need an education of some sort to be part of your foundation. Smiling, I have been a John Lee Hooker fan for a long long time. He and BB King were the 1st blues “men” I ever attached myself to. Grinning I am actually considering a post that deals with the song “Boom Boom” and all the artists that did, and what I liked about their interpretation. Just a thought. Take care, Bill

  8. Wanda

    January 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Bill, I feel like I’m in an echo chamber–because, once again, much of my experience and background is similar to yours. Except for biology and French (both miserable failures), I did “OK” in elementary and high school–good, solid Cs most of the time, though I’m sure more than a few of those were “gifts” to move me along to the next grade. Like you, I crammed the night before a test, handed in cobbled-together projects, used Cliff Notes whenever I could, etc. Those were the days when kids were either on a “college track” or they weren’t–and I definitely wasn’t!

    Joining the Navy was life-changing in many ways, including how I eventually viewed learning. I came down with mononucleosis about halfway through A school. I was one sick puppy! and ended up missing most of an entire phase of the program. I requested to be set back a class so I could do that phase properly, but my request was denied. I ended up having to take that test with NO practical experience with the equipment. What’s a girl to do? I actually studied! I cracked open that PH3&2 and read the MOPIC section backwards and forwards enough that it started to make sense to me. I can’t say I passed the phase exam with flying colors, but I did pass and that was sufficient at the time.

    When I was a second class, I was selected to attend a prestigious “C” level school. There were probably 20 of us, and we formed up into four or five study groups. That’s when I truly began to understand the difference between cramming and studying, between learning something well enough to pass an exam as opposed to learning it so it would be useful for everyday life.

    There’s no question that education is important, but I’m not an advocate of the “college or bust” mentality that is so prevalent today. To me, there are a lot of kids going to college who don’t have the combination of ability, aptitude, and interest necessary to make them successful–and yet they are racking up thousands of dollars worth of student loans that will take them years and years to pay off–at probably significantly less pay than they anticipated when they entered college.

    I am, however, a big proponent of vocational education, both at the high school and community college level. All of us need skilled tradespeople–electricians, plumbers, mechanics, etc., etc., etc.–but those people need more than skills training (often acquired via apprenticeships). They need to know the basics of personal finance, accounting, business, English, math, etc.–but these topics need to be presented in the context of their vocations, not as traditional academic courses.

    You and I were both very lucky to have started our adult lives in the hands-on environment that the military offers its enlisted people. Looking back at my own experience and being aware of what is asked of today’s military, I am honestly amazed at the amount of responsibility young service people are given–at 18, 19, 20 years old, many of them have more responsible (and potentially more impactful) positions than civilians 10 or 15 years older their senior. Granted, the military has a lot of checks and balances and the ever-present chain of command but, when the boots hit the ground, it’s those young people who get the job done–all with what amounts to two-year vocational degree.

    Stepping off my soapbox now…

    • FlaHam

      January 23, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      Wanda, What a wonderful response. I will be forever grateful for the time I spent in the Navy. And the time I spent in college helped me to no end. But, I don’t know if I was ever really college material. I do okay, and I used the education I got in college to my advantage. And most importantly to me was that I ended up with a job that did not require that I be dirty and sweaty at the end of the day. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have been a great tradesman, I believe I would have excelled at whatever career path I ended on. But I wouldn’t want to test that theory. In the 10 years we have known each other, thru countless dinners together, and evening of sitting around the table playing games and BSing, it is truly amazing how similar our lives have been. From our childhood, the teens, and into adulthood we have shared many a similar story only changing the names to protest the guilty. Thank you again for sharing a pathway with me. Take care, Bill


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