Truth Before Dishonor

I would rather be right than popular

Who Is John Hitchcock?

Posted by John Hitchcock on 2011/10/01


I’ve decided to give a little snap-shot into what makes me tick. It will be a very incomplete picture but it will go a little way into understanding me better.

When I was in 4th grade, I was in a 4th/5th split class. Each grade had 3 levels of reading: top, middle, bottom (or however they described them). I was in the top 5th grade reading class while in 4th grade. I was also in the 5th grade math class while in 4th grade. When the 5th grade students took their spelling test, I would take it on my own. I got 80 – 95 percent on each 5th grade spelling test, without ever having the benefit of the book to see, and yet the school would not let me in the 5th grade spelling class.

By the time 5th grade rolled around, I was once again in the top 5th grade reading class, and was then officially in the 5th grade spelling class in which I had already shown superior competency. And I was in remedial 6th grade math. By 6th grade, I was in the same math as everyone else.

This taught me that the best grade one could possibly get was “A-4”, where the “A” is obvious, and the number was effort level, 1 being outstanding effort and 4 being no effort. And that is what I “worked” at: getting my “A” (and too many “B”s) without putting forth any effort whatsoever. I didn’t study. I rarely did my math homework, and I was in Honors Math. I never completely read any American Lit or English Lit novels or plays, and I was in Honors English. And yet, I graduated high school with a 3.45 GPA (on the edge of top ten percent) and a 31 composite on the 35-point ACT. I also completely destroyed the ASVAB. And gained entry into the National Honor Society and “Who’s Who Among American High School Students”.

I believe I was 8 or 9 years old when my family visited the Air Force museum in Dayton, OH, I believe it is. We saw a great many planes at the museum, of course. One such plane we saw in the distance was a very sleek, large plane with 4 jet engines on each wing. I told my younger siblings it was a futuristic plane that the Air Force was planning to build. (Kids do have imaginations and do try to explain what they see with what little they know. It’s how kids function.) When we got up to it, we found out it was, I believe, a 1950s era plane, the Stratofortress. My father turned to me and said something along the lines of “That should teach you not to say anything when you don’t know. You just made a fool of yourself.”

When I was in high school, my father and I went to a restaurant to eat and talk. I told him how I took my History tests. I read the book once, took notes that I never looked at again, and that was the extent of my studying. When it was time to take the test, I would see a question that I didn’t immediately know the answer to. I would sit back, close my eyes, and “see” the open history book. I could see where the headers were. I could see where the sub-headers were. I could see the various paragraphs. If there were photos, I could see where they were. I knew what was where and how much space each item took. And then I could see where the answer was. Seeing all that gave me the answer as to what the answer was.

My father’s response to all this? “If you tried a little harder, you could read the book, too.” Yup. No approval, no support, no nothing. Just another “you’re not good enough” response out of him, like I had heard a million times over. There was no satisfying him, so I gave up ever trying to. But I did learn from him.

I know my intellectual level is such that I can learn absolutely anything if only given the opportunity. There is nothing I cannot learn. But aside from outside forces, I never developed a study habit and don’t know how to study. Learning that zero effort is better than outstanding effort in grade-getting, I never learned how to try my best at anything. It came easily or didn’t come at all. And it’s better to not try than to try and make a fool out of yourself. Besides, I’ll never be good enough anyway.

4 Responses to “Who Is John Hitchcock?”

  1. Dana Pico said

    My “study” habit was to pay attention in class and take very good notes, in complete sentences. As long as I did that, all that I had to do was re-read my notes — which I already knew anyway, because I had written them myself — and I was good for the tests.

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  2. Foxfier said

    You have photographic memory?! Oy, lucky! (Well, in a study sense, anyways.)

    I know I never had to study in high school– I did, generally, re-read the text book because doing something staved off fear of failure… the two classes, total, that I took notes in (because the teacher was a college instructor who decided he hated politics and set all his classes up along those lines) I would read over the notes… and that was enough.

    Generally, class time was spent either reading a novel, reading an entirely different section of the text book, doing homework, or– on the rare occasion a teacher was actually teaching instead of covering the textbook or telling personal stories– scribbling really bad story snippets in my notebook. I’m HORRIBLE at memorizing– only passed the “memorize and label all the counties of Washington” by taking it about thirty times, and my spelling is atrocious– but really good at general sweeps and rules, or recognizing patterns.

    Military testing is a bit different, since the stakes are higher and it’s all notes, but I did well enough that I tutored anyone else that was having problems. (Amusingly, the “failures” I helped generally then tested better than I did.)

    Wouldn’t it be nifty if schools had actually come close to challenging us to learn?

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  3. You have photographic memory?!

    I have near-photographic memory (with leaks for people’s names and precise dates), which is why I can remember a great deal of events and things people said (but cannot google them all that well). Things I read can change into “movies I watched” in my memory banks. And it’s the concepts, philosophy, and big picture history that stand out far more than the precise rote. I don’t memorize very well at all, but I remember exceedingly well.

    I know I never had to study in high school– I did, generally, re-read the text book because doing something staved off fear of failure…

    My daughter and I both had the same attitude toward tests. Rather than tell you straight-up, I’ll give you a very short story.

    My daughter was a just-turned 13-year-old high school freshman running Cross Country against 14-year-old freshmen and 18-year-old seniors, and she would occasionally get nervous right before the start of a race. I told her to treat the race like “just another math test.” She was First Team All Conference in Cross Country (only 7 girls in the conference made First Team and she was better than 2 of them) as a 13-year-old freshman.

    Wouldn’t it be nifty if schools had actually come close to challenging us to learn?

    Absolutely.

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  4. Did I mention my daughter had and still has exercise-induced asthma? By the end of the 5-k races, she found breathing nearly impossible, but she still soldiered on.

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