For Goodness’ Sake!

September 18, 2009

I went to eleven schools before I graduated from high school, including four high schools in three states, and at all of them, I was a good girl. Mostly, I just wanted to do what the teacher asked and stay out of trouble. I read a lot, but it never seemed like what I was reading and writing and doing mattered at school, so I never really connected with school as a place to learn things that meant anything to me. Last fall, I wrote a poem about this:

I Will Be Good
Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn
September 28, 2008

I will be good,” she thought.
Today I will not
speak until spoken to and
I will match my socks and
eat my toast and eggs and
laugh politely at other people’s jokes.
I will be quiet and attentive.

I will listen patiently
as Lee and John and Emma
read so slowly
that the story floats toward my ears
like dandelions blown into the breeze.

I will be good.

I will eat all my lunch
even brussels sprouts and peas and
lettuce turning brown around the edges.
I will drink my milk
every drop and
when I’m done I’ll recycle the carton
and walk slowly through the halls
never pushing or shoving or
shouting when I see my best friend
turning to go up the stairs
and I’m afraid I’ll miss her.


I will be good and be on time
and do my work and
say yes ma’am no sir and raise my hand
before I speak and
I will know why the sky is blue and
how a tadpole grows into a frog and
how to find x and
i before e except after c and
the causes of the Civil War and
how to sing “You Are My Sunshine” in Spanish.

I will know and I will say and I will do and
I will be the every thing you want.

I will be good.

Lots of people approach school this way. They go and sit in a desk and wait to be told what to do and how to do it and what to learn, and then they do the minimum required to pass or get the grade they want. That’s being a student, and it doesn’t work very well for any kind of education beyond high school.

You have to be good for yourself, and it takes work to find out what that means.

If you do not express your own original ideas. If you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.
• Rollo May

What do you hope further education will mean for your life?


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