School Days, and This Old Man..

   Dedicated to the Memory of Marvin Bookbinder: A dedicated educator, and a really decent, caring man. Mr. Bookbinder, I'm so sorry that I failed you 

I have to admit, I love doing bitstrips; those little cartoons on facebook that let you make your avatar for them and adjust the situations and the captions to suit yourself. They give you the basic cartoon, you finish it. I like to draw on my life, and usually kid my wife in the process. Usually, I make myself the butt of her (fictional) biting and sarcastic wit. 
 Yesterday, I found one that actually almost fit what happened to me in real life, and it caused a great deal of controversy and facebook talk. Here's the cartoon:

Now, I had no intention of putting down guidance councilors, or teachers, or the school system. I have nothing but the utmost respect for educators and all that they try to do. Despite all the restrictions put on them by the system and all the politicians who just don't seem to understand that you must let the teachers teach. Despite all the modern parents who take issue when a teacher tries to discipline a child, or who blame the teacher when a child, who just is incorrigible (as I was), refuses to participate; they do the best that they can under the circumstances. Most are dedicated to educating students. Most face issues every day which place roadblocks in the path of education; but still they try. I know several, and one retired teacher is also a very dear friend from my very early days. But I digress.
  What I want to say is this: Yes, this did happen to me, but I was the worst possible student. Hell, I don't even think that the title 'Student' could be applied to me. You have to be someone who studied to have been a student, and I definitely did not! I was okay in elementary school, although my mind would drift off in the hours after lunch; but when I got to Junior High School, my long slide into scholarly oblivion started. There was something wrong. Something just would not let me concentrate in school, and would not let me do homework at home. Looking back from the distance of 50+ years, I think now that I must have been ADD or ADHD, but, in those days, no one even had a clue about these things. I frustrated my teachers, my parents, and anyone who ever tried to help me. I ultimately frustrated myself. It was tough being me, because I was lost in a dream world and kind of drifted along for the longest time. 
  It's not that I was stupid. From what they told me back then, I tested at a 132 IQ. What that means today, I have no idea. Some of my teachers tried to help me. Mrs. Helfrich, an English Teacher that I had in the eighth grade, comes to mind. Some did their best to humiliate me every chance that they got. Mrs. Bryant, who taught something called CORE back in those days (a two class combination of English and Social Studies which lasted one year, I think), absolutely hated me. As did Miss Schotten, my Algebra teacher. It was okay... I hated them right back.  Despite this, and being left back for failing to do well in seventh grade, I managed to get through Junior High School and graduated to High School. Unfortunately, I was doomed. The confusion of this large school, and the demanding nature of the classes (they insisted on putting me in College Prep, based on my achievement test scores) drove me out. I got halfway through the tenth grade, and quit, much to the dismay of both of my parents. 
  For a while, I drifted from menial job to menial job. Then, I was contacted by a very dedicated and sincere man, Marvin Bookbinder, who was in charge of something called Project re-entry. This was an attempt to get dropouts back in school to finish, and perhaps go on to college. This was a very kind and caring man, and the more I said no, the more he pressed me to try again. He came to my home several times to talk to me. I finally relented and said that I would give it a try.
  The following school year, I re-entered the tenth grade, taking some eleventh grade classes along with it. I did mediocre work, although my English teacher said that I had some potential as a writer. I made it through the tenth grade by the skin of my teeth and Summer School. The following year, I soon returned to my old habits. I would arrive at the school, late, and sign in. This covered me for the day. Mostly, I just would hang out, and by then, I had my own car. I soon had the truant officer after me, and managed to stay ahead of him. I would also sneak the notifications from the school out of the mail, before my mother or father could read them. Things finally came to a head when I was rounded up at the diner one day, and brought back to the school. I got into a shouting match with the gym teacher/football coach and the principal, and quit again.. this time, it was for good. 
 I worked full time for a year, then, in 1966, I joined the Marines. After basic training, and after my schooling as an aviation ordnance man, I reported to my first permanent duty station. The first thing that I was told was that I WOULD get a high school diploma. I took the GED and scored in the 98 percentile. I somehow, had learned enough to get a diploma, despite all of my worst efforts.
  The reason that I am writing this is that I want people to know that there are children out there that struggle with themselves just to make it through the day. Kids like I was cannot be threatened or punished into doing well in school. Some children can. I could not. As I've said, I probably had ADD or ADHD. The Marine Corps didn't give you the luxury of having such things. Civilian life did. Today, they have drugs and therapies that help these children, if they are diagnosed in time. I've heard some parents say that they would never allow their children to be drugged. All I can say to them is that, if I had had the opportunity to be treated, perhaps I would have been a writer instead of a telephone man. I will never know. Not that I regret my life: I don't. All things that we do lead to what we become in the end. I'm not rich, but I am satisfied.  
 So, if you see a child struggling, don't blame the teachers. If you're the parents, don't blame yourselves. Just see what you can do to get the child help.

  This is my story. I needed to write it down, for once and for all. I've tried to be as truthful as possible. My problems were mine alone, in those days, and there was on one to blame but myself.
 John Zaffino Kent Lakes, NY
 March 25, 2014


  1. We have discussions about school quite a few times John since we did share our early school days together and were even in some of the same classes. I've told you before how I feel about a lot of these things so I won't bore you with a repeat performance. I will say, however, that Mr. Bookbinder was a wonderful, caring man who believed in all the students. He was very kind and most inspiring. It is small wonder that he became the head of Guidance at NRHS and I have no doubt he did a wonderful job during his time there. Yes, RIP Marvin Bookbinder.

  2. And here you are! How many roads must a man walk down.. Love this reality show called "John."


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