When I asked that seventh grade teacher "why," it wasn't about the 50. It was about the end of semester grade, which I believe was in the C+ range. It surprises me to think back on it now, that I had the courage to ask her, but I recall that my parents encouraged me to do so, since I was upset by the grade. I asked her if I got C+ because of the 50. (It didn't count enough to bring it down that much.) She said no, it was because I was too quiet. She was right about that. I was quiet in class in junior high school. I'd been acculturated to be that way, had been rewarded for such behavior. Teachers generally preferred silent adolescents. I doubt that was the real reason she penalized me. It was the last time I ever questioned a grade.
I'm remembering another of my teachers from the Seven Teachers story encouraged me to ask "why" when I got an 80 in pottery in high school. I describe her in the Exceptional English Teacher section. She required a journal for class and I wrote in it how upset I was over the grade. So she commented nearby, telling me to ask the teacher why? (Believe it or not, I still have my journals from her classes and that's why I know it was underlined.) I never asked, though.
A couple of days ago, my sister emailed me this picture:
She asked me if I had made it for her when I was in high school. I responded, yes, but not in school, at our town's library in West Shokan. I did take pottery in high school, but the teacher wouldn't let me make something like this. She felt my stuff was too utilitarian, symmetrical and boring and she didn't like us using colorful glazes; she made us use dull '70s earth colors. Admittedly, I'm no sculptor (nor do I have my sister's level of artistic talent) but I wasn't completely incompetent and I still wonder why so much of high school is about extinguishing nonconformity.
Conformity in this case didn't mean being a nerd, or even an artist. About half the class time was spent with kids throwing clay at the clock, sneaking out of the classroom (one of the art rooms had a door to the outside, bad idea) and other foolishness. At the end of each quarter, we had to have 10 projects done. There was a day when we put them out on display, and the teacher walked around evaluating them. My brother was also in the class, and he was many projects behind, so a couple of days before, he took a ball of clay, punched it, fired it, called it an ashtray. He made several projects using that same method. I'm not sure what his grade was, but I do remember it was higher than an 80. Other kids made elaborate bongs and pot pipes. They got a lot of praise, and probably a 95. Remember it was the '70s and my school was near Woodstock.
I liked pottery and didn't let this school experience dissuade me. Our town library had a kiln and a wonderful librarian who fired it for us. We gathered as a group of all different ages. Some made pottery, others ceramics. It was a much more nurturing environment than school. It's true that the vase isn't exactly a museum piece, but my sister has been using it for 35 years!