Saturday, August 7, 2010

You are what you were as a first-grader. Act accordingly

Bad news for anyone older than 7.

Think back to first grade. Remember sitting passively in your desk as the bully who was held back a grade grabbed your hair and yanked while the teacher did nothing? You're probably sitting passively in your cubicle today - 20, 30, 40 years later - as the office moron bullies you into finishing a project he was supposed to complete two days ago.

Remember how shy you were in first grade when the new girl in school tried talking to you? Remember how she looked at you when you couldn't put two words together? Even then she knew you were something of a loser. She probably pegged you as a paste-eater. You're probably something of a shut-in today, afraid to meet new people. When a woman does talk to you while you guys stand in line at the grocery store, she's immediately turned off by your awkwardness. She assumes you still live in a dark basement in your parents' house and spend your time reading books about serial killers.

A new study came out that seems to show "personality traits observed in children as young as first graders are a strong predictor of adult behavior." The study's author, Christopher Nave, said, "This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts." And surely young Christopher was a blast to hang out with as a first-grader.

Many people ridicule these types of studies - "THIS IS WHAT OUR MONEY IS SPENT ON?? GODDAMN GOVERNMENT!" - but I love them. I also, for the most part, believe the findings. To be fair, this study - from the 1960s - studied children in Hawaii. Maybe the results would be different on the mainland, with kids who receive less sun.

It's odd reading some of the Yahoo! comments. Not any stranger than most Internet comments, except the posters are lacking in irony even more than normal. They ridicule the study and make bizarre political analogies while using racist language and bad spelling. They say there's no way the findings could be true, then add with pride that they've never been afraid to speak their mind, even as a kid, and that their temper always got them into trouble with teachers who didn't like to hear the truth. In other words, remember the jerk who tried beating up on the kid from Cambodia in first grade and always struggled to spell any word that had more than two letters? He's probably ranting today about Mexicans while posting poorly worded missives on message boards.

I remember a fair amount of things from first grade. Books we read, filmstrips we watched, field trips we took. I remember one of the kids slamming a door so hard it broke the glass in the window. He was always in trouble in first grade; shortly after I graduated from college, I read a story about him getting arrested for beating someone up. Probably broke a glass door during the brawl.

Back then my teacher and classmates thought I was pretty quiet but fairly witty. I loved reading. I loved basketball. I wanted my teacher to like me. Not much has changed. In first grade I longed for a girl named Leah who had moved away after Kindergarten. That's changed. I stopped thinking about her in 10th grade, 11th at the latest.

I liked making my friends laugh back then but didn't want to be the center of attention. Or, I didn't want to be the acknowledged center of attention. It's the same thing today. I'd rather throw in a comment at the end of someone's long-winded story than tell an amusing anecdote that takes five minutes.

I loathed the idea of getting in trouble with an authority figure, but always wanted to entertain my friends.

One day the whole class sat on the floor, listening to the teacher read us a story. I kept whispering wisecracks to two of my friends, Willie and Travis. Only they could hear me. I provided running commentary on the story and the teacher's reading performance; I was a 6-year-old precursor to Mystery Science Theater 3000. And god, was I funny! Or at least that's what I thought. Fortunately, so did my friends, who kept chuckling throughout the story. Finally the teacher stopped reading. She looked up and found the offenders. She chastised my friends. She disciplined them with the type of punishment that's probably not allowed these days, unless the teacher is eager to be the defendant in a lawsuit.

Travis and Willie had to sit underneath desks for an extended period. Odd. It was like putting them in a cage without bars. Like a pair of mob rats eager to sell out their boss, both Willie and Travis told the teacher I made the comments that made them laugh that made them interrupt her reading. I dreaded sitting under one of those desks. They looked so miserable, defeated. And they just took the punishment. Mrs. Matuska called me to her desk. Unsmiling, she asked me if the accusations were true. Had I made them laugh?

"No," I said.

"I didn't think so," she replied.

I was the good kid.

A few years ago I went to church back in Janesville with my parents. Louise came with. As we stood there, next to my forever-faithful folks and the other good Catholics of St. Ann's, I tried making comments that would make Louise giggle. I wanted to hear her snort while the priest recited Eucharistic Prayer Number...Three. I sort of succeeded, but not entirely. In a perfect world, I suppose the priest would have stopped the ceremony. In front of everyone, he would have told her to sit in the confessional to recite 100 Our Father's. He would have asked me if I made her laugh. And I would have said...


Anonymous said...

Shawn you made me laugh so hard I almost fell off my chair you remind me of me...naughty boy!!.....Patricia

Lisa said...

I don't know if I agree with this study. Brandt was the quietest 1st grader. I think he slept through kindergarten. Look at him now. You can't get him to shut up - at home or at school!