The Last Class


Source: Donald Earl Collins, November 2006

Twenty-three years to the date only makes me realize how old I’m getting, as this is my annual reminder of my last day at Mount Vernon High School. Normally I talk about the wonderfully dreadful former Science Department chair Estelle Abel (more like Cain than Abel in her case, I guess) and her attempt to destroy my soul within minutes of me closing my locker for the last time. But I’ve used her as my punching bag too many times in the blogosphere in the past three years (see June 10, ’07, ’08, and ’09 posts as reference points), not to mention in Fear of a “Black” America. Yeah, she was a real piece of work all right. But she was part of a school, school district and town whose racial and social dynamics that left a lot to be desired.

My last day at MVHS couldn’t have gone by fast enough twenty-three years ago. I was in the midst of a rage-based hangover from the school’s V and S (for valedictorian and salutatorian) Honors Convocation the night before (see post “Honors Coronation,” June 9, ’08), and I wanted to get the day

Source: Donald Earl Collins, November 2006

over with as much as I wanted to get out of Mount Vernon. From AP English to AP Calc, from Humanities Art to lunch, from AP Physics to Gym, my whole day was a blur. I think this was one of the few times I wanted to forget more than I wanted to remember. I know I said good-bye to more than a few of my classmates along the way. But nothing about that last day was particularly memorable.

Until the final class of my final day. I had eighth-period Health the second half of my senior year, as required by the school district. I wasn’t the only senior or Humanities student in that class. But by putting it off for as long as I could, there were hardly any classmates or other students I knew in there. The academics of this class weren’t important at all. I might as well have been in sixth grade again the way the teacher taught sex education and oral hygiene.

No, the significant part about Health was the social dynamics. The young Black males hitting on the females, sometimes during class, while the teacher was talking. The glances at body parts from start to finish on both sides of the gender aisle. The constant giggles about sex and its potential consequences — all bad consequences, by the way. The fact that a known low-level drug dealer from 55 Sheridan was in our classroom, talking about Saran Wrap as an alternative to a condom for intercourse.

Yeah, that final class wasn’t so much about watching the clock tick to 2:50 pm as much as it was about surviving forty-five minutes of deliberate ignorance and bad pedagogy. The teachings of this class would stick with us about as well as a magnet sticks to a penny. My classmates were graduating, but were on very different paths from me.

Source: Donald Earl Collins, November 2006

It was all too bad. When the bell rang, mercifully for me, for the last time, I wasn’t so much excited as I was relieved. If I’d been more of a man back then, I probably would’ve cried. Not tears of joy. Tears of release, of relief, of the letting go of anger and bitterness over those past four years of high school and six years of Humanities. Only for it all to come back again, fifteen minutes later, because I bumped into Estelle Abel.

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