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Frank Gruber
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Guest Column -- The Son Also Speaks

By Henry Gruber

I rarely read my dad's column (I have to sit at the dinner table with him every night), but I do know that he uses me as an example of the youth of America, or at least of Santa Monica. Well, the youth wants to talk.

I graduated from SAMOHI last Thursday, and feeling reflective, I asked to write this column about my four years at SAMOHI and my thirteen years in the Santa Monica school system.

I began my scholastic adventure in kindergarten at SMASH, the alternative elementary and middle school. I was there for six years. Those years were fun; I spent a lot of time writing, more time reading, and a significantly smaller amount of time on math.

I didn't mind, as I felt I was learning what was important: I did a third grade project on the Mongols and a fifth grade one on the French Revolution, planned out colonies on Mars, and started playing the clarinet.

I never really got a hang of the whole multiplication thing, though, which ended up causing problems down the road. Worrying that my education had become unbalanced, my parents sent me to Kumon math classes, which I loathed, and then, after fifth grade, to John Adams Middle School (JAMS), which I loved. (Note: my dad wants to claim that it was my mom who sent me to Kumon, not him, and in any case he says they stopped sending me there after only two months. Seemed like eternity.).

My years at JAMS set the path I would be on for the rest of my time in school. I switched from clarinet to alto saxophone, joined the jazz band, and had a growth spurt. I played soccer, learned to play blues, and struggled through math class after difficult math class. I got a medal for being a "Renaissance Man" at eighth grade "graduation" -- a ceremony that both Barack Obama and I feel is over hyped -- and moved on to the wonderful world of SAMOHI.

Despite its many shortcomings (which for me mostly had to do with the drinking fountains and/or bathrooms) SAMOHI is, or I guess now was, a perfect school for my development as a person and (I hope) a thinker. I sat on the bench on the SAMOHI soccer team for two years, played in the wind ensemble and the jazz band, and laughed at the complete absurdity of BC Calculus, my ultimate battle with mathematics.

I got to take Mr. Blatz's "Bible As Literature" course, which was the best class ever and there were many other great classes and wonderful opportunities in my four years at SAMO. But there were also a surprising number of meaningless classes.

It was only during my last few months at SAMO that I realized there was a single simple criterion to determine whether I liked a class and, more important, whether I learned in it. What mattered was how the teacher dealt with us, the students. What mattered was whether our teacher treated us as intellectual equals -- or if not as equals, then at least as people who could someday be equals.

Two of my classes this year reflect how teachers could be good or bad. One teacher taught that BC Calculus course I mentioned before. Calculus was a subject that I should have detested, and this teacher broke my 4.0 by giving me an 89% -- theoretically ruining my life. He was the hardest teacher I ever had and taught the hardest class I ever took.

Another class of mine was one that, considering my interests, should have been a natural fit. It was a subject matter I enjoyed, one that I had read books about, and one that I had gone out of my way to take. I got an easy A, and managed to argue myself out of most homework.

The thing was, I hated that second class. I sat there every day, more focused on the girls who sat around me than on the minutia that we went over on the board. There was no challenge. The teacher would accede to pretty much anything to win what he felt was love from his students, but he didn't persuade us that he knew well or cared about his subject. In the end there was no respect for us and we had no respect for him.

But my calculus teacher was a rock. His response to any questioning, arguing, or begging in regards to his precise grading scales was a bemused eyebrow raise. There was little compassion and no pandering. However, he loved his subject and knew it better than anyone could hope, and he wanted us to understand it, too. There was never a question too inane (some from me), nor a point that couldn't be investigated further.

Calculus wasn't a class I was supposed to enjoy or do well in; in fact I entered it last September with dread. But I loved the course.

What I learned this year was more than how to find the volume of an irregular solid. It was even more than the Latin conjugations and biblical factoids I picked up. I learned something about teaching and learning and maybe life in general.

The easy way out didn't help me. I was presented with two differing views of school -- one where no student is left behind to get a bad grade and the one where every student must work to get a good one. I didn't get all As this year, which was a first for me. But I learned a lot more in the class I got a B in than I learned in any of the classes where my teachers cared more about making us students happy than what they were teaching.

The past thirteen years left me with some knowledge of both the real world and the world of books. The opportunities given to me by my many excellent teachers, by the band program and the school system as a whole are immeasurable. However, it was only at the end of the journey that I realized that both knowledge and the enjoyment of learning come with respect earned on both sides of the teacher's desk


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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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