Apr 24, 2021Liked by Mara Wilson

Fourteen is definitely a difficult age at the best of times. I remember myself and a friend of mine patronising our English teacher when she asked us to analyse a painting. Thinking you’re so clever and witty...when really you’re just a couple of tits. “All out of ice lollies” ..so funny! 😂

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I attended a progressive public school in Green Bay. It's a shadow of its former self because of the testing addiction plaguing educational policymakers. Back in the day, Aldo was controversial among locals because of "self-directed learning." Critics thought this was a polite way of saying the teachers let us run wild. Supporters (myself included) knew that this meant we were the real life version of Ravenclaw House. ::Luna Lovegood face::

Free example: when we were in fifth grade, this one girl in my class taught herself conversational ASL out of a textbook, during a "self-directed study" period. In about a month, she had taught her clique of girlfriends the ASL alphabet so they also had it memorized. The rest of the year, our homeroom teacher would be lecturing us about banned books and authoritarian censorship of literature, but this girl was never listening. Instead of passing notes or whispering, she had her hand in the air, high enough for other students to see, but low enough to escape the teachers' notice. The girl would sign secret messages to her mob enforcers in each corner of the room. They would nod obediently at whatever she was saying.

The rest of us not in on the lingo figured she was gossiping about TV or shopping or crushes. But at the end of the year, we found out what all the signing amounted to: Sign Language Girl was discovered in the second floor restroom, surrounding by a phalanx of her handmaidens, setting fire to papers the clique had written on, in a metal trashcan.

A teacher passing in the hall noticed the plume of smoke curling under the crack beneath the door, and poked their head in to investigate.

Everybody involved, both the other girls and teachers who intervened at the last moment, agreed that the girl was the criminal mastermind of the operation. She had planned it out days and weeks in advance, entirely via ASL when she was supposed to be taking notes on book burnings.

This was why Sign Language Girl's accomplices each got suspended for a single day, but she was given a whole week. An early example of the consequence for abusing your unique powers.

The ending of the story is that the following year, we had the same homeroom teacher (it was a 5/6 combined room). She led our class in a readers' theater production of "The Hobbit" by Tolkien. Perhaps it is no wonder that she cast Sign Language Girl as Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon.

The teacher never mentioned her reasoning for the casting choice. It was only years later that I suddenly remembered the events in sequence, and reflected: that was probably not a coincidence.

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