IHP: Individualized Honors Program
Friday September 21st 2012, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Boozy,can't make that shit up,exit,memory,teaching Tags:

Fitz started it. 1973, it seems, give or take. I was there in the late 80s, give or take. The idea – that the time and talents of highly gifted junior high school students were being wasted. That 10, 11, and 12 year olds could do AP Physics, AP Chemistry, and some of them were up to AP Calculus. And you know what? We fucking were. I wasn’t the smartest person my year, which was an eye-opener. I had been, for all of my impossibly arrogant 10 or 11 years before. But E Hong, A Cohen, M Kauffman, maybe a few others, were smarter than me. Not always across the board, and I wasn’t always trying, which was part of the impossible look-ma-no-hands one-upsmandship: I got an A and I didn’t study; oh yeah? I got an A and I didn’t do any of the reading; oh yeah? I got an A and I don’t own the book.

I know the widow, as she’s been coming to West Coast U events for a number of years, and through the magic of facebook put things together. The daughter of a German mathematician (presumably Jewish) who fled Germany in the ’30s, a true intellectual. Someone interested in debate, discussion, the hard work of thinking.

IHP didn’t teach me to work, though that seems to have been the case for many others. It took me another decade or so, to finally meet someone who said “that’s nice that you’re smart, but that means nothing unless you also work.” I fell in love with her for telling me that, though as I look back, I still can’t explain how strong my feelings are at Fitz’s death. He was a _terrible_ teacher, in many ways. He simply chose to ignore the (many, many, and apparently quite consistent over several decades) shenanigans of incredibly-fucking-smart and finally-not-bored, but fuck-it-it’s-still-school-I’m-bored-on-principle, young teens. I cheated my way through 7th grade Algebra – I just copied my neighbor’s homework (in homeroom) and tests in class. Fitz can’t have been more than 3 feet from me busily copying all the answers, but he didn’t give a fuck. He knew I was sort of learning it, and sort of not, at my own pace. See that “individualized” bit? He really meant it. It’s how, presumably, he dreamt it up in the first place.

There’s a new book out on Highly Gifted/high achieving high schools – they’re a tiny minority in the country – Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, etc (as against private schools, which _offer_ similar programmes for those wealthy enough and smart enough to track into them). But, junior high? Walter Reed is fairly unusual on that front (Hopkins’ CTY being a nice companion program, really). Spending the community’s money on the best and brightest, rather than the most needy, has always been politically complicated. Ron Unz was there this evening, someone who lobbied to form North Hollywood High’s magnet program, the best the district managed as a local follow up to its otherwise terminal crown jewel.

It was OK to be precociously smart. It was OK to be a geek, 10-15 years before, culturally, geekness became an asset and an advantage. Fitz’s oversize glasses, the legacy of the 70s and an insouciant disregard for fashion before he married his 2nd wife shortly after I knew him – they’re hip, now. Fitz as hipster. Hipsters, who still suffer the impossible divide of our time – the admiration for success predicated upon talent plus work (sports, mostly, though some forms of entertainment) and the admiration for success predicated upon work, without regards to talent (everything else). For a few years, now, I’ve been wanting to write a piece on what should be the New Elitism: what the fuck ever happened to expertise. Reading a music-tech blog the other day, I saw a delightful takedown: summarized, “I post in my real name, I’ve worked in this industry for 30 years, I’ve written books on the subject, chill the fuck out.” The reply: “For all I know you might be a 12 year old,” says the otherwise anonymous, might as well be a 12 year old “my opinion is valid too.” Sure, you’re welcome to your opinion. It’s “valid”, inasmuch as that means anything. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AS GOOD, AS RIGHT, OR AS IMPORTANT AS MINE.

Get off my lawn? Maybe I’m just old. Or maybe my 7th and 8th grade math and physics teacher, who let me take his classes despite my being a bit borderline, and my never rewarding his respect by working to improve (that is to say, doing the fukcing homework) rather than merely working to stay afloat (the bare fucking minimum in the least amount of time…so I could? What the fuck did we do with all the time we had as teens?), was exceptional. Taught me something about why the exceptional mattered, and what to do with it, about it, for it. Had, and inculcated, civic-mindedness I wouldn’t understand for a decade. Made it OK to be different. Not bad for a man who snapped and clapped and shushed a classroom when writing on his overhead transparencies was obstructed.

I still don’t quite know why his death his hit me so. I passed the AP, and like to think I could pass his CP Snow test, that I can read and add, teach literature and (at one time, at least), solve differential equations and do some linear algebra. And got 5s on both the Mechanics and the Electro-Magnetism APs 3 and 4 years after I left his class – a lifetime gap in the short life of those years, damn near consecutive in hindsight from here. Individualized honors. Perhaps that, not just smart, but ourselves – that’s what he gave us permission to be.