Wednesday, August 16, 2006

School Daze

As summer ends and September nears, school bells start clanging in my ears. This annual cacophony – accompanied by an imagined aroma of pencil shavings, glued bookbindings, and musty classrooms -- is a relic of my youth that tempts me still.

Witness my current dilemma -- albeit a shift from traditional academics: Shall I enroll in Spanish 102 at Wright College, Inicial 4 at Cervantes, or self learn with Rocket Spanish CDs? Swim lessons at the East Bank Club or paddle the pool on my own? Music 105 at Wright, Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano alone on my Yamaha spinet, or hire a music student who swears she can teach me as well as the tot next door? Help!

The pathetic part of my perennial problem is that my three targeted subjects: Spanish, swimming, and piano, have been in my sights for years. I’ve stumbled through private and group lessons in each, and by now, you’d think I could habla español, crawl without fins, and play on tempo. Alas.

This trajectory of mine – a shot put of enthusiasm, followed by mediocrity, and ending with bailing – would surprise anyone who knew me as the ardent student of my various schools. Consider: I was teacher’s pet at Lafayette Grammar School, which is fully described in my memoir, “The Division Street Princess.” Gold stars, “E’s”, and praise graced each report card. At Roosevelt High, I excelled in English, was a member of the Student Council, and graduated in the upper 10 percent of my class. (Fortunately, we had multitudes, so there was plenty of room on the list for me.)

Members of Roosevelt High’s Class of June 1956 Student-Teacher Relations Committee: Row 2: Elaine Shapiro (me), Audrey Solomon, Dolores Isman, Joan Levin, Harriet Singer, and Alan Jacobs, Chairman.
Row 1: Kathryn Piazza.

Next came Roosevelt University where I majored in Education and wrote for the school newspaper. A part-time job to swing tuition barred college fun, but no matter, that didn’t sour me on higher ed. For in 1975 I enrolled in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s very first Masters in Urban Planning Program.

Although marriage, two children, and a freelance job writing newsletters for The Habitat Company tussled for my time -- and despite being older than my classmates and professors -- this two-year program was the highlight of my academic life. Imagine this Division Street kid -- who swoons at the word “urban” -- studying housing, healthcare, education, economic development, and social services. Intoxicating.

With degree in hand, my thirst for formal education ended and my quest for self-improvement stoked. Thus began the pursuit of my three suppressed desires noted earlier: to be a fluent Spanish speaker, an able swimmer (i.e. not drown), and an ivories tickler for the occasional group sing.

Lest you feel sympathy for my struggles, be assured I’m content with this annual fall folly. For if I had persevered -- if I could speak Spanish beyond the present tense, swim unworried in Lake Michigan, or play Rogers and Hart while pals bellow in the background, what then? What other September siren would lie in wait? Pilates? Parasailing? No, gracias, no.

Postscript: On August 11, “The Division Street Princess” and I were guests of the Good Timers Club at Lone Tree Manor in Niles, IL. That’s Marvin and Charlotte Levy (she is club president) pictured in the first photo below and Peter and Edna Schmelkin (event chairman) in the second photo. Many thanks to both couples for a delightful lunch and for recruiting more than 35 members to hear my friend Ruth Gilbert and I read passages from my memoir.

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