The Day I Walked Out Of Class

In my freshman year I stayed in Stuart Hall and the sophomore year I stayed in Founders. For my junior year I wanted to live off campus in the student ghetto. For those not familiar, our house was typical. It was an older two story house which housed 6 people downstairs and 6 more upstairs. As I recall, rent was $50/month and we had to buy our own food, keep the house somewhat clean, handle the phone bills and so forth. My father wasn’t crazy about this but he said I could do it if I paid for it. In that year, I also got a partial scholarship because I was speaker of the Student Congress. So I was literally more invested in my education that year than I ever was before.
Since I was working on B.A. degree in Psychology, I had to take some required courses in Liberal Arts. One such class was taught by Anthony M. Dr. M fit into a stereotype of the professor who has an over abundance of arrogance. He won awards that might have been based more on his writings than his ability as a teacher. I certainly felt that teaching us was a real inconvenience for him.
One day, Dr. M says that he might not be at the next class and we should teach ourselves. Well, sure enough, he had something else better to do. The class, left to its own devices, waited 15 minutes and then left. The next time the class met, Dr. M gave the class a punish assignment. It didn’t take a lot of time for me to process this. I’m (finally) paying for my education and I’m getting a punish assignment because the teacher didn’t show. I picked up my books, refused to make eye contact, and walked out. No one followed me but that’s not surprising.
Now I have to jump ahead and behind at the same time. I hope I don’t lose you. 10 years after this event my father died. An old nun comes up to me at the funeral home and reminds me that she was my teacher in fifth grade. I remembered fifth grade very well. That year that nun handed out 49 punish assignments to the boys, 3 to the girls. You see, when people were talking she had trouble determining the individuals involved but she could tell it was the one sex or the other. So she saw no problem in assigning the punishment to one gender. So here she is at my father’s visitation telling me how much fun we had in fifth grade. I mumbled something about remembering a lot of punish assignments but she shrugged that off. Fact is, I’m 58 years old and still steamed about fifth grade.
So you can imagine that I’m still not happy what Dr. M. did to us. But it was too late in the semester to drop/add a class. So I did the assignment and returned to class the next time it met. Dr. M said something like “Good of you to join us, Mr. Kohlmiller”. I just smiled. I got a so-so grade in the class. Can’t blame Dr. M for that.
Looking back on it, it was a pretty bold move for me. And while I’m mostly result-oriented and my walkout had no result on the class, it had a result on me. It was my “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moment five years before Paddy Chayefsky and “Network”. And it has been a signpost for me as well. It tells me that some things that the “adults” told you might not be right no matter how old you get.
About once a month, I teach astronomy to a 6th grade class. They talk, a lot. But if the their teacher ever gives them a punish assignment, I’m walking out. And I won’t come back this time.

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