Earlier this week, there was a minor bruhaha about whether Barack Obama had plagiarized a speech by the governor of Massachusetts. Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion on this matter – seems like it could be a political blame game or a staffer mistake or any number of blurry-lined issues related to campaign politics. But the story did bring me back to sophomore year in high school…never really a good place to go, is it?
During World History class, Ms. Jones assigned us a research paper that was fairly open ended. We had to compare, I believe, something we were studying in class with its modern equivalent and explore how the ancient was influencing the present. My dad is a residential designer, so architecture was a natural fit for me. I loved flipping through his architecture books and started to notice some similarities between the medieval architecture we were studying and some of the Frank Lloyd Wright photos that filled my father’s office.
I set about researching and writing an extensive paper on this subject. I was so proud presenting it to my dad the night before turning it in. He provided me the books and resources, but stayed out of the analysis, encouraging me to come to my own conclusions. When he finished reading it, he laughed. He said that Frank Lloyd Wright would certainly not approve of my paper since he felt his design was unique, organic and from the landscape – not influenced by the stuffy, classical architecture of Europe. And honestly, it was that attitude that allowed FLW to truly change the face of American architecture…
But that’s neither here nor there.
When our graded papers were finally handed back, I was so excited. That was short-lived when I saw my very low B at the top of my paper. I immediately went to Ms. Jones to see where I had failed. She indicated that these ideas were certainly not my own. I asked for the opportunity to prove myself and arrived at school the next day with every last book I used for my paper, pages marked where I had compared photos or concepts and asked her to revisit my paper. She ended up raising my grade to a high B, but told me she still didn’t believe that I could write such a good paper.
WHAT?! So much for being rewarded for hard work and perseverance and talent.
This whole experience is still a sensitive subject for me (obviously!). I kept that paper and found it a few years ago when we were moving. I sat and reread it amongst all the boxes and damn if it wasn’t still a great paper. Still deserves to be an A. But I learned probably more from that one paper than anything else in that whole year of World History. I learned how to think for myself and defend my ideas when they were under attack. I learned the bitter taste of low expectations. I learned that there are some people you just can’t please. I learned that maybe I was a pretty good writer.
And I learned the importance of respect. Ms. Jones lost mine. But I gained a little bit more respect for myself. I guess for that, I have to thank her.