Ninth grade in the American system of education is the ninth full year of schooling. Most ninth graders are 14 to 15 years old. I believe it is what the British call “fourth form”. In some towns it is the first year of high school, making ninth graders “high school freshmen”. In some towns it is the last year of middle school.
The sort of things I learned in ninth grade:
- second-year Spanish
- how to write a report
- how people in other countries live day to day
- earth science
- how the inside of an atom works
- the geometry of Descartes
- how to figure out two unknown numbers at the same time
Ninth grade was the first time in my life when one day seemed liked the next. I can still remember when it first struck me: I was walking up the steps to go to Spanish. It was a dark winter’s morning.
Looking at my parents and the other old people over 21 who lived in the Real World, a dread sank into my heart. Was the rest of my life going to be like this? It was a fear that remained with me in one form or another till I got my university degree and went to live in the Real World.
Ninth grade was easy for me. Too easy. On top of that, much of what we were learning seemed pointless. “Who uses this in the real world?” I kept asking. Like we learned that in Swaziland the way to get a good wife was to own a lot of cows.
Yes, I was young. I did not understand that America and Swaziland were much the same once you got past the cows.
One teacher recognized that someone like me could give up on school and become a full-time troublemaker.
So on the first day he gave us the final test. I and a few others passed! He told us we did not have to come and hear him teach what we already knew. Instead we could go to the library and do a report on whatever we wanted. I did a report on television violence.
I wrote two other reports that I still remember: one on the ancient Phoenicians and another on Afghanistan.
Looking back, our teachers were young, most in their twenties. Of course at the time they seemed ancient. When our English teacher told us that she was becoming old at 28, we thought she was already old at 27.
I had no girlfriend. I was too geeky for that. I mean, I read Asimov, for goodness sake. But since those were morally weak times, it did me more good than harm.
Knowing what I know now, I would tell ninth-grade self do not be concerned about the girlfriend bit: there is no law saying you have to marry by tenth grade. And, sure, a lot of what you learn seems pointless, but you need it to go to university and get a degree so that you do not get stuck doing something where every day really will be the same as the next.