A letter from the school counselor

Country Roads

While shuffling through some of my old school papers, proudly saved by my mother over the years, I came across a document that shocked me. It was a letter to my parents from the school counselor and dated April 8, 1954. I was a kindergartener at that time.

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Huisman,” the letter began, “I am writing to you with deep concerns about your son, Arvid.” I had never seen this letter before.

The letter continued, “Your son was referred to me by his teacher who is concerned about several matters.” SEVERAL matters, even!

“Your son is a square peg in a round peg world.” Tell me something I don’t already know!

“His teacher and I are concerned with your son’s preoccupation with food. At about 10 a.m. each school day, he begins asking his teacher, ‘How much longer until lunch time?'”

Well, I do remember that I was always hungry in school, but when I read the next line I was surprised: “Arvid repeats this question about every five minutes until we dismiss for lunch.”

I was unsettled by the next line: “We are especially concerned with this preoccupation in light of your son’s size. Goodness gracious, he is already larger than any of the other children in his class; and I don’t just mean taller.”

Baloney, my mother said I had a large bone structure.

Then the counselor commented on my academic progress. “Your son is doing acceptable (though not stellar) work in the classroom but we are concerned with his participation in music class. Your son loves to sing but he sings with such enthusiasm and volume he drowns out his classmates. If his inability to carry a tune isn’t bad enough, he has no sense of rhythm. Our music teacher said he makes teaching the other students impossible. We finally sent him to the hot lunch kitchen during music class but when the class was over we couldn’t get him back to the classroom.”

The dig about my singing was bad enough but the guidance counselor’s tone got personal. “We are also concerned about your family’s patriotism. On occasion, when angered about some issue your son shouts in a strange language we don’t understand. You live in America, Mr. and Mrs. Huisman, and you should be teaching your son to speak English.”

Strange language? That was Low German. I grew up with it and figured I couldn’t get in trouble for naughty words spoken in Low German.

The letter continued, “When reprimanded for a foreign language outburst you son said something to a playground teacher who had served as an Army nurse in Europe a decade ago. She thought it sounded like he said, ‘You can kiss my…’ but she couldn’t determine the final word. From his tone, we can assume it wasn’t nice.”

The letter writer found even more with which to slander me. “You are probably aware that your son is a story teller. We are concerned that his stories may not always be factual. During a recent ‘show and tell’ session he told his classmates that his parents made him eat a quart of ice cream every night before he went to bed. We assume this was one of his frequent prevarications.”

I remember that incident. That was no prevarication. That was a fantasy of mine! Geesh, educators need to allow kids to dream once in a while.

There seemed to be no end to the accusations. “We are also concerned about your son’s lack of ambition. As soon as his teacher begins telling the kindergarteners to prepare for nap time, your son has laid out his nap pad and is on the floor pretending to snore.”

Okay, I loved nap time. What can I say?

I confess I was disturbed to find this nearly 65-year-old letter and wondered why my parents never shared it with me. At the same time, I acknowledge that the counselors concerns were not unfounded. Even today I struggle with these issues. It isn’t easy to be a square peg in a round peg world.

I was working up a good mad head and then… I woke up!

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