I was fortunate to be able to go to a small private school located in an old mansion with lovely grounds. I had gone to the kindergarten in a small, separate building built especially for that purpose. Now I was excited to be in first grade, going to the real school with the big kids. Because the school was in a nearby town, and my dad needed our only automobile, my parents paid for me to ride with others in an old station wagon driven by the school custodian, Mr. Clews.
There was plenty of room on the grounds of the school for swings, seesaws, and a large wooden slide that was packed with snow for sledding in the winter. As well there were places to play hide and seek. All this surrounded a large white building at least three stories high with four columns in the front.
There were long granite steps going up to an impressive front door that opened onto a grand hall with a double staircase curving down on either side of the central fireplace. The principal’s office was in a small room on the right of the door. The secretary’s office with the small school library was on the left.
While at five I was a bit young for my class, I was excited and happy to be learning to read and write. In my small school the first grade was made up of perhaps ten or twelve boys and girls. I can still see the classroom: the desks, in rows of three across and four down were made all in one piece. They were green metal with light brown, slightly curved plywood seats.
High on the walls were long black cardboard strips of the alphabet and the numbers one to nine. There was a green blackboard, and there were two large windows on one side of the room. We learned to read from small boring books about children called Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. We were also given arithmetic workbooks. When I looked at mine I noticed that a mistake had been made and with all of my five-year-old diligence I set out to correct it.
As I looked at the workbook and judged from what I had learned so far, I saw that on pages later in it, something had been left out: the long part of all the plus signs. I took it upon my self to correct these incorrect plus signs, carefully crossing them one by one with my pencil. Unbeknownst to me they were not supposed to be plus signs. I had not yet learned about subtraction, only addition. To my dismay when we got to those pages I had a lot of erasing to do.
This may have been my first introduction to what can happen when I act on an assumption rather than from actual knowledge or understanding. It certainly wasn’t my last. All my life I have had to deal with my tendency to leap to conclusions without looking carefully where I might land. However, as I got to know myself better, watching for this tendency has been helpful in training my mind to pay attention. The problem with assumptions is that once one discovers one has messed up one must invariably clean up the mess.