It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education – Albert Einstein

Excerpt from The Magic Barn-Growing up wild on a New England farm


In the Principal's Office painting by Je' Czaja
In the Principal’s Office
painting by Je’ Czaja

Kindergarten was heaven and our teacher, Mrs. Hennesy, was the sweetest lady ever. We finger-painted, made things out of clay, had snacks and went out for recess. I thought this was what school was like-imagine my shock when I went to first grade.

Now we had to sit (still!) in our hard seats all day, Alphabet glaring down at us like a Puritan preacher at Mardi Gras. The school year started out with a nice young teacher, but she left and then we got old lady Wilson.

“Czaja?” She asked when she did the roll call, “are you related to Joachim Czaja?” Uh oh, I had enough grief being related to my big brother, who had plowed his way through school three years ahead of me, what did Mrs. Wilson have against Pop? “That’s my Pop,” I answered quietly, to which she replied, “Humph!”

At home I asked Pop what Mrs. Wilson had on him. He got a big grin on his face and said she had once been his teacher! Good grief, how old was old lady Wilson? Did Pop bring a dinosaur to show and tell?

No, he had climbed up on the roof of the school house, which was heated with a wood stove, and stuffed rags in the chimney. Mrs. Wilson and her class were smoked out and she chased Pop through the snow and broke the heel off her shoe. She never forgave him. It was going to be a long year.

Early in the long year I figured out the trick of reading and decided that now that I knew that trick, I didn’t really need school any more. If I wanted to learn anything else I would just read about it. To relieve the painful boredom, I told jokes and entertained the class.

This got me sent to the principal’s office almost daily, which was better than being bored. Mr. Dustbin, as we called him, lectured me while I sat, hands folded, legs dangling off the too-big chair, looking downward. He probably thought I was hanging my head in shame but I was actually studying his white suede shoes. “Did he buy those on purpose? I wondered. “Maybe someone gave them to him and he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, so he wears them.”

Mr. Dustbin was a pretty nice guy actually, but his symbolic position as head jailer made him a prime target on Halloween. But that’s the next story.

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