Provo, Utah. Freshman year. Stranger in a strange land.
My development as a youngster was slow physically, emotionally and developmentally. My best estimate is that I was three years behind my chronological age in those areas. Hence, I came to college having lived 17 years but with the sophistication and emotional maturation of a 14-year old. I was 5’11” tall and weighed 128 lb. soaking wet. My high school academic performance had been considerably less than stellar. The grading system of the Clairton School District gave percentages rather than letter grades. Any grade lower than 70 was considered failing. Conversely, in the west most schools graded using letter grades with A=90-100%, B= 80-89%, C= 70-79% and D= 60-69%.
Although the conversion table was printed on the high school transcript, my guess is that some inexperienced office aide converted my grades using the western system thus giving my overall grade point average a substantial boost. Despite the help of the grade conversion and letters from prominent Mormons in my hometown attesting to my fine character, I was still admitted into BYU only as a special student. My course load was part time (11 credits) including a two-hour non-credit course that was designed to teach me study skills. I’m sure I must have learned something in that course but I’m not sure it served as the basis to turn me from non-scholar to scholar. That task was to fall to two quirks of fate.
First, was my accidental discovery that learning is NOT one- size-fits-all. I barely graduated from high school and was admitted to college on academic probation. In order to select a major I was handed a college catalog and told to select anything “in heavy bold print.” I looked down the list: Bacteriology (no), Biology (no), Botany (no), English (no), and so on down the alphabet until I came to Psychology. I was unsure exactly what Psychology was, but I knew (or at least thought I knew) I’d be unable to compete in those other majors because of all the brainy kids from high school who were attending college and had done well in those classes. Psychology, however, was something nobody had taken in high school so at least we were on an even footing. That was my logic for selecting my major field of study.
My choice to major in Psychology proved to be fortuitous as I enrolled in a class entitled the Psychology of Learning during my freshman year. In that class I discovered the theory of left brain vs. right brain learning, and discovered that I found that as a right brain learner I processed information primarily through my ears rather than my eyes. Most of the population is made up of left brain learners so the system of education is set up by left brain learners for left brain learners. Hence, in high school the primary method of processing information was to read from a book and regurgitate the information that had been read. Since that was not my primary mode of learning I did poorly under that system. Further, I was just a fair reader at best. But in college, where the main delivery method (then at least) was lecture, I began to blossom. If a professor took the test directly from lectures I got an A. If he took it from the text (as I rarely cracked a textbook throughout college), I got a D or an F. (I often repeated those classes after sifting through various professors and sitting through a few of their classes to determine their teaching style, then seeing how they tested. I'd enroll in a course whose professor lectured and took his tests from the lecture). The process was a bit arduous but it did allow me to tailor the system of education to my method of learning.
As a bonus the Psychology Department at BYU was an excellent one with many young professors who lectured with vigor and published profusely. I took advantage two ways. First, the department-wide philosophy was to accept no paper that was not "publishable." If your paper did not meet standards it was not graded but returned to you after having been edited and suggestions made to make it closer to publishable manuscript quality. A rewrite and resubmission was required as often as needed. The professors were very patient in helping me and I seemed to be inclined to writing as my necessary rewrites became fewer and fewer. To further help develop my professional writing skills, I volunteered to help any professor who was doing research and closely observed their writing styles. The end result was that I learned to write in a professional style and learned more about writing professionally in my undergraduate experience than in any other setting including my own Doctoral program.
In high school I had been one of those kids whose every indicator suggested academic failure. I discovered that I am a right brain learner (and left handed to boot) in a left brain, right-handed world trying to function in an education system designed by left brains for left brains. Even after I caught on how to “play the system” the overall academic experience was not an easy one for me but I persevered.