The moment I realized I was a conservative, and not a socialist or communist, goes back to before I was even truly aware of political beliefs and the role of government in my country. It goes back to sixth grade. I remember exactly when it happened. Here’s the true story.
My parents had moved the year before and my new school was different. Unlike my old school, the kids at this new school were very worldly. They talked about sex, wore bras, and cursed. I didn’t fit in. Not only was I still considered one of the new kids a year later, I was also the shy, quiet, geeky kid without designer jeans who played in the band and was in the gifted program. It was pretty inevitable that I was socially grouped (against my will) into the nerd group.
My best friend was another of the shy, quiet, geeky kids without designer jeans. We hung with the other gifted kids. We were a lot like the guys on The Big Bang Theory only we were about 20 years younger. The other kids didn’t hate us. We just weren’t cool enough for them and, let’s be honest, we didn’t fit in with them as well as we fit in with each other. The cool kids usually kept their distance from us nerds.
That was, until the dreaded sixth grade group project was assigned. Normally, when the teacher asked us to pair up for classroom activities, everyone picked a friend. Naturally, us geek types would search each other out and become a formidable force. We knew, particularly when paired up, we would be getting a good grade. The annual sixth grade group project didn’t work that way. The teachers grouped us into teams of four. This was when the cool kids suddenly started sucking up to and befriending the nerds.
Us gifted, geeky, nerdy kids were parsed out and distributed. The teachers did their best to make sure each team had a nice “distribution” of intellect on each team. I don’t know if the teachers tried to hide it, but it was so obvious. Each team had one of the gifted kids, two of the average kids, and one of the kids who could probably benefit from revisiting 1st grade even though he or she was 11 or 12 years old.
My team was set, there were four of us. Two boys and two girls. The group project was to pick a subject; thoroughly research it; and then write a paper, do something artistic (like paint a picture, do a diorama, sculpt a figure), and do a presentation. Instead of loving this, this was the project all the nerds hated. This project would be a huge amount of our grade and we were all graded as a team. There were no individual grades. We would all receive the same grade based upon the quality of our projects. Shit.
I can still see the four of us sitting at this blond wood table near the railing overlooking the library below. Three of the cool kids and me, the token nerd. The first thing we had to do was pick a subject. I argued for something interesting and easy for all of us to do well, like a historical figure, a historic event, or perhaps an artist or musician. Unfortunately, I was the nerdy one. The other three were in the “in crowd”. They immediately joined forces, ignored me, and decided on the perfect subject: FOOTBALL! What the hell?
They said they took a vote and it was three to one in favor of football. I didn’t even know there was a vote. Fine, whatever, we’ll go with football. I knew there was zero chance of convincing them otherwise. At this point, one of the guys decided to be the team leader. Apparently, that had been decided with another secret vote. I recommended we all break out the three major things we had to do (paper, presentation, and artistic item) but also divide up the research tasks. The guy who declared himself the group leader took a different approach. I was given the task of doing all the research and they would divide up the paper, presentation, and art project.
Great, the geek gets the boring part. Fine, at least I knew I could shape the content of our project by doing the research. We were all still sitting around the table when they told me to let them know when I was done with my part so they could start theirs. I argued again about how we should all be doing the research so it would go faster. They disagreed. Still, I wanted a good grade on this so I threw myself into the research. I left those three asshats sitting at that table while I went to the library downstairs and started pulling books about football. I later told my teacher about the imbalance and she said it was democracy in action. Democracy in action, my ass, I thought to myself.
Over the next few weeks, I kept asking my team how they were preparing for their sections based upon the research I was pulling and giving to them. They kept telling me how they’d start their parts when I finished mine. All the while I’m really starting to panic over our possible grade. At our group meeting right after I finished my research, I handed over the final copies of what I had found. I was exhausted. I had done some fine research. I had gone to several libraries, read several books, cracked open numerous encyclopedias, watched movies, etc. I had enough history, photos, quotes, biographies, auto biographies, and other materials to sink a football stadium. These three kids had more than enough to write a doctoral dissertation, create a three-hour documentary, and erect a 50 foot diorama.
Instead, the leader looked at me and asked me which of the three big items I wanted to work on. Flabbergasted, I told them I did all the research so I thought I was done. They all said, that wasn’t fair. Fair my ass. Then it hit me. If I let them go it alone I was looking at nothing better than a C for a grade. I had no choice. If I wanted a snowball’s chance in hell of getting an A, I had to keep working. So, I offered to pair up with the one guy to write the paper. While this lazy ass sat there playing tabletop football with one of those folded paper triangles, I wrote the outline, listed some key footnotes, and handed it over. I told him to take what I had given him, write the paper, and then give it to me so I could edit it. I got the paper back the following week. He handed me three written pages, double spaced, and it was all about the Redskins. I could have saved my teacher the effort and scratched out a big, huge F at the top. I told him to try harder. He refused. I rewrote the entire paper all by myself.
The girl who was supposed to do the presentation had put together about 10 index cards. She showed us her 2 minute presentation and it was laughable. She wasn’t a dumb person, she just played one to make sure she stayed in the cool group and kept the attention of the boys. Later, she actually apologized to me and admitted she could have done a lot more. I added another 30-40 index cards and also drew some visuals for use during the presentation.
The other guy, the one doing the “artistic” item actually had a pretty decent model of a football stadium. Half of it looked like an old stadium and half of it looked like a modern stadium. The intent was to show how things had changed over time. It was actually pretty cool. It also had “parental involvement” written all over it. I knew he probably didn’t do more than 10% of the entire model, but I didn’t care. At this point, I was just glad I didn’t have to do it myself.
The big day came. We handed in the paper (which I pretty much wrote entirely by myself), we gave the presentation (which I pretty much wrote entirely by myself with the visuals I created entirely by myself), and we handed in the stadium (which the one guy’s mother obviously did for him). Our final grade? An A. I did almost everything while they hung out talking, playing table top football, and watching me work. Yet, in the end we all received the same grade even though they all deserved an F.
That was the moment I cemented my conservatism. I decided: the students out there busting their asses to EARN an A shouldn’t have to share that grade with the ones who don’t even try. My three team members were like a bunch of lazy socialists/communists, sitting there on their butts waiting to redistribute my good grade. Particularly the self-proclaimed “leader” who assigned me most of the work. I probably put in well over 200 hours on that project and the others probably put in about 4 each (outside of their hanging out during our teacher-mandated team meetings). I swore I would never, ever tolerate something like that ever again. I remember my teacher complimenting my group on our great team work and our fantastic project. She knew damn well I did most of the work yet she never said a word. My three lazy teammates never even said thank you. Apparently, my teacher was a socialist.
Notes about me:
I am a life long conservative. I despise socialism and communism in all its forms. I detest wealth redistribution and I hate the concept of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” I still refuse to do group projects.