I mentioned in one of my earlier posts
that I used to skip high school to hang out in the aisles and coffee shop at Powell's. It's true. My freshman year (at Lincoln High School, for those interested), I got less than a 1.0 grade point average because I was busy wandering the aisles reading books at Powell's and hanging out with friends in coffee shops and Forest Park.
But mostly I was busy pretending to be a student at Metropolitan Learning Center (aka: MLC). All of my friends went to MLC and I fit in better there than at my own school — MLC didn't give grades, students got to design courses for themselves, teachers went by their first names, we sat on the floor instead of lined up in desks, and we read books like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States instead of a traditional history books. The only problem was that I didn't get credit for classes at MLC freshman year because I wasn't enrolled there.
After failing my first year, I officially transferred to MLC and started designing a curriculum for myself. Since I knew without a doubt that I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up (so much for certainty), I arranged to take some pre-vet courses at the local community college for high school credit to help make up for the credits I'd missed my first year.
I posted the other day about how I first learned about Henrietta Lacks (who I'd eventually write this book about) while sitting in a PCC biology class when I was 16... well, I was in that classroom because I'd flunked my first year of high school and was lucky enough to find an alternative school that gave me the freedom to follow my curiosity wherever it took me.
After learning about HeLa cells, I became obsessed with them. As part of that obsession, I spent a lot of time back in those aisles at Powell's, reading about cells. It was there that I discovered Lewis Thomas and The Lives of a Cell, the first science book that truly inspired me and showed me that science writing was an art. Now, thinking back on it, I'm wishing I'd designed a course for myself called The Aisles at Powell's. I'm sure my teachers at MLC would have gone for it. In fact, maybe they'd like to do such a thing now... it turns out students can find more than information there. They can also find themselves.