FROGS In FORMALDEHYDE
[Essay written for the book "Celtic Pride Inside", edited by Katie Storms. Contact email@example.com if interested in this book]
The reason I went to Archbishop O'Hara High School is that their school had frogs in formaldehyde and mine did not. I attended St. John's Seminary for high school from 1967-1971. But we had no biology lab to speak of. We had a cool gym, a neat chapel, nearly private sleeping quarters, an OK dining room, spacious desks, ample fields for running and playing, and a moldy chemistry lab. But O'Hara High had opened recently with, among other things, a way cool biology lab.
The decision to send St. John's juniors to O'Hara for one class still amazes me. It had to cost the school and the diocese a lot of time and money to make this happen. Twice a week the junior class filed into a school bus that drove us from 72nd Street near The Paseo, over to Gregory, through Swope Park, up Oldham Road and then around to O'Hara. We stayed for the length of one class. Then we took the bus back to St. John's. We're not talking a lot of people here. Maybe 15. We didn't exactly fill a school bus. But for some reason the school's administration decided it was better for us to learn biology somewhere else.
Going to an all boys school, we started to observe a different kind of biology at O'Hara. But we had to look quick if we wanted to see any girls our age. When the bus dropped us off we walked straight to our classroom where we assembled alone. No O'Hara girls took the course with us. Then when class ended we walked directly back to the bus. We just didn't have much time to say hello, much less learn a name or exchange a phone number with anyone who went to school there.
The bus ride had all the excitement of 15 high school junior boys riding a school bus. Our driver was an expressionless, shapeless, middle-aged woman who kept to herself most of the time. She never had much to say to us. We were only interested in ourselves anyway. The most entertaining moment on the ride was passing the construction on Oldham Road. The more street-savvy guys in the class knew what was going up. But even when they told me it was an overpass for the new I-435, I had no concept about what that road would come to mean when it opened.
Biology was not my favorite subject. It wasn't the teacher's fault. Mr. Joe Long. He was kind, quiet, young, and knowledgeable. He took us through the classes and taught us what we needed to know. But he didn't smile much. I guess most people didn't know what to do with us. One of my classmates used to say goodbye to him at the end of the day. Of course we were supposed to call him "Mr. Long," but my friend used to call out "Joe Long" with the inflection of "So long" -- hoping no one would notice. No, hoping everyone would notice.
We had to perform three experiments that semester in the biology class. We had to look at our own hair through a microscope, hatch a chicken egg, and dissect a frog. Oh, we studied a lot of other things, but we could have done that at St. John's. O'Hara, though, O'Hara had this lab. Hair looked like anything but hair under a microscope. The eggs never hatched. (Not just mine. Nobody got an egg to hatch.) And then we had to dissect the frog.
I did not look forward to the frog. I knew the frog was dead. I knew it couldn't fight back. I knew it was not morally irresponsible to cut open a dead frog. In fact, it even had some educational merit. But the whole idea just grossed me out. I mean, frogs are disgusting enough on the outside. Who wants to look inside?
All my classmates, that's who. They couldn't wait for the climax of the semester when we cut open our frogs. Mine was forgiving. It was over rather quickly. I saw what I needed to see and ended the lesson. I haven't dissected a frog since.
Sometimes I joke that I'm an O'Hara alumnus. And I am in a way. It's not like I went to school there for four years or even one. I took just one class. A biology class. With Joe Long. The rest of the time I spent at St. John's Seminary, a good school where I made a lot of friends, learned a lot about life, developed my talents, and deepened my love for God. Students there lived a good life, even though most people just looked at us like frogs in formaldehyde.