Why Dolly Parton ‘Hated’ School: ‘I Wore Tight Clothes and Told Dirty Jokes’

Dolly Parton may be known as the Book Lady today, thanks to her work with The Imagination Library, but she wasn’t a fan of going to school when she was young. As is evident in her song, “Coat of Many Colors,” Parton didn’t always see eye to eye with her peers, and school wasn’t always an enjoyable experience.

When Parton was interviewed by Playboy in 1978, she spoke about her experience going to school while growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee.

Portrait of Dolly Parton at the Holiday Inn in Chicago, Illinois, April 30, 1977.
Dolly Parton, 1977 | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

What school was like for Dolly Parton in the mountains

The first school Parton attended was tucked away in the mountains in which she grew up. It was a long walk from her family’s cabin. The school was one room and taught first through eighth grade.

“Only like 10 or 15 people in the whole school and one teacher,” Parton told the magazine in 1978, according to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “The grades were in rows: There might be two kids in the first grade, three in the second, one in the third… and so the teacher would just take a chair and sit in the aisle and the other kids had to study.”

‘In the mountains, schoolin’ is not that important’

Parton was the first one in her family to go to high school.

“My daddy didn’t particularly want me to go to school, my momma didn’t care,” she said. “In the mountains, schoolin’ is not that important.”

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So why did Parton insist on getting an education?

“I wanted to finish high school just so I could say I did, because I knew I’d learn things there that I would probably need to know, because I had already decided I was going out into the world,” she said.

The “Jolene” singer wouldn’t classify herself as a “good student,” though she never failed a subject. She says she didn’t study and got by with her “own common sense.”

Even though Parton insisted on going to school, she didn’t enjoy the experience.

“I hated it,” she said. “Even to this day, when I see a school bus, it’s just depressing to me. I think, ‘Those poor little kids having to sit there in the summer days, staring out the window.’ It’s hot and sweaty in the schoolroom. It reminds me of every feelin’ and every emotion that I had in school.”

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While Parton hated school, she was well-liked by her peers (though she says for the “wrong” reasons).

“I was the most popular girl in school but in the wrong way,” she said. “I wore tight clothes and told dirty jokes.”

At the time, Parton said she’d hate to have to make her own children go to school.

“I know that sounds terrible,” she said. “A lot of people will say, ‘What a dumb person.’ I hated school every day I went, but it was better than stayin’ home every day. Momma was sick a lot; we had some real hard times.”