Yesterday I heard of a young mother who came downstairs early in the morning to find her fifth-grade son dressed for school but flat on his back in the middle of the living room staring in despair at the ceiling.
MOM: “What on Earth do you think you’re doing?”
BOY: “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t do it. I just can’t go to school anymore.”
We all know how that small strike ended. Management made an offer (“Go to school or else.”), and the union of one caved in with a few plaintive “But mom’s…. ”
I first thought that there was rough justice in that. After all, the thought of actually going on a ten-minute “I-won’t-go-to-school” strike never would have entered my ten-year-old mind. If it had I would not have heard the dreaded promise, “Wait until your father gets home.” No, I would have heard the thermonuclear announcement, “I’m calling your father at work and telling him to come home right now.” That one always alerted me that I had only one half-hour to get my affairs in order.
Today, after mulling the lie-down strike a little more, it seems to me there’s more than a little to be said on the side of the fifth-grader’s strike. After twenty years of schooling and more than thirty on the day shift, those early grades seem — looked at through society’s grubby glasses — to be an idyllic time. After all, weren’t they?
No real worries. No problems with the opposite or the same sex. No goals other than getting to Christmas break, Easter break or the long and endless summer. No money to make. No money, in fact, to speak of at all. All your expenses covered. No taxes. No sense of mortality. In short, the lost and golden land of childhood. We all think of it, once far removed from it, as some distant Edenic idyll.
School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin’ and ‘ritin‘ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
But if we try and shift our point of view a bit, and if we try to remember all those things the haze of our twice-told childhood fairy-tales hides from us, we might see it — just a bit and just for an instant — from the point of view of the fifth-grade boy flat on his back in the living room staring at the ceiling in utter despair.
Here he lays. He’s been going to this job of his for as long as he can remember. Unlike my experience which didn’t start until kindergarten, today’s boy has probably been working in the education industry since age 3.
They started him out on basic blocks and why he shouldn’t nail somebody who took his cookie. Those are hard lessons. How to stack something up so it doesn’t collapse in a heap at the first shudder in the earth. How to “share” your very limited and very personal resources. Why you don’t just whack anyone who irritates you with the nearest blunt object.
These are basic lessons, and we forget how hard they are. Some of us don’t learn them at all. Those people are either in prison, assembling bombs, or CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Still, that’s your entry level position in the educational-industrial complex. It’s all downhill from there. [click to continue…]