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Back to School

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.

For years you get up at an ungodly hour and don’t even get a chance to read the paper. Plus, no coffee at all. Not. A. Drop.

You are then pushed out of your home and either driven to your “office-complex” by a cranky chauffeur with complete control over you, or you get to ride with a few dozen of your more-or-less peers with different ideas of hygiene and levels of intelligence in a shaking tin box with no seatbelts, driven by some of the least intelligent members of your community. I’d be a nervous wreck by the time I got to the office, I’ll tell you.

Once you do get to the office, your time to just goof off is extremely limited. No leisurely stints by the water cooler for you. No coffee cart with tasty pastries coming by after only an hour. Bladder issue? Raise your hand and get a note. Other than that you are never alone.

You get one break out in the dirt, with, I might add, still no coffee. A couple of hours later you get a quick hit of really bad food that is the same this Wednesday as it was last Wednesday. After that, it’s back to your office where they don’t even have a little cube for you, but slam you together with 15 to 30 other slaves to the clock in a room fit only for 10.

In some huge gesture to your youth, they let you out of this joint at 3 in the afternoon. They tell you it’s a “school day,” but if you’ve been up since 7 and out at three, that’s a full eight hours in my book.

Oh, and no chatting with your friends. Yes, you, pipe down. If not it’s off to the CEO’s antechamber for a quick and humiliating performance review. Daily if you don’t snap out of it. If you really don’t snap out of it, we’re calling your father AND your mother to come here from work right now.

Perhaps you get to enjoy the mastery of your skills? Don’t make me laugh. Master one thing and boom here comes another.

Comprehend fractions? That was so last week. Now do long division. Made a volcano that blew up on cue last week? Big deal. This week you are going to construct an Algonquin winter lodge diorama from scratch — and it better have plenty of cotton balls for snow.

One o’clock. Your project for this hour is the basic structure of the cell. Okay, two o’clock, everybody stand up and turn to the person next to them and say, “Hola, como se llama…”

Day in day out, week in week out, year in year out … you trudge off to this room crammed to the brim with bird’s nests, flash cards, trilobites, pilgrim hats, Indian headdresses, drawings and paintings in which the proportion of the head to the body is never right, but looks for all the world like an exhibit by demented Fauvists with no drawing skills whatsoever and a very garish color sense. Twice a day, everybody in this room is let out. Is it any wonder they run screaming into the sunshine?

You have no veto whatsoever over your co-workers, your working conditions, your hours, or your choice of when to do what tasks. Everyone does the same tasks at the same time for 55 minutes and then it is on to something new.

Did I mention the fact that you can’t quit? If you try to quit they send the Gestapo to your home and track you down and haul you back.

There is, however, judgment. Oh, the judgment. Constantly tested. Constantly graded. Constantly up for criticism with your single allowable plea being, “Guilty. But with an explanation.” It’s like an annual review every week with no raises, ever.

And nothing, nothing you do, is ever quite good enough, is it? Except for that four-eyes up in the front row who always gets it done perfectly. No mistakes ever. You know, the kid who will be pantsed and then smothered with 30 co-workers backpacks out behind the backstop one rainy afternoon.

By the fifth grade, you’ve been in this dead-end job for about seven years. If you’re lucky, your pay has gone from a dollar to ten dollars a week. Get straight A’s and you might get a bonus of one day at the local “Magic Kingdom.” Then it’s, “Okay, break’s over. Everybody back on their heads.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst jobs in the world. In fact, the more I think about it the more I want to lie down with that kid in the middle of the living room and say, “I just can’t do it anymore either.”

It took me about 30 years to get to that point. I guess I’m not as smart as I was in the fifth grade. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Alert the Authorities!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • H August 16, 2018, 2:51 AM

    And, it’s about to get much worse. Just around the corner is the tyranny of high school cliques and the discovery that gurls have the power to make your life completely miserable in ways you will never master or understand.

  • ghostsniper August 16, 2018, 4:44 AM

    Eternal prison for many.
    Go to school for 12 years, pay for it for the rest of your life.
    democrats and republicans never break free
    they’ve been conditioned to the noose

  • Phillipa Crawford August 16, 2018, 5:14 AM

    Well that was funny, and depressing.

  • Fred August 16, 2018, 5:50 AM

    Can you imagine an entire society, a self proclaimed free people sending their children to compulsory government indoctrination centers all day, every day. I got out as soon as I could and never went back. Prison compounds don’t work for me. Pity really, they told me I was quite bright but they never made the connection to my refusal to comply. Such are socialists and other busy bodies everywhere. It’s been harder, of that I’m certain, without the government stamp of approval for my compliance but it’s been worth all the hard work and effort to educate myself instead.

    From the Dept. of Education on down, hanged from the neck until dead, every last one.

  • Larry Geiger August 16, 2018, 6:12 AM

    Well, you see, this child is bright. He’s going to go far. The reason is that he has somehow reasoned that there might be an alternative. Even if it’s just lying on the floor. This never occurred to me. It’s just what you did. Get up, eat breakfast, get on your bicycle and pedal madly to the schoolhouse.

    Only we had 3 recesses a day. Not a very progressive school. We had a library and I read through it in six years. They had food for lunch in the cafeteria that you didn’t have to prepare yourself. What a concept. Only thing that I would have changed would be cushions on those hard wooden seats. After lunch we pulled out our mats and took a nap. First and Second grades had naps every day. There was no kindergarten so we all started at first grade. Only Monica and Debbie could already the read the encyclopedia when they got there. They were so cool. See Dick run. See Jane and Spot. And no A/C. School in September in Florida was very languid.

  • Nunnya Bidnez, jr August 16, 2018, 7:02 AM

    …20 years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift..
    Look out kid, they keep it all hid…

  • Marica August 16, 2018, 7:43 AM

    And God forbid that Dad gets promoted– and transferred– and you get to be the New Kid. Five times.

  • pbird August 16, 2018, 9:17 AM

    Speaking of other kids and how passive they were…on the last day of high school, after I had survived the whole nightmare because that is what you did, they had my whole graduating class climb back up onto a school bus to go BACK up to the high school after our senior party.
    I was the only kid out of 200 or so who did not climb back up on the school bus. lol. Buncha goobers, including all the socialites and hot kids. They sat there looking out of the windows of the school bus just like kindergarteners.

  • Monty James August 16, 2018, 9:34 AM

    This is one of my favorites.

  • steve walsh August 16, 2018, 10:33 AM

    Some, like John Lennon, having been saying something similar for awhile now.

    Working Class Hero
    As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
    By giving you no time instead of it all
    Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
    A working class hero is something to be

    They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
    They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
    Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
    A working class hero is something to be

    When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
    Then they expect you to pick a career
    When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
    A working class hero is something to be

    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
    But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
    A working class hero is something to be

    There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
    But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
    If you want to be like the folks on the hill
    A working class hero is something to be

    If you want to be a hero well just follow me

  • K Jimenez August 16, 2018, 8:41 PM

    Oh yes. I was that kid. Dropped out in 10th grade. Did a couple of years of college but quit that too even though they wanted to give me a scholarship. I let my children drop out at various stages along the way. All three are out of the house, happily married and some have children. All of them have gone to college as needed. No one lives in moms basement. It’s just my husband of 38 years and me left. We are self employed and have been for years now. We both came from poor families. We did it anyway. Funny but I’m not at all ambitious. Contrary would be a more appropriate word. God is good.

  • Leo August 17, 2018, 8:02 AM

    Check out John Taylor Gatto

  • Jewel August 17, 2018, 10:35 AM

    Dearest H. It is already so much worse than we in our dotage can even begin to imagine.
    Look at the above photo of faggish, social juicebox warriors holding up their wee baby fists…Soyapaloozers and incels all. Disposables. They escaped the abortionist’s scalpel and vacuum only to be made into perpetual infants by their parents and educatrices.
    The worse to come arrived quite a while ago. Now, kindergarteners will be forced into the charnel house with the trannies until the shock wears off and it becomes normal.
    Children who seek to flee the prisoner factory are sane for but one brief and shining moment. They soon become depressed And resigned. And then they go to the university schoolag in order to embrace their slavery with enraged joy. I think fire is the only cleansing agent capable of ending the cancer and scourge of public education.
    The horrors of girls and cliques which boys once understood as a rite of passage in difficult and awkward adolescence has been eclipsed by them having to confront walls of screaming boy hatred from the girls and predatory lust from the faggotized boys.
    We send our kids into minefields with keys around their necks hoping they don’t blow up and wonder why they hate school.

  • Jeffersonian August 17, 2018, 7:07 PM

    I loved the “back on your heads reference”. I say that in my head at least once a week. And I actually like my job. And most of my co-workers. Grade and high school really did suck tho’.

  • Linda Fox August 18, 2018, 12:06 PM

    Every year, I used to tell my chemistry students:
    “They will tell you – these are the best days of your life.”
    “They lie. These are the worst. You have very little choice about the courses you take, none about who teaches you, or who your fellow students are, none about when you arrive, leave, or go to lunch.”
    “If you don’t like this place, you can’t leave. If you finally reach the age at which you can legally leave, they will call you a quitter. Year after year of it.”
    Then, to cheer them up, I added,
    “The rest of life is TOTALLY under your control. Where you live, where you work, who you associate with – you are in charge.”
    Being an adult is terrific.