Do you know what I discovered this week along with the rest of the country? Ferguson, Missouri. I never heard of this town before, but like any decent human being, I am in pain for it and the family who lost their son. Even though my gut tells me that there is a racial component to this shooting (I am praying for peace and grace to envelope all the citizens in Ferguson), I am cautious as to the use of my limited platform to rile up my readers until I’ve heard all the facts. I am disinclined to believe all the details I’ve read thus far being promoted by the extremes of the media on both the right and the left side of the fence. I will not add insult to injury until the whole truth and nothing but the truth is revealed and confirmed. I owe the victim (Matthew Brown) as well as the police officer (Darren Wilson) that respect as human beings.
Consequently, I’ve decided to write on something completely innocuous this week that is a common denominator amongst most if not all Americans: going back to school. (I’m hoping a little levity might bring joy in the midst of these trying times as I connect the dots that show our commonality.) We all either have kids that we need to rip out of the throes of summer fun into the discipline of formalized school days, or we’re teachers, or we have grandkids, sisters and brothers, nieces, nephews, or cousins who are filing into classrooms all over the nation within the next two weeks with varying degrees of angst.
Used by permission: Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
I have been on all three sides of the “back to school” triangle as a teacher, a parent, and a student. If some well-meaning teacher asked me to do written assignments about my reentry into school throughout the years as all three of these actors, my essays would all be comedy pieces, because going back to school is a set-up for Saturday Night Live skits no matter what role you’re fulfilling in response to the brick and mortar places that shape one’s mind and destiny. Below are three essays (all true) as experienced by me in the roles of teacher, parent, and young student.
Used by permission: Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle
WRITING ASSIGMENT: BACK TO SCHOOL STORY AS A TEACHER
I was a music teacher for a few years in a private school and the worst class I ever had was made up of six 5th grade boys who would have preferred a year-long trip into Hell over participating in the learning of music theory. Even though this was a Christian school, I knew that I had my hands full the first week when the pastor’s son led four of the boys to try and get the sixth boy to drink his urine out of a soda bottle. After threatening to string them all up by their ears, I finally got them to settle down and start to learn an ascending and descending minor scale when urine boy (UB) raised his hand:
UB: Mrs. Tomczyk, I hate this. My pop-pop says I don’t need to learn no music theory ‘cause I’m a farmer’s boy, and learnin’ funny notes never harvested no plants. Pop-pop says I ain’t never gonna need this stuff in life.
TEACHER: Randy, Randy, Randy, where do I even begin: the use of the word “ain’t,” “stuff,” or your refusal to have your mind expanded. What if you’re meant to be a country music star? Don’t you think a little music theory might help? Think of notes as a farmer’s musical fruits—waiting to be plucked.
UB: My pop-pop says I can’t carry a tune, so yo’ class is a waste of time. Pop-pop says my talents are better suited for other things.
At that moment, in a closet-like interior classroom with no windows, six boys coordinated their farts to explode at the same time—continuously—for at least five minutes. (I swear it sounded as if they were farting in harmony, and the smell was as noxious as a sulfur plant.) Urine Boy had brought in containers of baked beans from his farm for each of the boys, and they concocted a plan to stuff themselves with the beans at the end of their lunch hour which was right before my class. As their little asses exploded over and over again, I had to evacuate the class and take them outside to finish the lesson. Of course, they were uncontrollable because every time I tried to seriously talk about half notes as nature’s musical fruits, they fell over in gales of laughter. Although two of them did grow up to be quasi-musicians, one became a juvenile delinquent, and two of them became leaders of a cult. I wonder if my lack of musical connection to their hearts had anything to do with their life choices—yet again, I was a very young, immature teacher, and I may have prayed a curse on their little asses for the year of Hell they put me through. (Just sayin’!)
I’m not going to lie—I was always glad when school started. I was never Miss Sesame Street as a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children more than life itself, but I could never have home-schooled them, of which they are eternally grateful. They knew my limitations as much as I did. They barely survived me as an ex-teacher/helicopter mom, as it was.
One of my children had trouble focusing when she was in middle school, and I was very concerned that she wouldn’t catch on to all the details of the various subjects being thrown at her. Her social studies teacher would complain that when my kid should have been concentrating on what was being lectured, as the teacher passed by my child’s desk on any given day, my urchin would whisper-shout something to the effect of:
“Psst, hey Mrs. Poindexter, how YOU doin’?”
[Or if my darling child was feeling especially talkative]
“I like your dress—Is that new? You’re lookin’ good today, with your bad self.”
This particular child was quickly getting on Mrs. Poindexter’s nerves and rising to the top of her shit list. So when a major social studies assignment was sent home (worth ¼ of my kid’s grade), I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for my very smart, albeit, chatty-Cathy kid to redeem herself with just a “tiny bit of help” from her ex-school-teacher mom.
Middle-School Homework Assignment
10 page report on Capitalism vs. Communism
Assignment turned in by kid with helicopter mom’s proud help: “The Integration and Rule of the Bolsheviks vs. the Robber Barons as Compared to the Bonobo Monkey Colonies . . .”
Teacher’s Grade and Comment: B+++++++++. “To the mother of my pupil, I have given you a B-plus times nine. One more ‘plus’ would have gotten you an ‘A’ if you had included a comparison to the government utilized on the Star Trek Enterprise.”
Helicopter Mom’s chagrined “sotto voce” reply: “Bitch!”
Used by permission: John Darkow, Columbia Daily-Tribune Missouri
WRITING ASSIGNMENT: BACK TO SCHOOL STORY AS A STUDENT (A HUNDRED YEARS AGO)
I loved school. I counted the days until I could return to school in order to escape the Hell I lived in as a child that is highlighted in my memoir Monsters’ Throwdown.
My kids had to be dragged back to school kicking and screaming.
I learned to love Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Harlem Renaissance writers, to name a few.
My kids learned how to take tests about Hamlet, David Copperfield, and Langston Hughes, to name a few.
I learned how to problem solve and strategically think in an inner-city school in the 60s.
My kids learned how to take tests in one of the best suburban schools in the nation and promptly forget what they learned while studying for the next set of tests. Memorize, test, and dump, memorize, test, and dump was their high school chant.
I learned how to absorb history and have it make an imprint on my psyche. I love history and I remember most of what I learned even though it was over fifty years ago. It is one of the reasons I was able to contextualize my memoir, Monsters’ Throwdown, into the timeline of the exciting history of the 60s and 70s without too much effort.
My kids learned to ignore anything about history that didn’t enable them to ace their AP History courses. They were considered honor-roll students by their school. I blame their teachers for teaching to the tests. I blame our Board of Education for putting that pressure on our teachers. My kids were taught to test well—not to learn. As an ex-teacher, I am in mourning for their lack of sustained knowledge.
Used by permission: Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com
I am discovering that, besides love, a solid education is the greatest gift a person can be given. (It’s how I got out of the ghetto.*) Without it, one is a virtual slave, but with it, one can do almost anything the heart desires. Fear of this empowerment is why slaves were forbidden an education in our country, why women and girls are thwarted from attending school in barbaric countries, and why there is such a growing economic divide in America today. The arguments over whether the President’s “Commoncore” educational assessment is a communist plot, or President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” is a failure, or whether charter schools are the end all and be all, are pointless if none of these “systems” grant us quality teachers and our kids excellent educations as they march back to school this year and in the years ahead. Maybe we should spend a lot less on political campaigns and a lot more on our teachers’ salaries, quality classrooms, and excellent source materials. Maybe we should stop the bi-partisan bullshit and join together to build the best public school education in the world. I bet we could do it if we tried, and if we thought of each kid in America as our own—no matter what race, creed, or color. Oh, and it would be great if our kids could be taught critical and strategic thinking—I’m just sayin’!
Used by permission: Mike Keefe, Cagle Cartoons
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”—Victor Hugo
“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”—John W. Gardner
“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.”—Alvin Toffler
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR? Check out: www.eleanortomczyk.com
*BUY NOW: Monsters’ Throwdown
My worst nightmare as a student
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