It seems as though every few years, a new book series is published that becomes The Next Big Thing. I first encountered this phenomenon as a young child with R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps. This series was replaced by Animorphs, which told the story of a group of teens who develop the ability to change into animals. Fifteen years ago, Harry Potter arrived, adding the use of films in its cultural domination. This model was adopted by Twilight, and The Hunger Games appears to be next in line.
After reading Patrick’s post, I got thinking about people reverting back to middle school. I can’t help but wonder if we are left with certain indelible marks from our school days, not just middle school but every day of it. From that first awful day that our mom dropped us off amongst a bunch of little goblins with plastic lunchboxes and told us we weren’t going to be watching tv, reading and sleeping all day until that last awful day we graduate, we are affected. School is simply the first and most social experience of our lives and it therefore must shape us in a way that no other institution does, not always in big meaningful ways but often in small invisible threads. Threads that tie us down, pull us up, and drag in different ways.
It is no accident that so many people talk about their school days with distain nor is it surprising that many look bad wistfully to when the rules were a little more clear and the tank was small enough for them to see it all. E.M. Forester, James Joyce, and even Morrissey complain of the cruelty of the British/Irish school system. And Christ, Americans have a real hard on for high school bashing and rehashing. How much of our modern entertainment and art has to do with school? It seems as though the back of our collective heads is a whirling turmoil of ideas about school. School, but not education. Mark Twain so wonderfully made that distinction.
School as it exists now, is not an educational institution with social aspects, it is a social institution with educational aspects. From day one you learn more about how the world works than you learn about how the universe runs. You learn more about the petty tyranny backed by systems of unquestionable, if pathetically limited, authority of grownups than you do about the kings and princes of Europe, Africa and Asia. You learn more about hate and meanness from your classmates than you do from Huckleberry Finn. Nobody’s school days are happy. Or if happy, not satisfying. Not fully. But does that damn us to be forever unsatisfied?
The social education we receive as kids creates the adults we become. I don’t think there is much of a real difference between the schoolyard bully and a maniac like Hitler. Not in spirit. In world you don’t like, taking a weakness and proclaiming it a strength and working your will on everyone you can does seem understandable. It seems like a more reasonable way to explain evil. But does it all start in childhood? Did Alexander suffer more when he learned how many worlds there were left unconquered than he would have learning how many fields there were left unplowed? Did the Habsburgs, playing war in their backyard, neglect to learn that war is not a game? It is easy to pick on these people just as it is easy to see how the school system is failing underprivileged children across America and how the biggest lesson they are learning is that nobody much cares about anything. So they don’t much care. Anthony and Paul can attest to how disheartening this mistaken notion is. People do care. Just not enough.
What is harder to see is how school affected us, the middle pack. I take for granted that the majority of people reading this had a fair enough time at school. It is a simple numbers game. Most of you must have. I did. Mostly. But even still we have had rough spots. And don’t we all have a part of us back there? Don’t all of us on some level want to go back and do it again? Maybe it is to burn the fucking place down or maybe it is to play football hero again. But maybe it is just to have used time a little more wisely. To kissed a few more girls or boys, to have read a few more books. To have felt more in control then and to feel more prepared for life now.
I was listening to They Might Be Giant’s “Don’t Let’s Start” the other day. I must have heard that song a hundred times before and this time was really not that different from any other. I was driving to work when my brother’s CD played it, nothing special. I haven’t heard the song in a couple of weeks. Or it felt like it. Actually it felt like I hadn’t heard the song in years. Since high school. They Might Be Giants was my favorite band in high school, hands down, and I liked this song. But listening to it in the car, I loved it. I wanted to take the song and wear it like a coat. I wanted to roll around in it. Though I tapped into no deeper understanding of the lyrics or music, I noticed it the way you notice for the first time that a person is a human being with thoughts and feelings and a history. The song had a history. A history with me for sure, but not just that. It had a history completely outside of my life. With other people at other times. Not that any of this came as a shock, but by the time I parked the song was more important in my heart. It meant something it hadn’t before but nothing, and this is the queer part about it, personal. The song wasn’t different. I was. But with the song that I heard so many times, I was right back in high school.
I don’t think that high school or middle school makes us and that is it. I think we constantly redefine what high school and middle school meant. It is not as simple as high school is the world made small or the world is high school made big. What is going on here is a reflective nostalgia creating a past to shape the present to reshape the past. We are different people, at all times, from moment to moment. But we have the capacity to revert back to who we were. You can never go home to your old skin again but you can do crude impressions and exaggerated characterization to get the same effect. It is a pretty neat trick. Or it would be if we meant to do it.
There were no links this week. My post is not on time and for that, I apologize. I am still going through this transition from lazy student into whatever it is that I am becoming and it is very difficult to find time to actually sit down and refine some thoughts within the time limitations we have here at the Compass. That should be changing soon; expect reform but until then, things like this may happen.
This is officially Luke’s week now but I am going to make my post now since I actually have the time with the long weekend.
Sorry for the lateness and thank you all for understanding. I love you all.
City With No Children
So I just sit here now. Pretend like things are ok. There are no windows here so what else really matters besides myself right now? When the week starts, I’ll put on my uniform, smile when I need to, yell when I need to, look through books and magazines and movies and albums for inspiration during my planning period, and then come home reeking of middle school and go to bed satisfied? ”Don’t bring your work home with you.” We are a little past that point.
I exist in this city only for one reason. That is my job. To get in my subway car and stare at the silent, unhappy, dying faces until they slowly walk out. Towards my station, towards Congress Heights, no one is left but me and one or two other people. I walk past the projects and a cemetery to my school. A school that was just tested by the system to see if it should stay open in the following years. Reading and math comprehension. In less than five years, all the work I am doing could be for nothing but everyday I put on my name tag and go in there fully prepared that very few people will listen.
Some of my students need glasses. Some need medicine. Some need parents. There are some who haven’t seen a grade higher than a “D” in their lives and the system passes them every single year. In my class, in the 6th grade, some of my students can’t read. These kids are the future. Their lives are in their own hands. It isn’t just here though. My shitty school in Southeast D.C. isn’t the only one that isn’t properly preparing for the future. We are at 14 schools in the district in several different wards. There are 23 versions of us all around the world. The human race is in danger, specifically the people who live in the United States of America.
I serve because I am scared. Because when I ride the metro, no one smiles. We all know what is going to happen but no one is doing anything to stop it. Cars passing up a crash on the expressway. An elderly woman struggling to find money in her purse. A lost child in the mall. A pigeon with a hurt foot. The homeless man in the doorway in the tunnel. Black smoke on the horizon. An empty building where a bookstore used to be. Fights in the school stairway. Helicopters overhead. The stunted buildings of downtown Washington. My alarm every morning. I serve for the one day where I don’t have to wake up and say the word “Fuck.”
Two weeks ago I made my way to the national mall where the Library of Congress put on a national book festival. When I hopped on the metro, people were talking to each other. No one was in a suit. There were kids. I haven’t seen kids outside the classroom in so long. They were happy. I talked to a minister from North Carolina while I was in my Bad Religion shirt with the crossbuster. Mentally, I conflict between science and unknown faith all the time. Humans just want to get along. They do not want to worry about the politics of our society. They just want to exist without strife. But D.C. is all about politics. At the book fair, I saw children. I saw kids reading. I saw adults reading. Thousands of people gathered there for only one reason: they like reading. I listened to Dave Eggers, one of my favorite authors, speak about the power of young people and cannot reiterate enough, if you can find something to write with, do it. You don’t even know how much power you have with you at all times.
Everyone has the potential. Everyone has the ability to express his or her thoughts or emotions whether it be through the written word, graffiti, visual art, music, photography, public speaking, sculpture. Anything really. Don’t ever fucking give up. You are making a statement. Last week I walked past Occupy Boston by accident and saw what this spirit can actually do. Everyone in this country deserves equal rights. I saw none of my students at the National Book Festival because most of them do not have the financial resources to get out of their neighborhoods.
Occupy wherever. It doesn’t even matter. Wherever you go, make a presence. Whether it be on Wall Street or Boston or even here at Freedom Plaza in D.C., let the world know that the future is important. Let the world know that every single life is worth recognition, that no one person is better than the next. We are equal and we are love. Serve. Always.
I was planning to write something on the education system this evening. I was planning on just highlighting the struggles of the system in place and communities that need help. I was going to talk about my own struggles with this responsibility and try and figure stuff out as I write, as I usually do. Give a few stories here and there, maybe include a song lyric, and call it a day. But something came up and I had to change everything. It can’t be sappy anymore. It is going to be angry now. Something happened.
Maybe it was because I had a rough week that made this one thing set me off. It might be because I planned to just write something and drink a few beers so I could watch the NFL kickoff tonight, sleep decently, wake up at 6 a.m., do whatever my organization needs me to do, change, go to the bars, then come back home, sleep, wake up, make breakfast, go to the bank, read, and repeat but fate won’t ever let that happen. It threw and earthquake at me, a hurricane, a few tornado warning around the area today, whatever. You can’t really complain about those things. Nature does what it wants regardless of our plans. No one can stop that.
All week I have been preaching to my middle school that we are responsible for our actions. Today I saw kids fighting in the hallway outside of the cafeteria. I had to run all the way over to them to break it up, which means that once they saw me coming towards them, they scattered. I followed one kid and ended up cornering him, began to angrily question what happened. Apparently the other kid hit him first but who can really tell. What does it even matter? He swung back. That’s what I tried to explain to him. It doesn’t matter who started it, it just matters that he partook. He answered violence with violence and that only leads to more anger and he’s probably going to be in another fight because of his actions. He didn’t really seem to give a shit. He’s around twelve years old so he doesn’t really give a shit about anything other than the 3 o’clock bell. His friends didn’t either, as they demonstrated by throwing a hamburger at my back while I was trying to talk to this kid. They got ketchup on my Timberlands.
This evening I learned from the news that there is a credible chance that there may be a repeat terrorist attack in New York City and/or here in Washington D.C. this weekend during the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
So I ask a simple question: What the fuck did we do? I am just trying to make a living and help out people who need guidance. What did these kids do to you personally? You cannot hide behind idealism. When you choose to swing, your brain is the only object making that happen. It may be under the influence of certain ideas of others but in the end, the individual person makes the final decision.
I really do apologize for this post. It is out of the ordinary, not correctly executed, amateurish, but right now, I am not in the mood for this. I don’t feel like making things pretty because they aren’t pretty. Right now I am still in the middle of a major transition between being an adolescent and adulthood, a transition that is not going to be fully realized for several months, maybe even a year. But that is what I sign up for. This is what I wanted. This is what I needed.
Now that I think about it, I know exactly where this is coming from. On tuesday, we had a student that was arrested in class. I wasn’t there but a teammate who was told us all what happened; she seemed very disturbed by it. The kid was talking shit to some girl during class about something or other and eventually ended up stoping and working on his class assignments. When he finished, he got up to sharpen his pencil and punched the girl he was yelling at earlier square in the face. Of course a fight broke out and being the seventh graders they were, they all began to freak out and someone called the cops. They put the kid in cuffs and it turns out that he was already on parole for something else that we weren’t allowed to know. He was expelled on the spot and taken away in the back of a cop car to who-knows-where. In the course of a single class, he threw his life away. It is far too soon to make this poetic but far too serious to not talk about immediately.
He was on parole at the age of eleven. Think of where you were at eleven. I was running around the neighborhood with Nerf guns and trying to make girls like me. That second part I’m still working on. But at eleven. He was nearly eye-level with the door knob for the room. Eye-level with the officer’s handcuffs. I think I was still considering lego-building as a possible career choice. We had summer reading lists. What trouble did you get in at eleven? Your mom pulling you aside in public for saying “hell” by accident. Talking back. Pouring a can of Surge down the neighbor kid’s plastic slide which attracted bees. Playing Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys too loud and jumping on a bunk bed. Having Playboy’s hidden in your room. These are all personal examples so insert your own.
Actually, in sixth grade, I got in a lot of trouble. I hit a kid in art class in the nose with some thing made of copper and gave him a nose bleed. He called me a douche bag and at the time, I didn’t know what that meant. Well, that was 5th grade. In 6th grade, I failed english. Mind you, I have my B.A. in English Literature now. At the time, I refused to do any of the projects because A) I thought that putting six objects in a coffee can that represented 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea was stupid, B) none of the books were interesting, and C) all I wanted to do was play football (this was one year before the massive leg injury). I got an “F” and I carefully ripped that sheet out of my report card and hid it in the box for a computer game deeply buried in my closet, Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland.
My mom asked me why I didn’t have an english grade. I told her Mrs. Brown also teaches the 8th grade class and she is going to send them later. I was able to keep that up for about a month. One day in math class, I happened to look out the door’s window and saw my mom standing there in tears. I ran out an hugged her. She kept repeating “Why would you lie to me?” and I started weeping uncontrollably. We both cried in the hall and I kept saying “I’m sorry” over and over. I went home early that day.
I was grounded for six months. Six months. I couldn’t see my friends. No electronics. Only books and music. That is what formed me into the nerd I am now. The one who appreciates art and family. I had something to turn to. This kid that got thrown in jail, he may not even have familial support. He could still be in a cell somewhere as you read this as the authorities try and piece together names and phone numbers from this kid’s broken answers. He has no one.
And now the news tells us that someone he has never met over seas wants him dead. Me too. We have both made this group’s hit list. But for what reason? A few old fucks made some mistakes and don’t know how to sit down and work issues out like understanding human beings. They are corrupted by power and money. They don’t understand that now we might have to pay with truck bombs and deaths in the transit system. We are far too conscious to let another 9/11 happen but every single American is far from in the clear. That kid doesn’t deserve to die.
So what can we do? We help. We serve. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes things that others have done and ways of life that we’ve stood by blindly come back. All we can do is apologize and work our hardest to make sure our children don’t have to face this again.
What we need is the death of the ego. Only then can we move on. Until that happens, we must all live in fear of each other but you can pledge to everyone around you that you will always be there to help. You can let them know that you are a human being and that you make mistakes but can be quick to forgive others for the same flaw.
No one was born knowing what to do. No one was born a better screaming baby than the other. Our systems have placed people ahead of others. One day we may find the answers but in the mean time, please, please try and be civil to each other. That’s all we have right now.