Special Blog Post:
The Remedial Future
It was primarily for parents, but anyone could come. The entire school district some years ago had pretty much dispensed with the traditional parent/teacher conferences in favor of these Open House affairs, where teachers and administrators give group presentations to the assembled audiences. A sense of urgency about keeping on the schedule of moving from place to place through the evening kept most people from trying to catch a teacher, a guidance counselor, or the principal for even a quick question. Things like that had to wait for that day when people were afforded the opportunity to "arrange" a 15-minute meeting with one or several teachers if there were some special, individual issues that needed to be discussed.
Those special conferences, complete as they were with the unspoken message that they were to be arranged only under extenuating circumstances, had replaced the old-fashioned parent/teacher conferences. In its own way, this seemed reasonable: if the kids are to be educated in warehouse fashion, then anyone interacting with that education system should enjoy the same kind of food processing environment.
The whole shindig that evening at the Open House would culminate in a big assembly in the "cafetorium" (a word new to me, it being defined as a combination cafeteria, auditorium, and gymnasium). The principal would speak for a few minutes, then the lead teachers in each subject area would give their brief speeches, and then the principal would conclude the night's activities with a few thoughts. I had hoped there would be a question-and-answer session at the end, but I was going to be sorely disappointed.
The evening started off uneventfully, though. I walked past several tables, missing one that I should have noticed but didn't because I got focused on the table that had a big sign over it with the word "RACISM" with a red slash through it. These signs were all over town, and I found them so ironic. This bustling community, with all of its up-and-coming yuppies and their ever-progressive churches, do so many things to show just how with-it and open-minded they are in their collective public expressions. Everything from bans on all smoking in public to mildly worded vows of "tolerance" for alternative "lifestyles," these are the kind of people trying very hard to have their noses in the progressive air, where they won't be able to smell the stench of their cowtown-gone-big-time with its street-level, grinding poverty, unemployment, and drug problems. That very school, where those anti-racism signs were wagging, is a hot-bed of simmering anger between the Black and White kids on one side, and the immigrant kidsmostly, but not all, Hispanicon the other. As an African-American mother had told me when we were talking about the bitter hatred the Mexican kids were engendering for their alleged misbehavior on a school bus, "My granddaddy always said Black and White folk would finally come together when we all had someone else we didn't like." I laughed at the time, but I knew very well she was right: the Blacks and Whites have almost no issues with each other, but they uniformly hate the Mexicans, and they seem to find all kinds of reasons why those Hispanic kids are making them get mad.
The D.A.R.E. table just made me cringe. I wondered if anyone in that school had even the slightest clue as to how rampant the use of meth and Special K (ketamine) are. The cop sitting at that D.A.R.E. table probably did; but then again, maybe he didn't, either.
So I went by all the tables, and I missed the one that, right there and then, would have set me off. As it was, I had to wait until nearly the end of the evening before my list of issues I wanted to bring up would evaporate in a storm of righteous indignation over one small matter highlighted in the last, big assembly.
Now, it sounds like I went to that Open House with a mission to stir trouble. That's right: I had several issues I wanted to have aired in an open forum where lots of parents were present. One was the problem with the pot of ethnic tensions that was on the verge every day of bursting into open violence.
Another was the RFID chips. Apparently, according to a number of junior high school students who had spoken to me in other venues, several teachers at that school had been telling the kids that, before they were finished with high school, every student would be required to have a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip injected as a requirement to attend public school. The refrain I had heard from several kids was that teachers were saying something along the lines of, "It's just like how we make you have vaccinations." After the tragedy at that Amish school in Pennsylvania last month, the harangue from a couple of teachers about those RFID chips had become more persistent. I wanted clarification on this matter, just to make sure it was nothing more than some teachers pulling kids' legs, and I wanted it where parents could hear all about RFID chips. My hope was that a paleo-conservative wave of Luddite indignation would roll across that room and put some brakes on this hare-brained idea, if by some remote chance it was seriously on the table. As it had been, far too many ridiculous, ill-conceived, and downright counter-productive ideas had come to fruition in that school district (and, in fact, in that whole community) because plans were hatched, executed, and entrenched before anyone knew what was going on. The RFID chips were just the latest and, in my judgment, the very worst of a whole string of nonsense that had made my job as a citizen and my career as a college teacher more and more difficult. RFID chips are already becoming required by far too many employers in the private sector, and within the next two years, U.S. soldiers will be giving up their dog tags to get those RFID chips shot into their arms (which should make it somewhat easier, I shall concede, to identify battlefield corpses).
I had my plan for a couple of diplomatically worded, yet pointed, questions. Then came the final assembly, and that was where my plans turned on a dime.
By the way, bringing up issues in another, perhaps more appropriate, forumlike, maybe to the school boardwouldn't be such a good idea. First would come the mantra that people with concerns should work their way up through the system. Second, and more tellingly, both the school board and the city, itself, have employees sometimes called their "kook handlers," otherwise known as community relations personnel. These are the individuals to whom the kooks who call are directed. These handlers are very nice, and they have absolutely no authority to do anything other than calm people down and assure them that their concerns will be addressed. I know these people well, both because I've worked with some of them and because I've been directed to them, like the time I called to find out why an apartment complex in town had secured its own police force that was writing "tickets," something that cannot be done by entities that are not 'sovereign' such as municipalities and states. A nice kook handler for the city was "helping" me until I brought in the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to deal with the matter since these phony "cops" were writing tickets to kids who were riding their bikes on the sidewalk instead of on the streets as required by the "laws" of the apartment complex. (Ever watch a five-year-old riding her little bike behind parked cars that might back out at any second?) No, I wasn't interested in getting into a discussion with the school board's community relations person, much as I enjoy talking with people I've never met before. The school assembly was where I might get some real answers to serious questions.
Returning to the grand finale of that Open House, the principal had her sayshe'd have a few last words at the end, toothen the teachers came through, one by one, saying the things parents and concerned citizens want to hear: students are expected to do their homework, respect their teachers and their peers, etc.
Then came the teacher spearheading the health program. It wasn't a minute before she said, "And I'm so excited about the funding we have for our abstinence-only sex education program here."
Oh, my. Following school matters as closely as I had been, I had heard nothing about this. But it got better. The health teacher started talking about the "coordinator" of the program out in the hall at her table: the table with the sign for the church that was behind this application of a "faith-based initiative."
I swear, I'm getting old. Either that, or a table sponsored by a church plopped right smack in the middle of a public school was so far outside my world-view that I just blocked it out.
I actually got out of my seat and went over to the doors and peeked out. Sure enough, there it was: a table with a church's logo parked front and center, along with "health education" signs; and there, sitting behind the table, was a real, live church lady, almost a caricature in flesh and blood, someone who would, by the very aura about her, bring many to vows of abstinence. Dear Lord, the woman was wearing floral print with a ruffled-lace collar that looked like it was throttling the hag.
The health teacher in the cafetorium was just bubbling on: the amount of "assistance" the school had received for implementing this program, how she could tell the "positive" impact it was making on the lives of so many young people, and how she could "vouch for" the dedication of that church and its church lady since she was a member of that very same house of God.
I looked at the row of teachers sitting with the principal, and all but a few had expressions of what I can describe only as serenity with what that health teacher was saying. Good Lord, those were people cut from the same cloth; but more importantly, this had been some kind of group decision to bring such a program on board, and that principal, nodding her head and smiling, somehow pushed this through, probably using the leverage of promises of federal money that would come with implementation of a heavily religious intrusion into what should be a completely secular institution.
Yes, the federal government has several of these programs, and schools desperate for funds are vulnerable to parochial, Christian interestsusually within the school systems, themselvesready to get the ball rolling. And these programs aren't in any way loose with respect to standards of content, scope of instruction, or even sequence of topics. They aren't particularly nice, either. For example, program "guidelines," which are actually curricular mandates, specifically address topics like homosexuality, which is described as a lifestyle that can be "exited" (yes, that's the language). That explained in a flash what I had noticed as a disturbing level of viciously anti-gay jokes the kids at that school seemed completely at ease with telling. It also explained why way too many girls had been telling everyone that two of their classmates are "lesbians" just because one of them sat on the other's lap one day. The cruelty of the name-calling was exceeded only by how proud all of the girls were that they'd "tagged" a couple of "lezzies."
The health teacher finished, the principal said the goodbye and thank you bit, and everyone left.
They'll have another Open House in the Spring, so I'll get my facts in order and be ready for the inevitable braying about this faith-based initiative being rammed down the throats of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I'll let the lady have her fun, then I'll take my opportunity to growl rather loudly, "Before you sit down..."
Being a college teacher for 25 years has taken away any qualms I might have about taking over a room with my voice. Heaven knows why, but people I know get really fidgety when I start that intrusive snarl that inevitably leads to a long-winded lecture. It's my trademark; and for some reason, people who have been to college are rather afraid to tell a professor to shut up.
My script will be polished. "When and where was it decided that we would, in this school, set aside comprehensive sex educationthe kind that includes a strong message for abstinence along with an equally strong message that effective contraception is available and must always be used when the choice of abstinence has been declined?"
I'll probably get something like, "I really don't think this is the place..."
"It most certainly is," I'll say. "Your 'abstinence only' programas much as you, yourself, are 'so excited' about itis exactly the same as refusing to teach driver's ed students about safety belts simply because you're going to tell them not to have accidents."
I've already made it quite clear to anyone who will listen that I fully intend to make a loud noise when this matter comes up at the next Open House, and I have been quietly aghast at the number of peoplemost of them parentswho agree with me. "Good grief," I keep thinking to myself, "I really need to stop being so snotty about the people in this community."
Provided I'm not dragged out before I can finish, I must make one more point: "Studies are already coming in that give strong evidence that this abstinence-only sex education is simply not working, and this school is allowing one church, with one set of religious beliefs, to impose those beliefs on a community where a whole lot of people simply don't believe that way. In fact, one of the largest churches in town, the First United Methodist Church down just off College Avenue, specifically states in its public documents that gay people are welcome with open arms and no judgment; yet you choose a path that brings intolerant religion right into this public school, all while you wave around those 'no racism in our community' signs out there."
I could say more, especially about teaching at the local colleges where I get to see 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old single mothers with one, two, three, or even (in the case of a student of mine right now at the community college) four children. Most of them, I'm trying to prep for the GED. A few, I'm teaching in remedial courses they have almost no chance of passing. They're tired, their lives are a shattered mess, their futures are written in the virtual stone of lost hope and minimum wage jobs for years to come. They'll suffer abuse at the hands of a nasty, so-called "free market"; they'll suffer abuse at the hands of boyfriends they desperately hope are a chance to live a better life; they'll suffer verbal abuse at the hands of their parents, who are themselves being burdened by children and now grandchildren who cannot adequately fend for themselves; they'll suffer abuse at the hands of a git-tuff-on-crime law enforcement machine that will kick their butts every time they do things that poor people often do by the very nature of their circumstances; and they'll suffer abuse at the hands of a scornful little sub-population of religious hate-mongers who will use them as the pretext for more and more ridiculous, counter-productive policies brought to bear through craven politicians trying to show just how pious, godly, and altogether Christian they, themselves, are.
I'll stop at that. If I were to keep going, I'd probably end up roaring, "God ALMIGHTY, teachers! Is promoting your own narrow views and getting a few extra bucks from Right-wing whores in Washington really worth the price you're exacting in more lives wrecked? IS THAT WHAT YOUR GOD BIDS OF YOU? If so, then yours is a false god, and you are the worshippers of an idol of self-satisfying pain visited upon those harmed by your abdication of responsibility to these kids, who by the way should always come before your mean little god as far as public policy is concerned."
Like I said, I'll stop before I go that far.
The abstinence-only sex education program will continue, of course, whether or not I raise holy Hell. It's not like schools are a shining example of democracy. After all, we pay those teachers and administrators to make decisions that can at times be unpopular. Perhaps if we paid teachers more, though, we'd get better decisions.
Setting aside my personal preferences for a comprehensive, well-tested, secular approach to sex education, I suppose I'm okay with how things are with the abstinence-only version; it most decidedly guarantees that I'll have plenty of work prepping single mothers for their GEDs for years to come.
Now, if only I could work an angle to do my teaching as some faith-based initiative type of gig, I'd definitely have it made.
The Dark Wraith believes there really is a place for God in remediating the future.