I settled into the bus’ bench-seat in a sideways, semi-twisted position so that my knees wouldn’t press into the back of the seat in front of me. I don’t know why, but I kept my backpack on–as did most of the kids that I now sat among.
“Who are you?” a head-gear-wearing small girl from an ancient world boldly asked.
The children filling out the surrounding benches, all bundled up for the cool mid-November school day, pretended to not be interested in this most odd of scenes.
“I’m a new fourth-grader,” I answered, dryly.
“No, you’re not. That’s a lie,” she promptly replied.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “It’s just that I am from another planet,” I began, and pointed the finger at the end of my long arm to somewhere far outside of the window of the yellow school bus. “And on my planet, the people grow big quicker,” I explained, looking her dead in the eye, waiting.
“People can’t live on any other planet,” she rebutted.
This comment unleashed great discussion among the previously silent audience.
“Well, my planet is farther out there than the ones you know about,” I clarified, proudly.
“I can name all the planets,” began the third-grader to my left–behind me, rather–“In order, starting at the sun.”
I thought, “This is fantastic.” But I only smiled on the inside.
“Mercury. Venus. Earth. Mars-”
Before he could finish, someone from my right–the front part of the bus, that is–added, interrupting, “-Pluto is NOT a planet.”
This began a near cultural revolution–albeit a bloodless, stationary one–as the children had now become engulfed in the great cosmic debate of their era.
All the while, the girl stared piercingly.
And that’s how my day at A-‘s elementary school began.
The rest of this post–save one humorous, colorful vignette–is meant to encourage you to likewise spend an entire day with your child at school. Here’s what I witnessed.
Teachers had no idea what to do with me. A-‘s own teacher didn’t even greet me. Neither the first time when I smiled robustly and waved a circular open-faced wave as I entered the building in the line with the children, nor the second time when I asked her where I could sit for the day as she came into the room.
She didn’t greet me. (Probably a cultural misunderstanding.)
Let me back up. H- is a bright girl. I work very hard to make that so. It has nothing to do with her school. Of this I am certain. The school begs to differ, of course. My proof is simply all the stupid kids not named H- that the school doesn’t “take credit” for.
Additionally, I want to say that every single time I talk to one of my peers, or one of my parents peers, they all tell me, “Calm down. The schools are fine. If you do a good job at home, H- will be fine.” And every time I hear this, my insides scream out, “BULLSHIT! The schools are not fine.” But no one ever listens. So I finally decided to see for myself which one of us was in error. I finally decided to see just what the schools were doing with our children all day.
To be clear, I went into this event expecting to hear eight hours, minus lunch and maybe two recess breaks, of utter nonsense being taught.
Suffice it to say, I admit now that my expectations were far afield.
It’s not that utter nonsense is being taught. It’s that nothing is being taught. Nothing. To spare you, I’ll just give you the highlights.
8:00. The day begins. That is, the students shuffle around–encouraged by the teacher.
Then a long process of retrieving things begins. It is hard to say how long exactly. All I know is children were in their chairs. Then children were out of their chairs. Then children were back near their chairs–but with a box of their things on the ground beside them.
Then it was time for two students to get the cart that carries the laptops (from somewhere across the room) and start taking it to “Reading.” After some amount of time I joined the rest of the class in lining up to leave this room for another room.
The process of changing rooms took no less than ten minutes.
In the next room, the teacher wore a microphone and low-talked. But this was amplified. My heart goes out to this noble hero as I prepare her nomination for CNN’s yearly award.
The next thing I know the clock says 10:00. I reflected that all that the students have done is listen to one picture book be read by the bionic woman. Oh, and they moved items from one place to another.
They also changed locations from the chairs to the floor and spent no more than “1-2 minutes at a time” picking books to read from the shelves across the room before walking back to their seats. Oh, and they got their laptops from the aforementioned cart and then put them back.
There, they watched a movie–a reward for finishing a big project. Then the teacher played a few students’ compositions on the piano, starting with A- seeing that I was there. Well, she played something on the piano. (In case you’re a lazy reader, nowhere in music class did anyone teach music.)
Gym. Classic sit-ups and push-ups, all done poorly and without any expectation of effort. “Use your ‘I Can’ statements, children.”
Then bowling basics were taught. The child nearest me wasn’t lunging like the teacher taught. To his delight, I broke character and reviewed it with him. For his own part, the never-yet-bowled A- wasn’t stepping with the right footwork. I had his friend help him.
The kid that I helped now limped as he apparently pulled a muscle.
Back to the classroom around 11:45. I’m getting hungry and confused as to why we’re not going to lunch yet.
In the classroom, more shuffling around. More retrieving items from cubbies, or the thing near their chair that they had earlier retrieved from their cubbies, or from this backpack like thing hanging on the back of their chair which holds folders and books. The teacher–or the woman called “teacher” or “Mrs. H-” by the students when people ask them who their teacher is–finally taught one long-division problem.
The clock strikes 12:20. Lunchtime. We headed to the lockers to get our lunches. And coats. What? Well, wait. Is it recess? No, it’s lunch then recess.
“Does everyone eat with their coats and hats on?” I asked one of the kids.
A- doesn’t need his coat. It’s going to be forty.
I put on my jacket.
In the cafeteria, Powerful looked confused as he isn’t sure if he should sit across from me, or at another table. I invited him to join us.
A- asked if he can have one of my cookies. I said, (Faithful Reader–can you guess?) “No. You have your own food and dessert.”
A- then challenged me to a staring contest. I accepted and then beat him by blowing into his eyes. Powerful then challenged me. Not one to back down, I turned and stared into the blankest expression yet painted onto man. Think canvas without Picasso. Think marble without Michelangelo. That’ll get you pointed in the right direction for recreating what I saw in this child’s eyes.
In other words, I knew I was in for defeat. Powerful just kept talking and chewing all the while he never blinked. He doesn’t seem aware that blinking is a thing. I lost, laughing all the while. All the kids were laughing. Then A- accepted Powerful’s challenge. The boys dueled it out. In an uncommon display of raw, primordial force, Powerful kept his blank stare positioned directly in my step-son’s eyes as he reached for his Heinz 57 ketchup packet thing and proceeded to bring it to his mouth and lick out the remaining remnants of the condiment. Powerful maintains his status as unbeaten. The list of contenders with any hope is blank, just like his stare. And probably just the way he likes it.
Recess ended at 1:00.
From 1:10 to 1:26 the teacher, Mrs. H-, taught the children how to discern between common nouns and proper nouns.
Then the students retrieved some composition book from somewhere and Mrs. H- lead a five minute discussion regarding which page the students should have open. Next, she had them fold the right side of the page over a bit to create a concrete margin. Not just one page needed this adaptation–all four pages. Do you follow me? She wanted the children to create a more clear margin on the paper–an area to not continue writing upon–by folding the page back upon itself. You’re still not getting it? Okay. Hold up the page a bit. Can you see the pink line that’s on the back of the page? No? It’s there. Turn the paper over and find the pink line. Okay. Now turn it back over. Can you see how you can faintly see it still? Okay. Thank you. Good job. Now fold the page along that line to create a margin. Right, just like that. But not just on one page. Do that for all four pages.
“Now write your story,” she finally said.
Eventually, they pulled out a textbook. Social Studies. They answered questions about glaciers, harbors, and the word “climate” was mentioned. (If you can believe it.)
Then they split up in pairs. After displaying that they had no idea what to do next, the teacher called them back. Then they split up in the SAME pairs. The two girls next to me learned about the Indians. I took a picture of the page.
Here’s what the textbook said, “In most Native American villages in the Northeast, people shared the land and its resources. They hunted in the forests and fished in the nearby waters. People gathered wild foods, such as roots, nuts, and berries. They also worked together to grow corn, beans, squash, melons, and other crops.”
Under the heading, “Joining Together” the paragraph begins, “At times, Native American groups in the Northeast fought each other. Iroquois legend tells how two leaders came up with a plan for peace.”
If you’re skimming, stop and take note here. The Native Americans shared, worked together, and developed plans for peace.
Okay. Skim on.
I forgot. Sometime before lunch there was also a twenty-minute trip (thirty if you count the line up and shuffle around time) to the most pathetic classroom-turned-library I have ever seen.
At this point you would be right to ask, “What are kids who no one is teaching how to read doing in a library?” Good question. One of them built on a puzzle that was started by someone in an earlier class. Actually, that’s not entirely true. One kid talked to any comers while holding a puzzle piece and sitting at the table which had a puzzle whose border was already completed.
I’m tired. And I was tired at this point. Between 1:00 and 3:00 Mrs. H-, the teacher, stood in front of the class for maybe 30 minutes total. Add another 15 minutes for the amount before lunch.
A- and I walked home.
Aristotle made his students complete Euclid’s “The Elements” using only a straight edge and a rudimentary compass.
The early school houses in America had only slates, books, and desks.
On Monday each child was responsible for at least 20 folders or books (not to mention two or three container/cubby things) filled with ungodly amounts of colored paper and worksheets that will ultimately end up in the garbage. Like, I mean to highlight that the folders and their million sheets of paper–even the half sheets that reduce waste–will be discarded by the end of the year or shortly thereafter. In other words, there will be no lasting evidence that these kids knew nothing. There will be no proof that they were taught nothing.
Don’t misunderstand me. The little part of the day where the children crossed the classroom in pairs to find a spot to read about how legendary Native Americans are worthy of teaching the ocean-voyaging white devils a thing or two about cooperation was really not the deal-breaker to me. Really, it wasn’t. It was like five minutes of eight hours.
Here’s the bottom line: I’m a pilot. We’re rare, I know. But we like to learn and do learn. Or else we die. If you’ve been following the 737 Max story, you know what I’m about to tell you. The pilots crashed because they didn’t learn. No one taught them–some say. “Poor training.” One thing that they weren’t taught–it seems–is decision making. Compartmentalizing. Task management. Fly. The. Aircraft.
Maintaining focus is difficult for everyone, let alone maintaining focus when all the aircraft’s emergency indications are demanding your maximum and undivided attention at once. Our children are being given a million MASTER WARNING and MASTER CAUTION lights. Add a million ADVISORY lights and it doesn’t take a pilot to guess the result. They will crash.
Mrs. H- can breathe easy now. Neither A- nor his dad will be returning.