How the hell did we ever make it through public school? That place is fucked up. I just got done with my first observation of a school assembly for Mad Science, the company I’m working for now. I’ve done an observation of an after school program before, but the kids were already dismissed from school, so the format was way different.

This was a 30-minute presentation on sound waves, and I sat at the top of the bleachers to just watch how an assembly is done, since it’s a different format than the after-school program. First, the children were filed in. Seating was strictly monitored. "Sit right here. No scoot over. Scoot closer. Don’t sit past this line. Move up a row. Scoot closer." There were additional bleacher seats available, but for some reason, the teachers had decided that the classes would be seated on only three pull-out sections, which meant that the kids had to be literally crammed up against each other. "Scoot closer. There’s room for one more in that row."

Then, I thought it was time to start the presentation, and the principal got up to introduce the program. Sherrill, the Mad Scientist doing the presentation, was already on stage and ready to go. The principal takes the mic, and says, "Before we get started, we’re going to start the way we start every assembly." And as one, the students stand and face the flag on the wall to our left, and place their hands over their hearts. I had a moment of panic, not realizing that I would need to be prepared for some good old patriotic brainwashing. It’s been so long since I’ve even heard the Pledge, that for a minute I forgot how it started. Is it, "I pledge allegience to the flag…" or is it "For God so loved the world that he gave…"? Oh right, I was getting my brainwashing contexts mixed up.

I settled on standing quietly, but without my hand over my heart, and without pretending to mouth the words. I’m glad that I was faced with this situation as an observer in the back row the first time, rather than as a presenter standing alone on stage. Having had a chance to think about it, I think I will take the same approach on stage, trying to be respectful, while not actually participating. If asked about it, I’ll cite religious beliefs, cuz in my religion we don’t brainwash our children to mindless patriotism and instill insipid fairy tale stories about liberty and justice for all. Except I’ll probably leave off the further explanation and just call it religious reasons. My sister got suspended from high school for taking that stance, so we’ll see how offensive some folks find it to be. Hopefully, I won’t often be in schools that do the Pledge at every opportunity.

From there, we moved in to the show, which was cool, and things exploded and caught on fire and other neat things. Then I sat and watched as they dismissed the students. I’m so used to working with kids through the WAS curriculum, which assumes that kids are actually pretty smart and capable of taking care of themselves. We routinely just designate different corners of the room or field or wherever we are, and say, "Everyone in Sam’s group meet her over by that tall tree. Everyone in my group, meet me in the middle of the field." Kids are perfectly capable of managing that level of personal responsibility. However, these public school kids have been taught that they are not capable of being responsible. So instead, they had to dismiss each class row by row, giving them detailed directions for where to go, even though that location was less than 10 feet from the bleachers, where they were to line up again, and wait for the rest of their class. And then the teacher would watch each row until the were lined up correctly ("No, on the black line. Take a step forward. Put your toes on the black line") before releasing the next row. Only when everyone was standing with their toes on the black line would the teacher take the class out of the gym and the next teacher could start calling her class. It sort of blew my mind. It’s been a long time since I was treated like that, and it brought back a lot of memories about why and how much I hated school.

I helped the presenter break down, signed out in the office, and helped her carry her gear to her car. I walked back into the office to grab my things, and headed to my car. It was time for school to be out, so the buses were lined up next to the sidewalk right in front of the school. So there was a row of buses, then a lane of the parking lot, and then the spot where my car was parked. The buses were parked and not running, waiting for the kids to load up. I stepped between one of the buses, and tok a step forward and peer around the bus to see if there was anyone driving down the lane of the parking lot before I stepped out from behind the bus. The bus driver whose bus I was in front of honked her horn. HOOONNNNKKK! I looked at her with a question on my face, and she hollered, "You’re not supposed to do that!" I assumed she meant the part about walking between the buses, and not the part about checking for traffic. I pointed at my car, park 10 feet away. "How should I get over there?" I asked fairly politely, for someone who has just had a bus horn blown in their ear.

"You have to go around, just like everyone else."

And it all came together for me why I hated school so much, and why I’m not sure I can handle working in the public school system. I am not like everyone else. And neither is anyone else. And we have created a system whereby, if one person is not smart enough to check for cars before stepping into traffic, we teach everyone that they are not smart enough to cross roads by themselves. And it’s not just that we make everyone follow the same lame-ass rules, we actually have created a system with which to convince people that they all need those rules.

"I just wouldn’t want you to get hurt," the bus driver smiles and says. "That’s very dangerous for you."

Well, no shit. But I think what I am supposed to learn from her looking out for me like that, is that I am not to be trusted with my own body or my own choices. Shoo-yyy, good thing someone was looking out for me, cuz I sure woulda done something stupid if someone else hadna told me howda do it right…

I can’t imagine why any parent who knows what’s going on in public school would want to send their child there. It’s a horrible horrible place.

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