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Be On Guard For Extra Duty

, , , , , | Learning | April 2, 2018

When I was in elementary school, the students had to take turns acting as crossing guards at those roads near our school which weren’t big enough to have proper crossing lights. We wore yellow vests and held stop signs to “block” the crossing for cars every time a student came by on their way to school.

Every student got a shift of about two weeks per school year. We had to do this for about 40 minutes every morning and every afternoon, standing in pairs at every road. In the morning, we’d walk to school, get the equipment, and go back to the roads, then go back to return the stuff and be late to first class. In the afternoon, we’d leave last class early, get the stuff, go to the roads, then go back to school to return the stuff, then walk home.

As far as I know, we all lived in reasonable walking vicinity, so having to do this wasn’t considered an overt hardship by the school.

Though I now view this as hugely unsafe — as well as unpaid — forced child-labor, unfortunately this was considered normal practice there. I think it was viewed as okay because only the oldest (sixth grade) students were assigned this duty.

We hated doing this duty, because we had to get up so early in the morning. Everyone hated doing it, but my best friend and I didn’t dare skip, because the punishment for skipping was double the guard duty, which compounded if you skipped those. We knew perfectly well that the school was serious about seeing that their assigned punishments were carried out; there was no way to wiggle out of it. Most kids knew better than to try it.

When your assigned partner didn’t show up, there was no one to replace them, so you were just left to do the job alone as best you could. The teachers knew well enough that there would be some kids stupid enough to ditch during every assignment cycle, and clearly just didn’t care enough to do anything about it, like assign extra kids to show up, or, God forbid, go out to the roads and help us themselves.

When my friend and I were assigned to this during the same time-period, we were assigned in pairs with some boys in our class. They were known not to be too reliable, so we weren’t that surprised when they didn’t show up for days on end, and my friend and I were left to each do this alone on our assigned roads instead of in pairs. This was obviously more risky, not to mention quite demoralizing.

The school got wind of things right away and assigned the boys the appropriate punishments; after a few days one of them started showing up.

The other one, however, was notorious for being amazingly lackadaisical. He didn’t care about school, never said a word in any class, didn’t bother to turn in homework or study unless and until he was screamed at, at length, by the teachers, and clearly only showed up at school at all because he was forced to under some kind of threat by his family. If I’d known the term back then, I might have called him a stoner, except he was only about twelve, and I think it’s highly unlikely he was actually “on” anything; he just really acted like it.

He not only didn’t show up for guard duty at first, but he kept not showing up, even after he was repeatedly assigned punishments for skipping. The entire two weeks we were assigned passed without him showing up; we all knew the school was piling more and more punishments on him in the form of extending his crossing guard duty.

While we were upset because of the principle of it — we were all getting up nearly an hour earlier in the morning for this while he was just cavalierly ignoring it — we also knew that he was being amazingly stupid, because there was no way the school would let it go.

We finished our two weeks, and a few days later, when we went to cross the road near school in the morning, what did we see? It was him in a yellow vest with the stop sign stick, grimly doing the crossing guard duty for all the other kids, including us!

And he kept on being there, on that road, in that yellow vest, week after week. After week. After week. After week… You get the idea.

Though we weren’t ourselves given the details, of course, I can only assume the school principal and our class teacher must have “invited” his parents for a mandatory “chat” and threatened them with something as grim as expulsion and outright fails in all his classes, as well as some terrible “behavioral” black mark on his records, if he and his family kept ignoring the school’s punishments. His parents then must have threatened him with something equally grim in turn. I’m pretty sure I’m very close to the truth, because having been in class with him for several years, I can’t imagine anything else that could possibly have successfully forced him to start showing up to do this every single morning.

And he kept on being there, every morning and every afternoon, for two months. That’s how much compounded punishment he wound up getting for skipping as much as he did.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the sweet, sweet karma every morning when I crossed that road and passed him in his yellow vest, with his stop sign stick and defeated expression, knowing I got to sleep in nearly an hour later than him, didn’t have to wear that stupid vest and stand all by myself on a road ever again, and that he’d keep on being on that road, every morning, for a long time to come.

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