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This Is Why We Need Black History Month, Part 2

, , , , , , | Right | June 18, 2021

It’s 1988 and I have been with the library for not quite a year.

Black History Month is upon us and children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and cute smiles are looking for information on various famous people.

But they clearly do not know what or who they are looking for.

Child #1: “I am doing a report on a famous black singer. Her name is Martha.”

Me: “Oh, good choice. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were a great singing group!” 

Child #1: “There’s another Martha? My report is on Martha Luther and her Kings.”

Next child:

Child #2: “I need a book on a famous black man who got his leg shot off during the war.”

Me: “Um, I am going to need more information than that. Which war are we talking about?”

Child #2:The war.”

Me: “Honey, there have been lots of wars over the years. Was it the Civil War? The American Revolution? World War II?”

Child #2: “The Revolution! Yes, the revolution! When the people came here from England to fight the Americans to free the slaves.”

We finally figured out we were looking for Crispus Attucks, though I don’t remember him getting his leg “shot off,” only that he was among the first killed at the start of the Revolution.

And then there were the inventors. Not Lattimer or McCoy or Madame C.J. Walker. No, we are talking about the well-known John Doe. Mary Smith. Lotta Peeples. Who “invented” THE comb. The hairbrush. THE washing machine. And of course, the kids needed at least five books on each of these people.

No surprise, there were none. Cue child sobbing because they have to write an eight page paper on this person.  

We had to start writing a form letter to teachers (which soon became known as the Dear Dummy letter) explaining that back in the day, many, many, many people created and patented a new version of the hairbrush or the comb, or created and patented a different version of a wringer for a hand-cranked washing machine. Or new buttons. Or corsets. Shaving creams…

We had to explain that these people were black, white, Hispanic, or Asian background, and that the only reason we know they existed and what their race was is because the forms for the patent office included a little box for this. ALL we know about the inventor is his or her invention, their name, the number assigned their patent… and their race.

Regardless of their race, there are not five paragraphs, let alone five books on each person.

Imagine having to send that out daily with an extra line scrawled at the bottom saying, “Please allow [Student] to choose a new topic so he won’t flunk your class.”

Every year for closing in on ten years, the head of the tech department where patents were kept would contact teachers and explain that we could not supply five books on the life of a citizen who happened to try making something new for an already existing device, so please don’t ask kids to write a ten-page paper on them. Every year, the teachers would say they understood… and then send the kids in to research the same obscure people anyway.

And of course, my favorite kid was the one who came in with his dad. The child darted across the floor to the desk, leaned against it, and crowed, “Hey! Where your dead black people at?” His father — both were African American — did a facepalm and shook his head. He said, “Son, they aren’t keeping the bodies on ice out back. Tell the lady who you want to read about.”

That exchange had the dad and I laughing for most of the exchange. I miss those days, as the demand for writing reports has fallen off. I just hope I never have to explain to another child that the singer she wants to report on is actually a Civil Rights Leader.

Related:
This Is Why We Need Black History Month

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Graduating To A New Level Of Stupid

, , , , , , | Learning | CREDIT: Brandilio | June 18, 2021

Back in 2013, I was a senior at a high school I had just transferred to. I had moved earlier in the year because my parents got divorced, and I made the deliberate choice to leave my old high school and move in with my dad, attending a new high school.

Normally, switching schools isn’t a huge deal, but it was sort of an abrupt move; I wasn’t able to take any of the AP classes I normally would have taken because they all had mandatory summer projects that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a week.

Additionally, a week into the school year, we were told about this stupid senior project they wanted us to do. In a nutshell, there was some acronym — IMPACT or something — and each letter represented a value of the school. They wanted us to write about how IMPACT had influenced us in our time at the school. We were then told that, should we NOT do the senior project, we wouldn’t be able to walk for graduation. Oh, no!

I heard this and thought it was stupid for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I had only just gotten there, so their dumb acronym didn’t mean anything to me. I brought this concern up to the lady telling us about the project, and her response was that I just “figure something out or don’t walk.”

Well, okay, then.

I brought it up with my dad, asked if he gave a hot s*** whether or not I walked for a high school graduation. He did not. So I just figured that I wouldn’t do the project. End of story, right?

Wrong.

You see, a few months into this senior project, they did a checkup on every senior. We just lined up in our homeroom to talk to some lady from the principal’s office and told her how close we were to being done. When I walked up, I told her that I wasn’t doing it.

Lady: *Confused* “You’re not going to do it? You have to. It’s non-negotiable.”

Me: “No, it’s not. I don’t have to do it.”

Lady: “But you won’t walk if you don’t do it.”

Me: “Yeah.”

Then we just sort of stared at each other, and she wrote my name down and shooed me away. I correctly assumed that this would not be the last interaction I had regarding this non-issue. Several weeks later, my suspicions were confirmed when I was pulled out of class and brought into the main office.

They ushered me into the vice principal’s personal office, where she made a bit of a show of pulling out some papers. She told me that the meeting was regarding a misunderstanding I may have had regarding the senior project. She was apparently told that I didn’t know what to do for the assignment and I had chosen to boycott the whole thing as a result. I quickly corrected her.

Me: “I very clearly understand what you want me to do, but I think it’s stupid and I’m not going to do it. I understand the penalty for not doing it and I’m fine with that.”

She, like the first lady, seemed confused by this course of action and just let me leave, since there wasn’t really much of a conversation to be had.

A few more weeks later, I got pulled out of yet another class for this same thing. Again, I was brought up to the vice principal for a one-on-one. When I got there, she looked like the cat that ate the canary.

Vice Principal: “So, I know you were in here a while ago, and you said you didn’t want to do your senior project—”

Me: *Interrupting* “No. I said wasn’t doing the project.”

Vice Principal: “Well, we had a chat with your mother over the phone earlier this week. She told us that she really wants you to walk at your graduation.”

I was quiet for a moment.

Me: “Um… I live with my dad.”

Vice Principal: “Right, but your mom said she’d like to attend the ceremony and see you walk.”

Me: “I don’t think you get it. I live with my dad for a reason.

If ever there were an expression that perfectly exemplified the dial-up tone, that’s the face she made. After she collected herself, I was released and headed back to class.

By this point, I was mostly just not doing the project because it was dumb. But them calling a family member to strong-arm me was crossing a line. On top of that, they tried to strong-arm me using a parent with whom I was no-contact. I decided right then that, no matter what, I wasn’t caving into their bulls***. F*** the project, f*** the school, and f*** the weird tactics they were trying to use. However, in my anger was also confusion. Why did these people care so much about one guy not doing an optional assignment? I had made myself very clear, so was that the end of it?

Spoiler: it wasn’t.

A few more weeks later, I got pulled into the actual principal’s office. The principal, for reference, was one of those guys that tried to make a show of being overly friendly and goofy but to the point where it came off as superficial. When I got to his office, he was his usual extroverted self, greeted me, and sat me down.

Principal: “I’ve heard about this whole senior project problem you’ve had going on. And I get it. Trust me, I really do; you’re new here, so our motto hasn’t had as much of an impression. So, after talking about it with the folks grading the projects, we think it’d be just fine if you had a modified project. Just do a project on one letter of IMPACT, and you’re golden.”

He gave me a big warm smile.

Me: “No.”

Principal: *Smiling* “Sorry?”

Me: “I’m not doing it.”

His smile was slowly fading now.

Principal: “But you only have to do one letter. It’s really not that much.”

Me: “Yeah, I got that. I’m still not going to do it.”

Principal: “But you won’t be able to walk on graduation day.”

Me: “Yep.”

Principal: “So what’s the issue, exactly?”

Me: “You called my mom.”

His mouth was open like he was going to say something, but I guess nothing came to mind, as we sat in silence for a good twenty seconds — him trying to formulate an argument and me staring back blankly.

Me: “If that’s everything you need to talk about, I’ll be heading back to class.”

He didn’t protest, so I just left.

It was after this meeting that I eventually got some context. Apparently, California schools will shuffle principals around every few years for some reason that probably makes sense, but I don’t care enough to research. Our principal was going to be switching schools after the 2013 semester had ended, and one of his big plans was to leave that high school with 100% participation in the senior projects that would otherwise not affect any final grade.

He used the threat of preventing students from walking at graduation to bully everyone into doing the dumb project — almost everyone. I stuck to my guns and refused to do it. And sure enough, after the deadline had passed, they made a big deal about how happy they were that 99.6% of students completed their senior projects, even though they were hoping for 100%.

And the absolute dumbest part about this exercise in stupid? After everything was said and done, I was called in one last time to the VP’s office. She told me that, despite my refusal to do the senior project, they were still going to let me walk, and they gave me five tickets for friends and family. I laughed, walked out without the tickets, and didn’t attend my own graduation.


This story is part of our Best Of June 2021 roundup!

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There’s No Substitute For Good Teachers

, , , , | Learning | June 16, 2021

My father was a life-long high school teacher. When he retired from full-time teaching, he became a substitute teacher. Being in rural Alberta, that meant driving long distances to many different schools in all directions. He was in such demand that he ended up working almost full-time and driving much more than he did before. He enjoyed being in demand, though, often having to tell schools that he couldn’t sub for them because another school had already booked him.

Being able to say no was a privilege that he enjoyed being able to have, but in practice, he almost never did if his time wasn’t already spoken for.

He told me about one school he ruled out permanently, though. He said it was due to a single incident, but from talking to him, I knew that there was also an underlying issue that bothered him.

The incident? He had an off period one day and was walking down the school hallway during class. A male teenage student came out of a classroom in front of him and then yelled back into the classroom, “I’m going to take a s***, okay?!”

Dad: “I’m not going to sub there again. Anyway, it is a very long drive there.”

Me: “Did you talk to anyone at the school there about it?”

Dad: “No. I didn’t see a point. He wasn’t my student, it wasn’t my class, and I’m just a sub. The boy’s teacher should deal with it, not me. I don’t have to sub for them.”

Me: “In all the decades that you’ve taught, you must have witnessed bad behavior similar to this before. You also drive just as far to other schools to sub. What makes this different?”

Dad: “Well, I don’t have to put up with stuff like that anymore. I’m semi-retired. Plus, they’re a Roman Catholic school and they made me sign a document stating that I was a Christian. I understand why they do that, but what I believe has nothing to do with being a good teacher.”

I agreed with him whole-hardheartedly. Unfortunately, he felt that he couldn’t just tell that school outright that he wouldn’t sub for them anymore. He was concerned that the word would spread that he was “picky” about schools. So, from then on, he broke his own rule of honesty and always told that school he was already booked or busy when they called.

He continued subbing for several more years at several schools after that before retiring fully. Even after he stopped registering as a substitute teacher with the school boards and schools, he would still get calls occasionally from schools asking him to PLEASE come in for a day. He told me that he liked being needed but that his ailing wife needed him more.

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Every Vacation Has A Price

, , , , , , | Learning | June 15, 2021

When I was in fifth grade, there was this one kid who, to put it kindly, could never be accused of being in possession of general common sense. For example, he bragged to some kids about something mischievous he did — within earshot of the school principal!

One day, he did not show up to class, and no one thought anything of it. As usual, the teacher would leave whatever assignments and whatnot on his desk.

A week went by, followed by yet another week. I overheard the teacher mentioning to a faculty member that calls had been placed to the kid’s home, which had been both unanswered and unreturned, and that there was a serious concern that there might have been a serious personal emergency or illness.

Then one day, he popped up, as grand as you please, bragging to the kids about his “vacation” in Texas. The teacher saw him and obviously confronted him.

Teacher: “Where have you been the past two weeks?”

Kid: *Grandly, with a huge smile* “Texaaaaaas! Dad got a huge bonus at work and some vacation time and took us all! Yep! Got myself a heck of a tan, too!”

Teacher: *Turning a patchwork of purple and red* “You can’t just up and take a vacation smack in the middle of the school year without making arrangements with us first about your schoolwork! What is wrong with you?”

Kid: “Schoolwork? But I was on vacation!”

The teacher returns to her desk, produces a tower of paperwork, and plops it down on his desk.

Teacher: “I sure hope you’re ready to sacrifice your lunchtime recesses. And, on top of that, I hope your dad will understand why you will be in detention after school every day until every single assignment is completed!”

Kid: “That’s not fair!”

Teacher: “Unless you would like to get zeroes for everything. And, for your information, it’s not fair to the other students to let you skip out on your work while they are here every day trying and working hard. Anything else you’d like to share with the class about the spectacular time you had in Texas while they were hard at work? We’d love to hear it.”

The kid just scowled.

It took him a month to finally get caught up.

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Woof, That Joke Is Ruff

, , , , , , , | Learning | June 14, 2021

My dad taught our childhood dog commands in both English and Spanish. For example, “sit” and “toma asiento” would both get her to sit down. In first grade, we had a pet show and students could bring in either a live animal or a stuffed one. I proudly showed off my dog and her tricks.

Me: “Sit.”

She sat and then got back up.

Me: “Toma asiento.”

She sat again.

Teacher: “Wow, your dog speaks Spanish!”

Me: *Incredulous* “What? No, she only barks.”

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