In today’s edition of Planet Haley, we will be discussing the public school system and spotlighting three influential educators who made a difference in my life during high school, and have been shaping my ideas and actions with their memories in the years since. This is a two-part article, and I will publish the second part tonight to make up for not posting yesterday and therefore sticking to my commitment about the publishing blitz. On Friday and Saturday, I worked three shifts between my various side hustles and was so sleep-deprived I was hallucinating music while sitting in a gas-station bathroom trying to poop. I’d say please excuse my hustle, but a work ethic is not something you should ever be apologetic of; I’ve gotten very far in life by being the hardest worker in the room.
Now, on to the article! Part One is about some problems the high school I spent most of my time at struggled to address and Part Two is about the few great teachers I had and what made them great. I’m considering doing a Part Three about the tiny high school I attended for my senior year, and what they were doing different and doing right.
I’m currently reading Waiting for Superman and while Wyandotte Public Schools are a far cry from the inner-city ghetto, many of the problems discussed within the book regarding education quality apply to more affluent areas as well but are hidden behind something I call the “White Picket Fence” phenomenon, where while a neighborhood or family looks good on the outside, it hides it’s problems behind a facade for the sake of saving face. Man of my colleague’s families struggled with abuse, addiction, and unemployment but rarely discussed these issues outside of our peer group and reaching out to an authority figure like a teacher for help would break an unspoken taboo. I still remember the beating a close friend received as “punishment” for a concerned teacher sending CPS to their house over some suspicious bruises on her and her sister.
We can help break this taboo and make teachers more “approachable” for help by changing the way we prepare our high schoolers for the real world. I think a huge part of the reason we didn’t reach out to our teachers was that they were seen as authority figures, and while this is necessary to keep order in a classroom, it can easily alienate vulnerable students. Stop telling kids that getting a degree is a guarantee to a successful life, when the reality is that an innumerable amount of factors influence the economy and the types of jobs that are available, and while a degree in gender studies might be personally rewarding, jobs with the degree as a prerequisite are few and far between. Perhaps discussions about the direction of the job market, how technology is changing it, and the types of jobs that will be needed in 10 years is a better way of going about it than just ordering kids to go to college and thinking everything will work out from there. How about individually counseling students about their interests and possible directions they could pursue would be worthwhile? Wyandotte Roosevelt, a supposed “good school” did not have either of these things. We had student counselors we could work with, but none made the effort to reach out to us and few of us even realized their offices existed. They needed to reach out to the students in order to be effective at their jobs; students WILL NOT go to them on their own. Another huge thing schools need to do is Stop Lying to Kids About Drugs. We have the Interwebs, and it takes us approximately .25 seconds to figure out on Google that nobody has ever died from smoking pot (barring a freak accident where someone got crushed by a bale of ganj while loading a truck or whatever), and, more importantly, .25 more seconds to figure out that many successful people in silicone valley are creating scientific breakthroughs with the help of psychedelics. If you lie to students about drugs we’re not going to trust you, we’ll wonder what else you’re lying about, and we’re definitely not going to approach you for help when our creepy Uncle is raping our sister when he’s babysitting and that’s why we can’t focus on writing our paper about Anna Karenina (not me, but did happen to someone I know, and, yes, different family from the one I mentioned in the last paragraph. These problems are just as widespread as in poorer areas, we just hide them better). I’m not saying turn our schools into Burning Man, but “Just Say No” hasn’t been effective since it’s inception and it needs to be replaced with something else. I don’t know what that “sometime else” is, but promoting honest, open conversations without sanctions for curious questions about things we’ve read/watched/been exposed to seems like a good place to start. I had access to cocaine, heroin, xanax, kolonpin, and extacy pills, as well as the normal stuff (weed, alcohol, cigarettes) in 10th grade, and the only reason I had friends was that it was common knowledge that if you gave me money I’d do your homework with a guaranteed B+ on any assignment (Don’t judge me; we were drowning in the recession and if your laid-off parents can’t get a job at the Family Dollar, my no work experience having 15 year old ass wasn’t going to either). Kids are growing up even faster now than 10 years ago, and my younger cousins are being exposed to prescription pain medication abuse in their middle school and even elementary years. I’m genuinely scared for them and the challenges they will face when sitting in a classroom of 35 kids with a impersonal educator – how are they supposed to get excited about their futures, make higher education plans, and figure out how to handle stress without turning to substance abuse? I didn’t meet the first person I would consider a mentor until a few years after graduation—by that point it would’ve been too late for others who had already had children or were facing years in prison to be open to making some changes in their lives.
The issues facing Roosevelt were disastrously personified in one individual, an assistant principal who received most of his joy in life from terrorizing students for dress code violations and other petty, minor issues completely unrelated to our education. At the pinnacle of ridiculousness, flip-flop shoes were banned during the warmer months with the logic that if someone was walking up the stairs another student could accidentally step on the backs of their shoes, creating a safety hazard. I’m certain many of us have walked up a staircase while wearing flip-flops before and didn’t end up dying or suing anybody afterwards. This policy sent a resounding message that the adults believed we were too stupid to walk properly, something that we believe we had mastered as a toddler. Many a time, we felt like we were treated as “naughty toddlers” instead of “growing, soon-to-be adult.” I’m sure someone more well versed than I in Psychology or Sociology could elaborate more on why we behaved the way we were treated. Another result was the Great Clothing Wars, where students would actively challenge the board of education about their policies at their meetings and blatantly defy the rules until the Dress Code Nazi Assistant Principal spotted them and proceeded to lay down the law in a gleeful, almost sexually satisfying manner. I often wondered if he jacked off to the amount of Saturday detentions he was able to pass out to students over having holes in your jeans. Did he hate holes in jeans so much because he it had been eons since his manhole had been put in a very different sort of hole? I considered asking him that one day, but I had better things to do that weekend than draw manga and read books in Saturday detention. The message he sent was clear: It doesn’t matter what your grades are; you will follow our rules and any attempt to apply critical thinking skills will be punished severely. Shut up and obey, nobody cares about what you think. Maybe its not so surprising that so many of my classmates are now dead from suicides and overdoses when we came of age in that environment? What did the dress code do to enhance our education quality? Absolutely fucking nothing, except to teach us that adults make stupid rules sometimes that its OK to defy when you can’t process the logic behind them. I’m going to let my Colonists use their critical thinking skills to figure out where that life lesson can take a young, impressionable mind, best and worse scenarios, and elaborate in the comments section.
When I kicked the 5th street door open, middle finger in the air for the many cameras to see, my last blatant act of defiance on my final day in that hellhole before telling my mom I was going to drop out and get a GED if she didn’t put me in another school, I realized that I did learn a few things from my tenure: The moment you realize that the only difference between adults and children is that adults get to choose who bosses them around, and then deciding YOU are the only one who’s going to be in charge of your life’s direction from this point forward, is the moment you become an adult.