School shouldn't be easy, but this is ridiculous

School shouldn't be easy, but this is ridiculous

In the beginning there were fire drills, which begat duck-and-cover exercises, which begat bomb-scare evaluations, which begat metal detectors, which begat cops in the hallway, which begat gun-sniffing dogs, which begat lockdowns, which begat panic and fear.

And now some schools are deemed too dangerous to even open.

In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?”

I remember when giving an apple to the teacher illustrated the ultimate in brown-nosing and grade-grubbing.

In today’s environment it’s standard equipment.

Computerized curricula.

Remote learning.

Online classes.

Even in schools that have been allowed to ever-so-tentatively butt heads with the pandemic, social distancing is the Golden Rule, and facial coverings lead the list of school supplies.

I feel bad for kids these days.

Gone are the days when a student’s biggest worry might be a pop quiz in American history or square dancing in gym glass or the dreaded “Cook’s Choice” on the lunch menu in the cafeteria.

In today’s new normal, the very air that’s circulating is suspect.

I try to imagine being a 5-year-old walking into a strange building for the first day of kindergarten and my mind bends as I stare from behind my mask, glasses fogged and malleable brain overloaded.

School was never meant to be easy unless you just didn’t care, but failure was not an option in our family.

There was no room for a Jeff Spicoli, not even when he was at his most charmingly baked self:

“So what Jefferson was saying was, ‘Hey, you know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we’ll just be bogus too.’ Yeah?”

Hard to believe 14 years after “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” the self-same Sean Penn would win the Best Actor Oscar for his work in “Dead Man Walking.”

That’s a steep learning curve.

As I said, education was serious business in our house, right up there with Sunday Mass and Notre Dame football. Both my parents were college professors, which meant one of two things would happen when report cards were sent home.

Either you were considered smart, or you were simply stupid.

Do grade cards — the actual, physical artifacts — even exist anymore? I think I read someplace that in some school districts children had to give permission to their parents before they could open them.

Is that back-assward or what?

I can just imagine trying to get away with that kind of convoluted logic when I knew there was a low B or high C lurking in that ticking time bomb inside the manila envelope.

“Um, Mom,” I might start, “before I can allow you to open.”

Like a cobra striking a mongoose or a bullfrog reeling in a fly with a whip-like snap of its tongue, she’d have the evidence before her, exposed on the kitchen table like a corpse awaiting an autopsy.

“Well, Michael,” she’d say with a practiced sigh, “do you think you did your best?”

This was one of those loaded questions no guy wants to answer, nearly as potentially lethal as having one’s wife ask if a certain new item of clothing makes her look fat.

Your best recourse is to simply shrug your shoulders, smile sheepishly and hope a nuclear warhead explodes nearby.

But I’m not trying to imply either of my parents was anything even approaching unfair or mean-spirited when I didn’t excel, which wasn’t all that often, though it would have been nice had I been able to get into a good school without having to take physics.

That class might as well have been taught in Mandarin Chinese for all I got out of it, and it remains a shining example of divine intervention that my final C grade didn’t nullify all but the lowest-echelon colleges squatting on the dark side of academia.

It’s not that I didn’t understand what I was supposed to learn; no, it was more that none of it — not the nomenclature, not the concepts, not the practical applications — ever permeated even the lowest level of my high-school consciousness, that dank, musty dungeon where eely things like social confidence and a good attitude slept.

Hey, but at least I didn’t flunk. I made it through, earned a somewhat passable grade and lived to tell the tale. But even if I make it to 100 years old, I’ll always wish the teacher had incorporated just a little bit of “Star Trek” to make it easier on me.

“Allow me to paraphrase Mr. Spock,” he might have said. "‘The fundamental forces of nature govern the interactions between physical entities such as planets, molecules and atoms.’"

Then he’d smile conspiratorially before adding, “And they make photon torpedoes a hell of a lot of fun to fire.”

See, if that had happened, who knows?

But teachers like that — the ones who make learning more than rote memorization and automaton-aimed test-prep — don’t come along very often, and when they do, boards of education have been known to suggest drastic career changes.

I thought about becoming a teacher, and inasmuch as I ever considered any profession beyond playing first base for the New York Yankees, I might have taken a stab at it. I mean both my siblings followed that path, and both married educators too.

But something was missing from my DNA, some basic necessity, a building block without which I’d have been like so many others who ought to have been selling insurance rather than elevating Poe.

Call it “Nevermore,” a certain and assured situational inflexibility.

I wouldn’t have been able, for example, to handle remote teaching, sacrificing the immediacy of the classroom for the sterility of the Internet, even as I understood the problems the pandemic posed.

So I guess it’s a good thing I try to write for a living. If my words do what I hope they will, then the fact I linked Jeff Spicoli with Mister Spock and then to “The Raven” works.

And if I failed, I know faithful readers will be kind about it.

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