Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Elementary school should not feel this much like prison

Yaya's school is, at least.

Before school started this year Yaya was very excited to hear that with Mr. Man in full day classes I could come have lunch with him. Yesterday was the first day I went, and as it so happened B had the day off of work and decided to go too.

Things were pleasant enough for most of the lunch period. The lunch was fine--a BBQ rib sandwich with green beans and pears, about the same as what I remember from elementary school. Yaya stole most of my pears, and I swear whoever sells McDonald's the McRib sells the same thing to schools.

About halfway through lunch some (not all) of the supervising teachers/staffers--including one woman with a walkie talkie who looked like she'd just as soon smack you with it than look at you--started walking around with their hands up in the air. This, we were informed, was the zero voice signal. Most of the kids quieted down and held their hands up as they were supposed to, but after a minute or so of holding their arms up in the air they went back to eating lunch. As I'm sure most of you with any elementary school experience know, lunch is not a long period. Apparently these children were supposed to eat with one hand, silently, while holding the other hand up in the air. B and I sat there exchanging "WTF?" glances the entire time. This went on for quite a while, including the shame speech in the next paragraph.

Once the teachers had held up their hands for about five minutes and not received complete and total silence--note that not once did anyone say "Zero silence time" or in any way try to get anyone's attention, they just walked around with their hands in the air, some of them looking like they wished they could smack the shit out of these kids--some guy came out and delivered a lovely little shame speech about how they'd been in school for two weeks and should know the zero voice rule and maybe they just didn't want recess. I sat there stunned and honestly very close to tears. This was what my son put up with at school? That plus the little jerk next to him who called him a loser then punched the girl on the other side of him in the arm and spilled barbecue sauce on her dress really did not make for a very pleasant experience. It was eye opening, and not in a good way.

After all that bullshit with the zero voice stuff, there was no announcement or information to be given that necessitated silence or at least quiet. None. They had nothing to say, they just wanted the kids to shut up. Actually the noise wasn't that bad when you consider that there were a hundred second graders in the space, and since the sound of just my two kids playing can give me a pounding headache I think that I can reasonably judge how bad a noise level is.

Next was recess. Seriously, you guys, prison yards have better amenities than this playground did. Playground is not an accurate word, really--it was a blacktop with a small amount of grass on one side. There were a hundred children playing and the only equipment was five balls, two basketball hoops, two tetherball poles (with balls, thankfully) and two ratty old jump ropes. Oh, and let's not forget the colored squares painted on the ground. Walkie Talkie Lady was once again stalking the playground looking as if the only thought going through her head was "just give me a reason, kid." It was, all in all, the most depressing meal I've ever had. Recess was ten minutes long. More time was devoted to the zero voice bullshit than to these children getting to run off some energy and socialize with their friends.

I went to this school district from age 13 until graduation. The teachers were great, and from what I can see they still are (for the most part, there were a few bad apples when I was there and I'm sure there still are). However, even back then I knew that the way some things were done wasn't kosher. My mom confirmed this to me when I was complaining about the utter chaos at registration last year--it wasn't pleasant from the other side back then, either. Now I'm getting to see that side and I'm not at all happy with it. There have been some letters sent home that I think were meant to be written/read in a folksy "we're all in this together so let's make things better" way but were really just jaw-droppingly unprofessional. We've been talking about moving back to the other side of the river and the only reason I can come up with to stay here in this school district is "well, pick up and drop off is a lot better because the school is smaller." What kind of glowing recommendation is that? Sending my kid to this school is less inconvenient for me. Ugh. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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