For those who are wondering about my sudden absence from posting — or the sudden scarcity of postings, at least… no. It’s not all work.
I won’t go into details, mostly because I’m not absolutely sure all this won’t end up in the courts yet — or at least in a really funny roman a clef — but this year my younger son’s school has been trouble of one kind or another.
Oh, don’t misunderstand me — a part of this is the kid himself. The older one mostly takes after his father in public demeanor and behavior, which means by twelve he gave a convincing immitation of a human being. The younger one is mine, mine, all mine, from the top of his little horns to the bottom of his little hooves. Eventually — hopefully — he’ll control himself and limit actions resulting from his skewed view of the world and resulting sense of humor to the occasional joke — that will sail well above his teachers’ heads — or the — more lucrative — short story.
For now, though, he is twelve. Just on the edge of adolescence. Pudgy. Unwashed. Callow. He forgets his homework. Brushes his teeth only sporadically. His idea of a suave expression made me hide his school picture because it looks exactly like he was struck by sudden intestinal trouble. His attempts at intervening in table time conversation cause all of us to stop dead and say in three voices, in unisson “Shut up, Eric.” (It’s not so much they’re not on topic. It’s like they came from another dimmension.) His not inconsiderable brain power is right now devoted to one setting only “Open mouth. Insert foot.”
So, you’re saying “He’s twelve.” Yes, indeed. Even Robert who, as I said, was pretty human by that age decided to announce to his social studies teacher, at that age “I only come here so mom can get work done. It’s not like I’m learning anything.” The fact that it was true — for a child who taught himself to read from Caesar’s biography at four, middle school social sciences were really beside the point — was no excuse for saying it. And the crud I had to deal with afterwards…
So I imagine what the younger son says and does. Part of this is my own memory of being that age. Half understood politics and religion had the force of dogma. I not only didn’t understand other people, the world was divided into “the stupid and the non-stupid” and the non stupid were vanishingly few. The stupid, otoh, were vast and deserved to be annoyed at every possible moment and in every possible way.
Again — he’s twelve. Adollescence isn’t kind on anyone, and it is part of the function of growing up at that time to get your rough edges knocked off by your peers. Right?
Well. Wrong. At least as far as this middle school is concerned. As far as they’re concerned, the rough edges of adollescence are to be knocked off by the boot of authority. They are to be treated as something between thought crimes and sins. You are to be shriven and jackbooted until you shut up and think only in the CORRECT way.
A friend’s daughter in 8th grade now did an analysis in which she proved middle school was a totalitarian regime. At the time I thought “ah ah. cute.” Now I’m not so sure.
I am perfectly willing to concede that there must be limits in the interaction between sexes in middle school. Of course, by my lights my limits would be that boys and girls would get shut in separate barrels — but that’s just me. I got felt up and cornered in middle school enough to say any physical touching is not acceptable. There are verbal things that should be forbidden as well and at least flag the child for counseling — I’m thinking death threats; spewing obscenity… that level.
But though Eric has gotten at least one death threat in choir — which was ignored with “you must have misunderstood him — the thought crimes we’re punishing are much stranger. Bizarre even.
I had early warning of this when I was told the oldest was harrassing girls in kindergarten by reciting poetry at them. To wit, he told a girl her eyes shone like diamonds. This made her feel “uncomfortable” and was therefore, obviously, sexual harrassment.
This year… well… take boy who expresses himself oddly to begin with. Add girls who have been trained to think anything at all that a boy says to them is harrassment. Voila. A recipe for driving a parent nuts. For better finetuning of the loony-bin creating machine, make sure at least one of the teachers seems to never have been around teen boys — and sends your son to the office for not answering in his “real voice.” Welcome to my h*ll.
The shennenigans this year are too numerous to mention much less describe. In some of them the boy had a reasonable amount of — at least — escalating guilt. In at least one he was the victim of concerted bullying by a group of girls, which extended to his homework and tests disappearing before reaching the teacher — but we only found out about it because a girl finally crossed the line and accused him of bullying THEM. Lone boy. Twenty girls. What can I say? My boys are overachievers.
And then there was yesterday. Yesterday was just BIZARRE. It convinced me of my friend’s daughter’s point. Middle school is a totalitarian regime. Like all totalitarian regimes it extends its reach at first for a purpose and then mindlessly, till it’s punishing bizarre things and till everyone is guilty at all times.
I was going to call it neo-stalinist, only, you know, it would be an insult to Stalin. Weird as that might sound. At least, whatever he might have said, he wasn’t under the impression he was doing anyone a favor. I remember reading somewhere in Heinlein — and I don’t remember the exact quote — that the tyrants to be wary of are those who do things for their victims’ “own good.”
So — yesterday — Eric tells me he was sent to the office for an hour. Why? Oh, they wanted him to apologize for something a girl said he’d said to her. A girl.Said.He’d.Said.To.Her. No witnesses, no corroboration. You’re accused, therefore you must be guilty. The principal and the vice principal spent an hour with him demanding he confess. AN HOUR.
Okay — at this point I’m thinking… death threat. It has to be something very serious for them to take time out of their busy day to devote it to this. Right? Particularly when you add in that he’s denying saying anything and that the charmer who made the accusation was in the first group of girls who severely bullyed him — in fact, was one of the principals in that group.
So, what terrible words did my twelve year old utter — SUPPOSING he’d uttered them, which, frankly… Well… the sentence is almost incoherent enough to be his, but it makes more sense as something that was misunderstood (Particularly since it was supposedly said on a volleyball court, mid game.) — oh, brace yourselves, this one is good. What he SUPPOSEDLY said was “Let’s go down get some alcohol and do something.”
This warrants an HOUR of demands to apologize because it made the girl feel “strange.” (I don’t know about you, but if she’s strange enough to demand protection and apology from THAT she’s going to have an interesting time in real life.)
There is no indication at all that this was a sexual suggestion — if anything was said, it was between plays in the volleyball court. There is NO suggestion of threat in the words. It is — if it was said (and I’d put my hands in the fire it wasn’t, simply because the boy-monkey withstood an hour of yelling at while refusing to apologize because “it’s plain dumb to say you’re sorry when you didn’t do it.”) — no more than what a twelve year old might say trying to sound grown up.
Look, in my time, it wouldn’t even warrant a glare at the boy, much less decking him (which I reserved for crimes of touching.) In my day, that kind of stupid sentence warranted pretending you didn’t hear it. I still use this arcane skill at cons. Serves me well.
BUT — at a guess because the word alcohol was supposedly used — this warranted taking the kid out of class — without corroborative testimony — and having him interrogated and told he MUST apologize.
My mind is bending trying to figure out how the words even would be offensive, much less what he would be apologizing for, even had he said it.
It’s not neo-stalinist. It’s 1984 run by the mad hatter. Confess. Repent. Words mean exactly what we say they do, unless they don’t.
You know, it’s not just that they’re interfering with my ability to think — and write. It’s not just that they’re making my son miserable. Being miserable is a condition of early adolescence. He’ll live. And so will I, except maybe with a few more white hairs. Worst case scenario I bring him home to homeschool — with him kicking and screaming all the way that he “wont’ give them the satisfaction” — and cut out the stress producers.
No — what upsets me here is that all of a sudden making someone feel uncomfortable is a crime: whether or not you had any reason to think in advance that anyone could be made uncomfortable by your words or gestures. What upsets me is that they’re teaching half our population — by and large the female half — to run to authority for protection at the slightest provocation, instead of getting THEIR edges knocked off by contact with the opposite sex.
What truly upsets me is that our childrens’ souls are being nibbled to death by ducks.