Category Archives: School

Remember When Your School Got Its Own Tank?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the school district that obtained an armored vehicle – actually, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP if you want to impress someone – from the United States military through its Excess Property Program.  The vehicle was free, and the district had to pay just the cost of transportation, which was $3.95 for regular ground, or $5,000 for 2-day express.Tank1

I remember when my school got its first tank, the graduating seniors’ class gift to the school they loved so much.  At the dedication ceremony, the Class President, Class Vice President, and Class Risk Assessment Manager spray painted the sides of the tank with “Woo Hoo Class of Awesome!  To Thine Own Self Be True!”  There was an after-party, mainly for those three people, where they ate pizza and discussed what they were going to do with all their Barron’s review books.

Some concerned parents managed to have the tank classified as dangerous, so the school had to keep it under strict lock and key in the A/V room, along with the televisions on those tall skinny carts.  The School Tank, as it came to be called, was taken out for special events like Homecoming, where the Homecoming King and Queen would ride atop the military vehicle, holding flowers and wearing their crowns, and waving to the crowds in the stands.

The following year, a neighboring school district, a rival in football, basketball, and Monopoly, got its own tank. It was larger and shinier than ours, and at the Memorial Day parade, at which all high schools in the region could march in whatever formation they liked as long as it met federal safety standards, their tank got more cheers from the crowds of parents and siblings.

Over the summer, the school diverted some funds earmarked for social studies books and ordered up another tank. This one was bigger and shinier than even the tank that our rival had obtained. Next to our first tank, it was a giant. We started calling them Big Tank and Little Tank. At lunchtime now, the school paraded the two tanks, sometimes Big leading, sometimes Little, around the track. All students could look out the window and see the two tanks parading.  The tanks were driven by students, and for some reason this job attracted the same students who were in charge of the audio/visual technology.

At the Memorial Day Parade, Big Tank and Little Tank rolled down our town’s main thoroughfare in triumph. Parents and siblings cheered loudly and the day appeared to be ours. But then a sound…a buzzing chop-chop sound filled the air and all were quiet.

And then we saw it. A helicopter with a bad drawing of a wildcat – the mascot of our rival school – spray painted on the side.  The tank was rolling on the street, directly underneath the helicopter, with balloons floating from the nozzle of the gun.

This was absolutely the last straw. Classes were cancelled for a week while school officials sold books and some desks where the chair and desk are fused together to get another military vehicle. As we sat at home and wished we could be back in English class reading Wuthering Heights, we speculated on what the new vehicle would be. What could be more impressive than a helicopter?

The Warren G. Harding High School Air Craft Carrier was delivered via overnight courier. Since our physical school building was not that near the water, we had to be relocated to a coastal town on the bay. It was a lot windier but we didn’t get as much snow.

One night our radar caught a few blips off the coast of Madagascar. Our commanding officer, who was also the official wearer of the school mascot costume at home football games, ordered our battleship and guided missile cruiser – gifts of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, respectively – in for a closer look.

“Identify yourselves,” Kevin said into the microphone, which no one except him seemed to know was not connected to the unknown ships.  “Prepare the guns,” he said to the crew, who were making posters for a pep rally. “This could get ugly.”

Our ships were moved into position and guns aimed. Now we were worried about the math test in third period and the possibility of war.

“Man the cannon!” Kevin said. “Ready, aim…”

“Wait! Wait!” said the Class Gluten-Free Bake Sale Coordinator. “What’s that on the side of the ships? I think it says…Go Wildcats?”

Yes, it was our dear rivals from the neighboring town. Looks like they had obtained for themselves a navy. Had it not been for the unsteady block printing and pathetic drawing of a wildcat on the sides of the ships, we would have launched on them and probably have had to make up our math test.  The near risk of war marked a turning point in the relationship of our schools, and I can safely say that today we are not rivals but allies.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that the San Diego School District has returned the armored vehicle.  I hope they kept the receipt.

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Filed under Current Events, Government, School

Remember When Playgrounds Were Dangerous?

The playgrounds of today do not look like the playgrounds that I played on, when I ran around with my jacket unzipped and in blissful ignorance of the fact that I would one day have more conversations with Time Warner Cable than with my parents.  Gone are the monkey bars, the jungle gyms, the pieces of metal welded together in the shape of something that was at the same time a slide and a medieval torture device.  No longer can children test their courage and their parents’ coronary strength by climbing to the summit of iron structures, where one slip would send a child pinballing down to an unforgiving concrete surface in an indifferent universe.

Playgrounds today are made of single pieces of plastic, their summits so low that children can eat on them without having to sit on telephone books—not that there are any telephone books left to sit on.  The concrete ground has been supplanted by rubber foam, and the swings are allowed a maximum swing of five degrees in either direction, and even that much requires clearance from air traffic control.

Look hard and you will see the city of wood and metal that once was there.  See the tiered wooden maze with splinters and exposed nails.  Run your hand over the rubber ground, and you will feel the sea of pebbles that once washed over Velcro sneakers, and drove little rocks into the soles of little feet as those feet dropped from the monkey bars.  Sniff the air, and you will smell the charred pieces of wood that littered the playground, with which the children would draw pictures of bison and of teachers they despised, just like their ancestors did on cave walls some 40,000 years ago.

And along the perimeter of the southeastern quadrant lay a line of giant rubber tires, each one the width of three children, or one and a half of the children we have today.  The tires had been implanted into the pebbled earth on their sides, forming a tunnel that the children could crawl through, and catch their Champion sweatshirts and scratch their rosy cheeks on the wires that protruded from the tires as a testament to the thousands of miles that those tires had traveled before being retired to the playground where they could bring joy to all children.

Crawl through that tunnel of tires.  You are led to a three-story rusty metal cylinder in the shape of  rocket.  Children climb up to the top of it with only cold metal rungs to keep them from falling to death or paralysis.  At the top of the rocket there is the opening to another tunnel.  This tunnel is horizontal and is made of the same wooden planks as the charred and splintery maze.  In that tunnel three stories above the world, a boy can meditate on what it means to be young, and dream of one day having a television in his room.

Listen!  Hear the cries of a child who slipped off a giant metal sea horse placed on a spring.  The child split his lip when he hit the pebbles, and he leaves a trail of blood as he is led to the nurse’s office.  The other children observe a moment of silence out of respect for their fallen comrade, and after that moment go back to their wanton cruelty.

Here, in this playground whose spirit will not leave, is where blood was spilled and teeth were lost, knees scraped and ankles sprained, skin pierced and lockjaw contracted.  And where heroes were born.

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Filed under Safety, School

Remember Trapper Keepers?

Everyone had one and I wanted one too.  It was called a Trapper Keeper.  A plastic binder with sliding plastic rings and a flap that folded over the front, so that all the notes were “trapped” inside this latest assault on parents’ school budgets.

I remember when I sat my parents down and told them I wanted a Trapper Keeper.  “So it’s just a binder with sliding plastic rings and a Velcro flap?” they asked.

“No, it also has a picture on the front.  Jimmy has one with a Ferrari and I’d like to do something similar.  Not the same exact thing, of course.”

“Of course.”

I chose a Trapper Keeper with a Ferrari on the front.  I liked to sit in class and flip the switch that slid the plastic rings in and out of each other.  The Establishment didn’t understand what an innovation that was.  The metal rings in regular binders snapped together with a loud and irritating snap—if the rings snapped together at all!  After a few days the male and female parts of the metal rings would fail to line up, and you would have to use your finger to bend the metal and force the rings closed.

The Trapper Keeper closed with a whisper.  I would sit in class, opening and closing the plastic rings like a latter-day telegraph operator.  I also liked to work the Velcro.  Over and over again I would rip open the Velcro flap, open the front cover of the Trapper Keeper, open the plastic rings, close the plastic rings, close the front cover, and seal it with the Velcro flap.

“Mark, do you need to sit in the back of the room?” my teacher said, “Why don’t you choose one state for your folder and join the rest of the class?  We are listing all the different uses of manila paper.”

I thought I could give her one pretty good use of manila paper that was not on the list, but then I remembered something Oscar the Grouch once said on Sesame Street: “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

I rejoiced in the feeling that my notes on the Civil War—also known as the War Between the States and the War to End Mutton Chops—were secure in style.  The Trapper Keeper even accelerated my transition from carrying all my books in a backpack to the far more efficient method of carrying all my books in my arms, as I wanted all the world to behold my glorious plastic portfolio emblazoned with a red Ferrari.  And as I traveled throughout my little school, I imagined that I too was that Ferrari, fast and sleek, until I was yelled at for running in the halls and had to appear in traffic court.

At home my infatuation with my Trapper Keeper was no more subdued.  I would sit on the couch with the pretense of working on my thesis on the influence of Casio watches on youth culture.  But all I did was open and close the Trapper Keeper, open and close its silent plastic rings, remove and inspect and reorder and replace its folders with the pockets on the sides, and sit and look at the way its plastic cover captured the glint of the twilight sun coming through our bay window.

And then one day the unthinkable happened.  One of the plastic rings did not line up.  I quickly realigned the ring-halves, but it was only the beginning.  The other two rings started having their problems, too, and I noticed that the beautiful folders with the side pockets were getting mushy at the corners.  Even the plastic cover had started to tear, and the Velcro on the front flap had a coat of orange cat hair.  Father Time had not forgotten my Trapper Keeper.

I looked to my classmates for support, but they had all moved on to ever more efficient ways of keeping their notes together, such as folding them up into little squares and shoving the little squares into pocket books or duffel bags.

It was time to say goodbye to my Trapper Keeper.  I opened and closed the plastic rings one last time, gently using my fingers to help them lock with dignity, folded the flap over, the Velcro fibers barely catching anymore, ran my hand over the Ferrari as a final salute, and laid the Trapper Keeper to rest in my parent’s basement where it could spend eternity next to Candy Land.

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Remember the President’s Fitness Test?

When I was in elementary school and completing my gym fellowship, after the square dancing seminar but before I had to defend my thesis on crab soccer, we were advised that we would all be participating in something called the President’s Test on Fitness.  The President’s Test, as we called it, was a series of five events by which we’d all be embarrassed in front of our peers: the shuttle run, pull-ups, sit-ups, the sit-and-reach, and the mile.

The shuttle run sounded interesting at first because it contained the word “shuttle.”  This was a more innocent and simpler time in America, and shuttle launches had yet to become boring.  I and my cohorts all had being an astronaut on our “when I grow up lists,” usually just behind baseball player, football player, and He-Man.

The shuttle run, however, was nothing like going into outer space.  A pair of erasers was placed at one end of the gym, and a starting line at the other end.  One by one we would sprint from behind the line, grab one eraser, run back to the starting line, deposit the eraser in hand behind the starting line, sprint back to the other eraser, grab it, and run back to the starting line before you could hear the other students making fun of how slow you ran.

Pull-ups involved taking an overhand grip on a horizontal bar set higher than you, letting your feet dangle for a few moments, and making it look like you were making a diligent effort at doing a pull-up without making so many funny faces that you became known as the kid who makes funny faces when he is trying to do a pull-up.  Today the pull-ups are probably done in a private room so that only the gym teacher gets to laugh at the funny faces.  But in those days public humiliation was one of the five food groups.

Sit-ups were easy.  You just had a partner hold on to your feet while you did as many sit-ups in a minute as possible.  I used to gain a competitive edge by playing with my partners Velcro sneakers, unfastening and re-fastening the noisy fibers over and over to disrupt his rhythm.  Or if he came from that sect who wore KangaROOS, I would search for the little hiding place in the footwear that held the student’s milk or drug money.

The sit-and-reach was something that if on television today would say “Do Not Attempt” at the bottom of the screen.  The subject sat on a mat with legs straight out, and a wooden box with scored measurements was placed at the end of the feet.  The student would then be asked to bend forward and stretch his or her arms as far as possible past the feet.  The performance in this event would be measured by the farthest measurement the student’s fingertips could reach on the wooden box, divided by the number of screams emitted as the gym teacher pushed on the student’s shoulders, shouting “Come now, you can reach farther than that!  Don’t let those European kids beat us!  You owe it to your country!”

Because that was the original purpose behind the President’s Test.  The council that eventually created this wonderful opportunity for American children was established in 1956 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower after he saw a study that showed European children to be more fit than American children.  I, however, did not know or care about the patriotic origins of the requirement that I trip along a dusty track, heaving and wheezing and flailing my arms like a whirligig, taking enough staggered steps in my Velcro sneakers to hopefully add up to a mile.

The President’s Test has probably been redesigned to include meditation and yoga and an exercise where you try to name as many vegetables as you can in under a minute.  The tests are all done in private rooms, and everyone passes.  And most of all, true to the origins of the test, the mile is only a kilometer.

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Remember Elementary School Teachers?

Today I have the distinct honor of guest posting at Lessons From Teachers and Twits, the blog written and hosted by Renée A. Shuls-Jacobson.  As anyone who visits this site will know, Renée has been one of my most loyal readers and diligent commenters, and is one of the main reasons that my first year of blogging has been so much more rewarding than I thought it would be.  Her fun personality and support encourages me to keep going when I might have given up and bought a Playstation or something.  And so I am excited and proud to finally be able to contribute to her blog, which is totally awesome and way more popular than mine.  Please check it out by clicking the graphic!

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Mash-Up, June 11: Graduation

This week we review a few humorous posts involving graduation.

Chase McFadden, over at Some Species Eat Their Young, was chosen by the high school he teaches at to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2011.  His speech, titled “Go Find Your Rock,” demonstrates how to combine enough meaning so that the graduates go away with something more than a diploma, with enough humor to keep the graduates’ attention while they bake in the blazing sun under dark caps and gowns, wondering when they are going to eat lunch and get money from their relatives.

It reminded me of Woody Allen’s speech to the graduates, titled “My Speech to the Graduates,” first published in the New York Times in 1979.  I would have sat under two caps and two gowns to hear the Woodman deliver this speech.  I don’t think he would have enjoyed the heat, though.

I saved the best for last.  A recent MBA graduate named Debbie posted an eHarmony video in hopes of, I imagine, finding companionship en route to everlasting love and affection.  The first 35 seconds of the clip are a little slow, but the content after that makes me wonder how anyone could resist asking this young woman for her number.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.

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Remember When Snow Was Fun?

Remember when a big snowstorm was fun and exciting?

I do.

The snow was light and fluffy.  The lawn would look like an unblemished layer of pure white frosting.  The trees would have a calming stillness.  But mainly it was the possibility of school being cancelled that gave snow that magical quality.

It would begin the afternoon before.  A rumor would begin to spread about the school.  “Psst.  There’s going to be a big snowstorm, and Lisa smells.  Pass it on.”  It did not matter if it was 70 degrees and sunny; the moment someone said “snow” the air in the hallways and classrooms would get that pre-holiday feeling.  Before a single snowflake had fallen it felt like school had been canceled.

Not once did it occur to us that missing a day of school might cost us useful knowledge.  At that time, there was no useful knowledge.  And it did not even have to be a school day for the magic to work.  Even if it snowed on a Saturday, I would leap out of bed and look out the window and see the piles of pure white snow and say to myself, “How beautiful.  I wonder if school will be canceled on Monday.”

The best was watching the list of closed schools scrolls across the bottom of the television screen.  It was like waiting for the winning lottery numbers.  One of the first schools to be closed in my area was the Cleary School for the Deaf, and I would think about how lucky those kids were to have school canceled.

My school was stingy for some reason.  It always kept us waiting to the bitter end of the list.  With envy I would watch the other names reel by like other people’s luggage at the baggage claim, imagining the students that attended  those schools jumping for joy in their homes, a whole day off from school, a gift from heaven.  And then I think about how I too could be one of those happy students, doing cartwheels in his pajamas, were it not for the lousy administrators in my school, the heartless scoundrels who wanted to rob me of a snow day, the cruel, fun-hating, sadistic…

…And then it would happen.  The name of my school would scroll across the bottom of the screen, and I would know in my heart that my prayers had been answered.

Now, years later, that school long behind me, I perceive snow a little differently.  When I hear that there is going to be snow, I don’t watch the bottom of the television screen or do cartwheels or even bother praying.  Because all I think about is how miserable I’m going to be shoveling the driveway, and how I’m going to be risking my life on treacherous roads just to earn my daily bread.

But when I see the blanket of white pureness on the lawn, and the white mounds hanging off the trees, I still feel a little bit of the old magic, a little bit of wonder, a little bit of my childhood, and it gives me comfort.  That, and the fact that there will be no school buses or teachers on the road.

 

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Filed under School, Weather