Some people put their children on their refrigerator, proud moments and happy faces captured digitally or, old school, on film. Magnetically affixed and Scotch taped next to their children’s art work are their drawings of turd families and colorful unicorns.
Here is my refrigerator today:
A proud papa, my refrigerator displays a disciplinary write-up and a detention notice. I’m privately subversive like that. (For those of you pissing yourselves, don’t read too much into it—it’s just a magnet we got in the mail. I would use a Trump magnet if it were sent to me, and he’s a complete asshat. #SendMagnets.) I say “privately subversive” (which means nothing) because we won’t do anything about the ridiculousness of our children’s respective schools. And we won’t because there isn’t anything we can do. We’ve tried. You can’t turn a fool from his errand. So my frustration bleeds into the pages before me, osmotically.
The administration that treats every person as a non-person, as product, places the top-of-her-class, quiet art student in an hour-long, after-school detention for three tardies. The kind of student, mind you, that every single teacher there would kill to have in their classroom. And the tardies? There is only one for which she had any responsibility. And the last tardy she received was for being literally three seconds late, the teacher standing in the doorway watching her hurry down the hallway. It all tickles me as pink as the copy of the discipline form they sent me. They cannot punish me, so they punish her.
Maybe I’m not so tickled.
Now my son was written up for distracting the class by “playing with [his] hair and giggling” during silent reading. She said she’d given him a warning. He says he didn’t hear it, if she warned him. When I first heard he was written up by his teacher for distracting the class by playing with his hair, I told him he should have fired off gun hands at her—one, two; pew, pew,—and say, “Only distracting to you, Babe.” (I’m not anywhere near the best father or role model in the world.) And last night I desperately wanted to shave him bald and send him to class with a note saying, “My son will no longer be bothering the class. If you have any more problems with him, please let me know.” Unfortunately, my son isn’t just a troublemaker, he’s also chicken.
I no longer bat an eyelid when my son gets written up nowadays, but I do worry about what the write-ups do to him, how they discourage him. Because this is his third or fourth one in the past two years, and each one has been laughable. One write-up was, I shit you not, for catching a carrot someone had thrown at him (not to him) in the cafeteria. The principal was tripping over herself to apologize for all the trouble. How do the write-ups make my child feel about authority and respecting that authority when it seems so arbitrary, when it seems so silly—while so many real behavior issues are ignored? My kids may not always act maturely, but that does not mean they are blind.
I apparently have my own problems with authority.
But only with silly, arbitrary rules and the people who love them.
And I have problems with stupid. I have problems with rigidity and meanness.
I have problems with people inadvertently creating the kinds of problems they are trying to prevent.
I have problems with them doing these things to children. With people who lord their authority over them.
Speaking of which, this is not simply a school problem. It’s everywhere, in all the expected places and all the unexpected ones. It even happens in my parish where people should know better. People use their authority, rules and hoops, as an obstacle to the sacraments (to our Lord). “Do x, y, and z,” they say, “or you cannot receive the sacraments”—the grace, the presence of Christ that he freely offers. That kind of manipulation of behavior doesn’t work, doesn’t change a child’s heart, by the way, and it doesn’t tickle me. It burns the hell out of me. And it wounds me deeply. But maybe that’s another post.