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Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Thwarted Escape Attempt

I’m proud to report that your Director was instrumental in stopping an ill conceived and poorly thought out attempt to escape from our beloved institution. I was walking down the south corridor at 1:40 P.M. The South Corridor contains the classrooms reserved for our youngest students. They range in age from five to nine years. The hall was quiet. You saw the children but didn’t hear them; a sign of strict discipline. This is the primary characteristic of a fine school preparing its students for the next round of national testing. After all, isn’t that what a school is all about? In today’s schools rigid discipline begins at a young age. Small humans are not to be pampered or coddled. Pampering a student by allowing them personal exploration can lead to independent thought and independent thought can lead to creativity and imagination. Why the very fabric of our standardize curriculum would be compromised, thus leading to a breakdown in society. Elementary students receiving exposure to art and music could lead to a national economic breakdown, hyper inflation in the currency, questionable paintings and books and the use of colored pencils on the test bubble forms! This decay of standardization will not be tolerated.
Mr. Kyle Herring was walking with me down the corridor. A class marched by following one of our new teachers. They appeared to be seven years old judging by their size. Their faces were expressionless as they marched in a straight line noses forward. We stopped and watched. One young boy glanced in my direction. I looked back at him wondering what had caught his eye. He smiled! What would cause such a reaction in a small human so well trained?
Time in the White Room was the punishment for not having your nose forward. The White Room was rumored to be the place where children’s souls and spirits were bleached. Once all color was exorcised the child was returned to class - nose forward. Mind you, I’ve not see this room but know of it from stories passed around in hushed tones in the lunchroom.
They say that undisciplined children are taken downstairs into the White Room and given a series of state approved books. They are held in the White Room until all books are read and exams passed. Electronic shocks are administered if your reading pace slackens or you mispronounce words. Your voice must show enthusiasm while reading. The state knows what every student should read; government approved stale sanitized material which can be tested in standardized form . These books contain political correct stories populated by cardboard characters in controlled situations.
Concerned for this smiling child’s future, I directed him to return his gaze back to the back of Susie’s head. He responded just before the hallway cameras turned in his direction. It was close call.
“I wonder what made him look and smile at me,” I asked.
“Maybe it was your tie,” Kyle answered. I glanced down. I was wearing my Marvin the Martian tie.
“No Wonder,” I muttered. The state censors banned Marvin the Martian because he uses a ray gun to shoot rabbits. Marvin’s character was doubted because he wore a green plastic skirt. What kind of astronaut, human or alien, would wear a green plastic skirt? The latest theory said that children, seeing a Marvin the Martian cartoon, could experience creative thought which would spiral into antisocial behavior. This thinking might encourage children to seek out firearms and shoot rabbits.
“Remind me not to wear this tie again,” I said as we continued to walk toward the outer door. Just as we passed the west corridor I heard a commotion. I looked down the hall and saw a teacher reaching out for a another small boy. He was wearing red, already an indicator of possible communist influences. I believe he was being taken to the White Room to begin a long series of correction interventions. I discovered later he was being punished for stating an unapproved opinion in class.
This boy in red broke free. H e began running in my direction. “You Won’t Take Me Alive!” He shouted as his pace increased. What was I to do? No one escapes our institutions. Our new schools are escape proof, complete with security alarms at every door and the constant patrolling of the Literacy Gestapo slithering around the halls with clip boards in hand listening in teacher’s doorways for independent thoughts and lessons not mandated by the state curriculum for that date and time.
Did this little six year old think he had a chance? The boy ran past us in a race for the outside door. I turned toward the teacher. “Grab Him,” she shouted. I heard the sound of a dropped clip board further up the hall. The gestapo had been alerted. I had to act. I went after the boy. He was at freedom’s doorstep. His hands were on the crash bar. The door flew open. He could smell the fresh air and feel the light from the sun. He tasted freedom and it wasn’t from a book - It was real. He was George Washington. He was the slave freed from his master. It was real and I could see the determination in his face not to let it go.
My arms wrapped around the boy just before he jumped down the steps to the open road. He screamed and thrashed about. I pulled him away from the light and back into the long cold brick corridor. The open door closed behind me. The teacher took the boy from me. He was rushed away before his screams disturbed the other children.
What has happened to the spirit of a free education? Do we still have freedom from oppression. Do we still have freedom of thought? May we learn from gifted teachers who use imagination and creativity to make their lessons come alive? Are there still teachers who mold their curriculum to meet the needs of the class as well as the needs of the state?
I stepped outside, flashed my pass toward the guard tower, got the nod to proceed and drove away. I thought how lucky we were to have our Space Center, a little island of imagination in a dark sea.

Epilogue:
Schools nationwide are struggling with national legislation titled “No Child Left Behind”. Schools are modifying their curriculum to match the national tests. This is forcing teachers to teach to those tests. There seems to be a one size fits all approach in teaching methods and style.
I was thinking about how education has changed since I started teaching 25 years ago. Then I remembered an event that happened to me at school. A young boy tried to escape. I stopped him. That was the source of the story you just read. Writing this highly exaggerated account gave me a chance to drive home a point. Some (not all) of the changes made in education over the last several years should be reconsidered - especially now because of a new administration coming to power.
What I’ve written is my opinion. It may not be yours. That is the glory of our way of life. Freedom of expression!

Mr. Williamson
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