Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Why No Child Left Behind is a Raging Success
April 23, 2007

     On a fine Spring morning, late morning to be exact, when the tree leaves glowed light green and birds chirped annoyingly, I was walking slowly down Ferbish Street, enjoying the warm air and the scent of automobile exhaust when the kid skidded around a corner, almost coming out of his sneakers, ran up to me, took my hand and said, “Pretend like you know me, please.” He was about twelve years old. I was too taken aback to mumble anything coherent and the day had been boring, so I said okay.
     A beefy gentleman wearing a tight suit and an oh-so-military haircut rumbled around the corner a moment later, stopped, looked around, and then looked suspiciously at me. For a second I thought he might ask to see my turban and my Koran. Then he looked suspiciously at the kid. Then me. Then the kid. I was getting dizzy.
     “I was chasing a kid. You seen one?” the haircut said.
     “It’s probably not a good idea to be chasing kids. People might get the wrong idea.” I think the hair at the front of his head stood at attention.
     “I’m a truant officer, pal. It’s my job. Now, you seen any suspicious kids?”
     I looked down at the kid. I said, “Only my nephew. Morty. We were just enjoying a walk in this fine Spring weather.”
     The haircut eyed Morty. “Why ain’t he in school?”
     “He’s from out of town,” I said. “From Maine. Northern Maine.”
     “Yeah. Maine,” the kid said. “Aroostook County, where the potatoes come from.”
     “Izzat so?”
     “Yes,” he said, “yes it is.”
     “Hmmmph. Alright. But you guys didn’t see a kid come running around the corner?”
     The kid said, “He went down that alley there. Really fast. I wish I could run that fast.”
     “Yeah. Thanks, kid.” The haircut took off and rumbled into the alley.
     “Up that alley it’s a maze that puts the Casbah to shame,” the kid said.
     “And how would you know about the Casbah? You’re apparently allergic to school.”
     “I spend a lot of time in the public library. Reading. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee. Mr. Dallagento’s got a nice coffee shop about a block from here.”
     I had never been able to find Mr. Dallagento’s, though I had heard of it. It was down a tiny side street, well hidden from all but the cognoscenti and the neighborhood folk, and inside it smelled of strong coffee, pastry, cinnamon, and fresh bread. And the coffee was real. You could get it black, with sugar, or with milk or cream, or with sugar and milk or cream. In one cup size. Real ceramic cups. That’s all.
     We sat at a small table in the window.
     “You gotta love this place,” the kid said.
     “Mmmmph,” I mmmmphed, washing down a bit of fresh warm bread and butter. “Listen, kid, what’s your name?”
     “Morty’s good. Call me Morty.”
     “Alright, Morty. So tell me, why aren’t you in school?”
     He bit a piece of cheese danish, chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed. “Because I’m smart and I’m bored and I don’t test well.”
     “Well if you’re smart I should think you’d test very well.”
     “No, you don’t get it. See, that’s all they do at school, ever since Bush suckered everyone into supporting that No Child Left Behind law.”
     “I thought that was supposed to help. Make poor schools better. Get everyone on the same page, testwise.”
     “Testwise? You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
     “Most assuredly not. I just heard a bureaucrat say that on television. I thought it was a technical term.”
      Morty laughed. It was a bitter laugh, but quite infectious and in a few seconds we were both laughing bitterly.
     “Why are we laughing?” I asked him.
     “Probably because we both know how bad things are.”
     “So do you go to school at all?” I didn’t see how he could not.
     “Nope. No point to it. I told you I don’t test well.”
     “I don’t get it.”
     “See, it’s all about numbers. I bring the numbers down, so they would rather I didn’t take tests.”
     “But they sent Mr. Haircut out to find you.”
     “That’s just for show. He does it once a year. They send me an email telling me when. Otherwise, they don’t bother with me.”
     “Once a year? Morty, how long have you been out of school?”
     “Let’s see, since third grade.” He slurped his coffee. “Yeah, third grade. About four years.”
     I couldn’t comprehend how a kid could be out of school since the third grade, and nobody would notice or care.
     “What about your parents? What do they say?”
     “They think I’m doing fine. I make up report cards on my computer. They both work two jobs. They tell me ‘Study hard, Morty, and you’ll get a good job and not have to work like we do.’”
     “Maybe they have a point?”
     He sneered. “Do you know how many Master’s and Doctorate degrees are driving cabs these days? See the pretty woman behind the counter? She has two Masters. She’s working a coffee shop. The only people making money are politicians, lobbyists, and obscenely wealthy people.”
     “True enough.” I nodded sagely. “But still, don’t you miss being with your friends?”
     “My friends are out here with me. We go to the library and read. I’m in the middle of Don Quixote. It’s overrated. My friend Fernando is teaching me Spanish. Tomorrow three of us are going to the art museum for a new opening. This afternoon I get to watch the city orchestra practice. I do some errands, they let me watch. One woman is going to teach me violin, just to see if I like it. We make up our own field trips. We play pick up sports where winning doesn’t matter near as much as playing does.”
     “Sounds like fun, but school?”
     “Look, mister, all they do in school now is teach kids how to pass The Test. That’s it.”
     “Surely not?”
     “Surely. It’s Washington, it’s a numbers game. It’s just to make things easier for the bureaucrats. Give them one or two numbers, then they don’t have to really look, don’t have to really think or figure anything out. Bad number, bad school, they take away some money until you get better.”
     “But, but, that’s backwards. You can’t run a school without money.”
     “That’s the idea. Republicans don’t like public schools. They can’t make a profit off them.”
     “Well what do the kids in school think about it?”
     “That’s just it. They don’t think anymore. Nobody’s teaching them how to think, how to be independent. Just how to pass The Test.” He waved his hand dismissively. “They’re zombies.”
     “You shouldn’t call them zombies, you know.”
     “Yeah? You know what the schools do?”
     “Not so much, apparently.”
     “They give the names and addresses and phone numbers of the kids to military recruiters. It’s the law. So it’s perfect. Teach them not to think so they can be good little workers and good little soldiers. A zombie army to go out and Bushify the world.”
     “Hmmm. But how did you figure all this out when you were eight years old and decided to drop out?”
     “Oh that’s easy. I used to watch the news programs before the zombies took them over. There used to be news then. Didn’t take a genius to see what was coming.”
     “So you’re not a genius?”
     “Good grief, no. I’m just a kid.” He paused. “A really smart kid.”
     “And you’re the child left behind.”
     “Yeah. Ironic, ain’t it?”

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