The Last Word

It is the question rarely asked, our quotable president has notably remarked: “Is our children learning?” Well, some does and some doesn’t, and some don’t much care.

Now that our children is – OK, are — due back in school after another fun-filled summer (“I’m bored!” “There’s nothing to do!” “It’s too hot outside!”), I think I’ve found the perfect theme for the new school year. It was uttered by, of all people, the prophet Jeremiah, whose own school was literally “the pits.” But he said in a 1582 version, something that might be repeated by every teacher and principal in every schoolhouse in America: “Return, O ye revolting children, saith the Lord.”

Now modern Bibles have replaced “revolting” with “rebellious,” a somewhat less offensive term. (Jeremiah, with all the sensitivity of a typical high school freshman, was not noticeably concerned about offending.) But it is a distinction without a difference. God found rebellion revolting and so do school teachers and administrators.

I recall a rebellion we staged in my high school days, back before the ‘60s became a turbulent decade. A popular teacher, lacking tenure, was not rehired, and the school board wouldn’t say why. Some of us left our classrooms one day and staged a little demonstration on the schoolhouse lawn. Student protest was something of a novelty in those days, and school officials considered it quite revolting.

But some faculty and staff found us revolting even when we weren’t rebelling. I still remember the time Mrs. Hanging Judge, our English teacher, rendered her considered judgment upon us “lesser breeds without the law,” most notably the laws of grammar. “Yeeew people can’t read! Yeeew people can’t spell! Yeeew people can’t think! Yeeew people can’t do ANYTHING!!!”

Miss Supercilious, a history teacher, found me particularly revolting, though I never knew why. I never thought of her as anything other than dreadful, overbearing and self-important, even for a teacher. I understand the dear lady is still alive and that’s good, I guess. I would hate to have missed the news of her funeral.

And I’m quite sure the school librarian found us all quite revolting. He certainly looked disgusted when, on my first day in high school, I asked if the library had The Sporting News.

“No,” said Mr. Bookworm, speaking very deliberately as he glared at me though Coke bottle glasses. “We used to, but we don’t anymore. We found it attracted the wrong element — you know, the locker room crowd.” I guessed there was a certain logic in that. No point putting the “baseball bible” in the hands of mere jocks. “Pearls before swine” and all that.

Still, Mr. Bookworm nearly soured my taste for the library, though not for The Sporting News, which you could still buy for a quarter in those days. In fact, I’m quite sure baseball was one of only two subjects I studied while in high school. The other was a female classmate, who, to the extent she was aware of it, seemed to take no offense at my continued existence. She did not, in other words, find me revolting.

So I guess if this humble, semi-educated citizen should presume to answer his president, I would say this to the question, “Is our children learning?” No, Mr. President, they is revolting.

Just like we was.

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