Tag Archives: school

You just don’t think of principals as black.


You know, the same way you just don’t think of women as your boss, or Asians as doing much besides pulling rickshaws, or Mexicans as anything but fruit-pickers or housecleaners. YOU know. Isn’t everyone who COUNTS… just like me?

Sigh. And here we all were, thinking it was 2010, not 1910.

movie poster, original 1975 Stepford WivesMy daughters have been complaining about school here in Stepford.

Not the daily four hours of homework, although that has certainly put a damper on our typical wandering around, exploring the world, talking-to-strangers kind of things my two daughters and I tend to do.

Not the quantum leap in difficulty this new California school has presented them with, loading them with academics far beyond what they were accustomed to in New York, a few months previous. They’re fairly smart kids. They pick up things fast, and besides, we’ve always done something I now know has a name: “afterschooling.”

While my two sisters “homeschool,” a tradition that sends a frisson of horror down my spine, for so many, many reasons, I instead send my kids tottering off to public schools. In this way, no matter what they learn (or don’t learn), they at least get a taste of real life – as in: showing up every day; dealing with other humans your age and thereabouts who range from the mind-staggeringly stupid to the much-smarter-than-you-are; and teachers (much like the bosses to whom they will someday report), who also range from the mind-staggeringly stupid to the much-smarter-than-you-are – only the proportions are different, and I’ll refrain from giving my personal opinions here.

<Insert extremely loud throat-clearing>

So public school has its place. I was always sort of against private school, because of its exclusivity. It sort of – well, it TOTALLY went against the whole reason I sent my kids out in the world to begin with – private school creates an imaginary oasis of cookie-cutter sameness.

Play-Doh Fun FactoryIt’s sort of like a school-shaped version of that Play-Doh® toy, where you shove in the neon-colored goo, push down the lever with one hand, get your little plastic knife ready in the other, and squirt out slice after slice of the same brightly-colored shape.

Perfect, if you want to create a bunch of automatons in Izod® polo shirts, marching in lockstep into mortgage brokerages to buy McMansions in (sometimes, for variety) gated communities, razing more and more of the landscape in the furtherance of making every place, everywhere, look exactly like the same three or four house plans – all of which boast half-circle windows.

half-circle windows(Ever notice? What IS it with the damn half-circle windows, anyway?)

Everything the same. Like, you know, milk. The same four blonde popular girls. The same one ethnic kid. Maybe Indian. Maybe Asian. Maaaybe black. Maybe.

If the school is lucky, that kid has siblings, and then they have more than ONE token.

Otherwise, the school is all-white, all-perfect, all-C+ or better.

The athletics department is better funded than the arts, of course, because heavens, who wants Jack or Brittany to grow up to be an ACTOR, my GOD…

In the New York area where we came from, in our old, historic neighborhood, the Board of Education redistricted the neighborhoods in a labyrinth that looks like suspiciously like scribbles on the city map. The effort was to get the poorer kids out of the oldest schools – the ones with the crack pipes in the playgrounds – and into the better, bigger, newer schools where my kids attended.

It worked. In fact, it worked so well that my kids, who look as white as snow, despite their mixed heritage (their paternal grandfather was half-black, and their maternal great-grandmother was Jewish) were actually in the minority.

Mocking Shane DawsonTherefore, my oldest daughter can speak ghetto better than YouTube’s Shane Dawson, and can swear in Puerto Rican almost better than I can. In fact, if I were to record her voice and play it for you here, you would never in a million years believe she was white.

So when one of her classmates in her new, nearly all-white, affluent, sunny California, blonde, blue-eyed school, made the following comment, you can just imagine.

School chum: (as if divulging information like: “you know, the principal is secretly a man”) “You know, three years ago, we actually had a BLACK principal.”

Daughter: (as if hearing “the principal is a principal.”) “So?”

School chum: (with a “duh” tone in her voice) “Well! You just don’t imagine a principal as being BLACK, that’s all.”

Daughter: (too dumbfounded to speak.)

My kids love the stories Rudyard Kipling wrote: Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Jungle Book – but the one story I’ve yet to tell them is the one fairy tale Kipling himself bought into: the one of “the white man’s burden.” You know: the burden of the so-called civilized, “enlightened” white man to bring his own bullshit down, nice and hard, with weaponry, when necessary – onto aboriginal and indigenous peoples.

The sort of nice way of rationalizing the British Empire’s habit of wandering around the globe, stumbling upon some grassy spot, and planting the Union Jack flag, and claiming it for King and country. THEIR country, that is.

Um,” native peoples would – at first – politely protest, from their existing dwellings. “Have you lot happened to have noticed that we’re already peacefully, happily living here? That we’ve even named our country, have our own laws, government, etc? You Brits wouldn’t mind shoving off, now, would you?”

“Sorry, chaps, can’t do that. White man’s burden, you know. You don’t know it, what with all your extra leisure time, your happy life, your low impact on your environment, and all that, but you aren’t like us, and you need to be.

Er,” responded aforementioned natives, growing a bit irritable. “Says who?”

Well, says us British invaders,” would proudly proclaim the British invaders.

Natives, now thoroughly vexed, would hold up spears, or what have you, and repeat: “All right, then, that’s quite enough of that. You’ve worn out your welcome, now: shove off. We really don’t give a donkey’s behind what you say.”

At which point, yon British invaders would smile – sort of creepily – stick out their shiny red-coated chests with the bright gold buttons, and hold up their superior weaponry, like muskets and cannons. “What does your donkey’s behind think about what our gunpowder has to say, mate?”

At which point, most natives got blown to smithereens, or assimilated, rather like Star Trek’s The Borg Collective, a hive mind nemesis whose slogan was “Resistance is Futile. We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.” Borg victims were then basically turned into mostly cyborg, emotionless organisms whose minds would join the single mind of THE Borg, whose aim it was to crush out the individuality of the entire rest of the universe, etc.

History, obviously, duh, repeats itself.

Sorta Borg. Sorta Stepford, if you think about it. (Does anyone, actually, think about it, except for me?)

There’s this thing about history: if you don’t learn from it, you’re kinda doomed to repeat it. I KNOW this, because I’M not the one who came UP with that saying. So SOMEONE must be thinking about this stuff. Why isn’t it working?

Welcome to sunny Northern California. It’s not exactly golden here. It IS very very nice. But the color is more of a very, very …. white. Not a vanilla white, really – sort of a Stepford white.

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But I didn’t WANNA go to school…


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The worst was the “A, B, C, D, E, and F” days. I was in homeroom, so, obliged to follow the teacher’s rules of raising my hand before speaking, I dutifully raised my hand as she, in the robotically- cheerful-but-could-turn-on-you-any-moment-way that only teachers have, was chirping, “Now, today, I think, is a B-day that you’ll be following on your child’s schedule.”

I’d examined the schedule. Arm beginning to ache, the lovely, midway pregnant, still graceful, no makeup, about my age teacher (whom I’m sure had never been in the real world, but rather instead had simply never left school—just moved to the power side of the desk) — at last acknowledged me.

“If B, D, and F days are the same,” I asked, “and C and E days are the same, why don’t they just have A and B days?”

Duh, right?

Then again, I’d worked for a time as Management in Real World Big Business, where the Bottom Line was an Important Thing. Also, so were Budgets, where you Cut to the Chase, and Axed Everything that was Unnecessary. Including people, which was one reason why it had sucked, and I now prefer my life as a starving artist.

The teacher was patient with me, the ignorant parent. She shrugged at first. “It’s just how they do it,” and turned, apparently thinking I’d be satisfied with such a ridiculous answer.

“Why do they do it that way?” I asked her back, at the same time thinking to myself: it is SO not fair that she doesn’t even LOOK pregnant from the back. When I was pregnant, being only five-foot-one, with all my height in my legs, from about three months in, I look like I swallowed a torpedo. And that’s about the nicest thing you can say about how I look pregnant. She WAS one of those gorgeous, glowy girls, I had to hand it to her. 

She turned around, surprised I still existed, and gave me another Colgate grin, and another shrug. “It’s just their system. It’s just the way they do the days here at this school.”

As if slightly different wording would make me go: “Ooooh, I get it. Shut up, Ms. Bushey.”

Echoes from my own school experiences came flooding back. This little Open House adventure, concocted by who knows whom, was for parents of my daughter’s middle school classes to live through a truncated “Day In The Life” of their own kid.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies, I thought. Better still: ask me no questions. I’m the teacher.

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand,” I tried once more — in all seriousness, not to be annoying, but because I really didn’t get it, and I never WAS one to sit there, unsatisfied. I had no problem bringing the entire classroom to a dead halt while I stubbornly would attempt, although often fail, to make the teacher stop, and go over my question until I got it. After all, if I didn’t get the binomial theorem, there were likely others who didn’t and simply didn’t have the nerve to speak up. “Why?”

This time I got a terse: “It’s just the way they do it. I don’t know why.

Okay, I thought, at least that’s an answer. At least you admit you don’t know. As she turned her back on me again, I silently mouthed to the parents in the seats one row back: “I wouldn’t last a day here,” and they started to giggle.

This WAS turning out to be just like real school for me.

I felt a little hornswaggled by the whole deal, to tell you the truth. The paper had only said: Open House, 6:30 p.m. – not “Go to School for Three Hours, and no Smoking.”

Because the law says you can’t smoke on school grounds, although I am buddies with the cop on duty at the school, who TOTALLY would not bust me – I know this, because during “lunch” – I came over to her. “Hey, Officer Boss! Be my friend, okay, cuz I have no one to sit with.”

She laughed. “Not one of the popular kids yet, huh?”

“Well, that, and you can protect me.”

“True. I’m the only one here with a gun. At least, I should be. Let me know if you see anyone else with one, okay?”

“I’ll be sure to let you know, Starsky.”

Officer Boss – besides having the absolute best cop name in the universe – is a drop-dead beautiful but tough as nails (on the outside) police officer stationed at the middle school. She knows every kid by name, including mine, and keeps tabs on them all. While not by nature a police lover, I do like her a lot – and a few others on our town’s force. They happen to be quite cool.

I tried calling Peter during class switches, but the cell service was spotty, and besides, the teacher made me put my cell phone away when he walked in. Poor Peter, who couldn’t really hear what I was saying, wasn’t sure if I was calling for help, letting him know I’d be home soon, or reciting the multiplication tables.

That teacher I actually liked a lot – he, like myself, does not believe in homework. I wanted to jump out of desk and high-five him. One other teacher, when I asked her, told me she thought homework should take no less than thirty minutes.

The kid has seven classes. If every teacher gives thirty minutes of homework (see how much I learned?) that’s three and a half hours of homework – on top of a full day of school.

How many grownups have to keep working almost four hours after they get home? It’s outrageous, really. No wonder middle-schoolers have such terrible attitudes. I know by the time I left, I had a pretty rotten attitude myself. (Plus, I was dying for a cigarette.)

It was an excellent idea they had – making us live our kids’ lives for a few hours. It was illuminating to meet their teachers, walk the halls of the school, smell that school smell that takes us back to our old, powerless days. When teachers walked the earth like giants, and principals were kings and queens.

I addressed every teacher by his or her first name. Ha ha.

By the same token, I made sure to offer my volunteer services whenever I could – in an attempt to be part of a solution, not just a needling prod. For instance, in my daughter’s English class, I sympathized with her teacher who was obviously frustrated at having to “teach for the test” – the obnoxious standardized test the state administers.

One aspect is determining “fact from opinion.” As a former journalist, I offered to be a guest speaker. She nearly cried out with delight. Points for my kid.

Points for my kid from me, too, for keeping her chin up in an oppressive environment. Kids ask me all the time if I’d rather be a kid or a grownup. I don’t have to think about it.

Grownup, hands-down. I can do all the kids’ stuff I want to – plus, I don’t have to go to school, and I can eat frosting out of the can.

Unless there’s another open house where they make me go to school again, the sneaks. But I think it did me some good.

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Embarrassment? I’m Bulletproof.


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Elizabeth Williams Bushey in concertI’m a grownup. That means I can eat frosting right out of the can if I want to. (Yes, I said the CAN. Is there anyone who still makes homemade frosting? Okay, then, you probably aren’t a parent with a job. And if you ARE a parent with a job, and you still make homemade frosting, and get everything else done you’re supposed to do, then you must be my very nice, but gobmackingly perfect sister. Please forward a package of your frosting in one of your gazillion extra organizing tubs.)

I have a vehicle. I can drive to the mall anytime I please. I’ve got a cell phone, too, complete with a butterfly charm from the Icing at the Galleria. How cool am I? I have a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, and I rock with it. I even perform onstage. With a real wireless headset mike. (Testing. 1, 2, 3…) I am SOOOO AWESOME.

Oh, wait, I forgot – I’m the Dork of the Universe.

I’m someone’s mom.

Please do NOT TALK TO MY FRIENDS, MOM.

Please do NOT KISS ME, MOM.

Please DO NOT EMBARRASS ME, MOM.

Now: I, my own self, am nearly impossible to embarrass, being a rather outspoken, outgoing sort. (Anyone who sings in public doesn’t exactly have a low embarrassment threshold.) But one does have to remember what it’s like to NOT be a grownup.

We were in McDonald’s, happily enjoying our happy meals.

“Mom!” Urgency crept into my daughters’ voices – an alarm so deep I wondered for a moment if an armed gunman had entered the establishment.

I bent my head, the better to hear their agonized whispers.

“Ourfriendfromschooljustwalkedin. PLEASE DON’T EMBARRASS US.”

Okay. I don’t mind being considered a dork by my kids, even though in reality, I’m fairly cool. They’re supposed to think I’m a dork. I’m the one teaching them right from wrong, sending them to bed, etc. If they DID think I was cool, I’d be messing up.

But there I was, sitting quietly in McDonalds – a restaurant I don’t even like all that much – minding my business, not doing any of the things they generally hate, like talking to their teachers, or their friends’ parents, or performing.

I’ll admit my baser instincts got the better of me. C’mon, we all – a little bit – hate it that our kids don’t know how cool we really are, don’t we? Don’t we all wish, deep down in our black hearts, that our kids could have seen just how awesome we really are?

“You would have WANTED to be my friend when I was your age!”

Isn’t that sometimes what you want to shout? “You would have thought I was cool THEN!”

So, more than a little peeved about accusations before actions, I stood up.

“You mean, embarrass you by doing something like… dancing to no music at all?”

I began to dance. Slowly, deliberately… embarrassingly.

“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, Mom, pleasepleaseplease sit down, I’m begging you!”

“Something like this? Is THIS what you’re afraid I might do? Or maybe…”

“MOM!”

I sat down with a smirk. “Eat your dinner. She didn’t see.” She didn’t. Naturally I was watching. I DO take care not to embarrass them. Whenever possible.

I do recall that feeling when you’re a kid. Grownups realize everyone else in the universe is so wrapped up in themselves that they’re not paying anywhere NEAR the amount of attention you once thought they were. But kids are still the center of their own universes – the heroes of their own movies, and everyone else is a cameo player.

Extreme self-consciousness is so vivid, so much a part of your life, that any hair out of place, any fold in the cloth of your shirt, any label that’s not up-to-the-minute current makes you feel like a pariah.

You know you’re a real grownup when you realize the “pariahs” – the ones who dance to their own music – are who make the world so very, very interesting.

Kids love McDonald’s because it’s predictable; it’s always exactly the same chicken nuggets, precisely four, precisely cookie-cuttered into the same eerie, unnatural shape.

We grow when we peek beyond the predictable, to investigate: who that is dancing around the corner?

Look: no, really. Look.

(photo credit: © 2006 Tom Bushey)

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