Back to school
Three small words have been resounding across this great land of ours, words that are causing copious amounts of wailing and the widespread gnashing of teeth.
Yes, it's "Back to School" time once again.
This wailing and gnashing of teeth is by no means universal. There are some who have been seen capering about and breaking into song and emitting small yips of joy. The common name for such people is "parents."
As a kid, I was one of the loudest wailers and one of the most forlorn teeth-gnashers. I was the type of schoolkid who left wild scratch marks on the sidewalk as I was drug, kicking and screaming, back into the classroom.
It didn't start out that way. My first year of school was a pure joy, something I actually looked forward to.
I attended first grade at Oslo District 95, a typical one-room country schoolhouse that accommodated grades one through eight. The student body was like an extended family; I never recall being picked on by the bigger kids, even though they certainly could have. Some were as much as seven feet taller and seven years older than me.
The total lack of homework was another reason I enjoyed first grade. There was always plenty of time to complete all my assignments while the teacher taught the other seven grades, with time leftover for sneaking tacks onto girls' chairs or honing my spitball aim or perfecting my paper airplane flying skills.
But all good things must end. Some anonymous bean-counter determined that country schools were inefficient and therefore should be phased out. District 95 was shuttered, its students shipped off to a large school in town.
My first day of second grade was an education in itself. "Where did all these kids come from?" I wondered as I approached the ominous brick building. The school was in the midst of receiving a new tar roof, and the stench of hot asphalt stung my nose. It was as if the very gates of Hades had swung wide to welcome me.
I found my room and sat at one of the innumerable desks. As yet unschooled in higher math, I nonetheless instantly perceived that I was reduced to a mere fraction of what I had been in country school. There, I was one of three first-graders; this odious new school had unceremoniously transformed me into one of sixty second-graders.
Many other unfun lessons were forced upon me during my first day of second grade. I learned what a bully is; I found out that we were poor; and I was rudely informed that cow manure stinks (I had to help milk cows every morning, and with eight kids and one bathroom, well, enough said).
That night I made an announcement to my parents: I'd had enough of the academic world, I said, and was now and forever done with school. I would henceforth stay home and help Mom bake cookies; in a year or so would take over the farm from Dad, who had reached his late 30s and was thus teetering on the brink of extreme old age.
Their response was instant, unified, and unequivocal. "But you HAVE to go to school!" they insisted.