Normally, that phrase really gets my goat, as it’s used in a self-righteous, messianic, moralisitc, and increasingly tedious manner. So I have a good reason for using it.
Today I had to do some online training related to workplace harassment. The video segments kept freezing, which gave me time to think. And I realized that my old middle school subjected the entire seventh grade to something unlike the quid pro quo (this for that) discussed in the training. It wasn’t sexual, but we did have to do exchange a service above and beyond the call of attending school in order to pass. The school wanted a new garden, and we were slated to provide the labor to plant it during our science classes.
At that particular school, every April each grade would do a different project to be displayed in the cafeteria over a weekend. For fifth and sixth graders, it was history projects. Eighth graders did surveys with graphs, but the thing to see was the seventh grade science projects. The piece de resistance. But in April, instead of getting the assignment, we were told that we could not be trusted not to let our parents do the projects for us, and so we would instead plant a garden. If we refused, we failed science.
Of course, there was too little work to go around to 150 students, so only the huskiest boys were conscripted (sexist), while the rest of us were either herded inside to watch documentaries, or to make posters about the flowers planted to display instead of our science projects. And, interestingly, no other seventh grade class after us had to do anything like that. Maybe enough parents were indignant, I don’t know. But the only indignant parents I can personally acknowledge were my own. Still, if my mother was required to weed the dean’s garden in order to renew her contract, HR would be all over it. Why did the principal, assistant principal, and teachers think this was a good idea? How did heads not roll over it?
Going further back in time, in fourth grade my history class passed around a petition not to have homework over the weekend. Standardized tests were coming up, and our assignments consisted solely of copying out the pre-test, 3-5 times each, depending on how close to the test we were. It was a horrible assignment– took hours to complete, and really had no value. We probably remembered what we wrote down, but we didn’t learn it. Anyway, I knew we would get into trouble for the petition, so I was too chicken to sign it.
Sure enough, the teacher came back, and poof! The homework didn’t stop, and every signer had to run extra laps in PE. Way to teach us about our rights as American citizens… right to petition and all that. Years later, I asked my law prof if the school could actually do that. Unfortunately, she said, they could. The younger you are, the less willing people are to apply the Constitution to you. What a rotten situation that is!
As an American child, you have no rights, so when the schools try to take advantage of you, you must smile politely and hope that someone who actually has rights will stand up for you. And somehow childhood is considered idyllic. Something needs to change.