http://www.one.org Dixie Peach: Obedience

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Obedience

The time I spend washing my hair is a time when I do some of my best thinking. It's when I make plans or set goals or consider my opinion on various topics. It's also a time when I will randomly think back to things from my past and I end up wondering why they crossed my mind.

Today during my shampoo and deep conditioning I thought about being in the fourth grade. In my elementary school ninety-odd kids would be divided among three teachers who worked as a team and we'd have one of the three teachers for various subjects. I had the misfortune to have as my fourth grade team teachers three of the biggest bitches I've ever encountered.

It wasn't just that they were abrupt and curt and rarely friendly. It wasn't just that the one who taught me math told me that I was a complete failure at it and was hopeless to teach. It wasn't the fact that they did things like keep kids in from going out at recess if they deemed their jackets or sweaters to not living up to their idea of proper outerwear even when they were perfectly fine articles of clothing. The thing that has stuck in my craw for the past thirty-four years is how they treated us like their personal servants.

About a third of the way into the school year these three got the idea that they were highly allergic to dust, chalk dust in particular. Being around an excess of dust made them terribly sick and they petitioned the principal to have the janitor clean the three classrooms extra well and extra often. I'm sure once the prinicipal stopped laughing hysterically he tactfully explained to them that there was one janitor for the whole school and it was all he could do to sweep and mop the hallways and classrooms, clean the rest rooms and empty the trash.

Not to be deterred in their quest for a chalk dust free working environment they evidently put their heads together and thought "Hey! Who needs an old man to clean our classrooms when we have ninety healthy ten-year-olds to do it!".

So that's what we did. Once a week, sometimes twice, lessons were stopped, cans of Comet and stacks of paper towels were handed out and we cleaned the classroom for a couple of hours. Books were removed from shelves and they were thoroughly washed and rinsed and dried. Desks were emptied and washed inside and out. Blackboards and chalk troughs were scrubbed. Window frames were washed. Window blinds were washed. Little kids who should have been learning about long division and state capitals were on their hands and knees washing the floor with cleanser and paper towels.

And God forbid anyone refused to clean. You'd be told that you were bad and uncaring that the dust made the teachers sick. You were disobedient and you'd be cooling your heels indoors copying a page from the dictionary while the rest of the kids enjoyed recess. I remember the principal finding out about our cleaning chores but that fat bastard didn't stop it. I assume he figured that if none of our parents said anything it was okay. It shut up the three teachers and that's all he wanted.

That's what gets me. That's what I can't to this day figure out. I can't believe none of us - not one student - told our parents about this. None of us liked this - learning about the solar system was much better than getting on your hands and knees and stinking of Comet - but we didn't do anything about it. Somehow those three women got ninety kids so cowed that they'd scrub and not say a word about it at home.

I wonder even now what it was about me that made me not say anything to my mother about this. I knew even then that if I went home and told my mother that at least two hours of class time each week was devoted to all of us scrubbing down three classroom that she would have been down to the principal's office breathing fire. My mother would have seen those three teachers in hell before she'd let her child lose time learning so that she could wash down bookcases. I could have had the whole thing stopped in an instant and yet I didn't.

All I can figure is that I must have been so afraid of stepping out of line. Of not conforming. Of rocking the boat. I didn't want to be the one who had the crazy mother kicking ass over the situation so I kept quiet. I followed the rules. Color within the lines. Color within the lines. Color within the lines.

Sweet Jesus, I must have been crazy.

I think about this now and I'm still angry over it. I'm angry with those idiot teachers who made us lose valuable time for their own benefit. I'm angry that none of us rebelled. And I'm really angry that I chose conformity over what I knew was really right. I had the right to be taught all day every day by those teachers and I gave up that right so that I wouldn't stand out and be the potential subject of ridicule.

Many years later - I believe I was in college - I told my mother about those teachers making us clean the classrooms. I did it in a ha-ha-isn't-this-a-wacky-story sort of way. My mother didn't find it so wacky. Even though ten years had passed my mother was livid. She couldn't believe that those teachers made us clean their classrooms for them and she really couldn't believe that I hadn't told her when it was all going on. She kept saying "Why didn't you tell me? I'd have put a stop to that right away! Why didn't you tell me?" and all I could reply was "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.".

I still don't know. Maybe I never will.

10Comments:

Blogger angrylilazngrl said...

hi dixie. angrylilazngrl from duesseldorf here. i just spent a glorious half hour reading your 100+ things.

btw, lisa helped me with my re-do of my blog. i couldn't have done it without her, and i think i will ask for help in setting up 100 things of my own so friends and strangers know random facts about their favorite korean born american living in germany....

gruss!

11:47 PM  
Blogger marshamlow said...

As a child you acted as children do. Shame on those teachers for taking advantage. I think you are judging yourself too harshly, if you were an adult you would have acted like an adult, but you weren't, you were a child. Your brain wasn't even fully developed. Don't let this define who you are as an adult, you were a normal kid, like all the other 90 odd kids.

12:31 AM  
Blogger beege said...

Dix, honey, you were TEN. Be kind to yourself. You were a southern girl who'd been taught to obey and respect your elders, and to be especially respectful to your teachers.

What they did was reprehensible. But you were 10. Let them carry it, 'cuz it's not your baggage.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Katya said...

"Books were removed from shelves and they were thoroughly washed and rinsed and dried." Please tell me this means the shelves were washed not the books.

That was an awful way to treat children. Did anyone ever mention this to their parents? And, if so, what did the parents say or do?

2:47 AM  
Blogger Katya said...

Sorry -- just read further down and saw that no one ever told their parents -- my bad.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Miz said...

That is why I hate tenure, it allows unqualified teachers to hold onto positions they shouldn't have gotten in the first place.
I came into the 3rd grade halfway through the year in a new town. The teacher was the sister-in-law of a famous movie star and a former model. On my first day, in front of the whole class she pointed out that I was pigeon toed. Yes, I was pigeon toed, I wore braces for the first two years of my life, but it was not necessary to point that out in front of the class.
For most of the rest of my school years I was called pigeon toes, along with fatty, and other ego killing pet names.

My only saving grace was I did tell my mother, who went to the school and gave the teacher a piece of her mind about if she should be giving modeling critics in the classroom or just shutting the hell up and teach the lessons she was suppost to teach. I sat outside the office and listened, the teacher wouldn't look me in the eye the next day.

Funny how decades later we are still holding onto these things.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

Aha! So that's my problem! I bet I would be able to to do some of my best thinking while washing my hair, except I don't have any.

Run a wet washcloth over it and I'm good to go.

So it's not my fault.

Whew!

1:09 PM  
Blogger Jemima said...

1 Some of our best learning goes on in not-conventional-lesson experiences. The educational crisis that is soon to hit us (Britain) is down to too much curriculum and not enough doing stuff.

2 My friend, next door but one to my class, is allergic to chalk. Her hands are red and angry when she has to handle it. She has a dry wipe board now. Everyone's happy and no kids were harmed.

3 Appalling, but this is how abusers get away with abuse. Beating and grinding down the weak until they doubt themselves. I'm glad your mother defended you post the events.

4 Knowing how to clean a shelf can be useful: how are your shelves these days?

5 My friend's son was told this week to not be so individual in his writing composition as examiners mightn't like it, but to save it til he's an adult. Grr. Yeah, and stifling creativity is a surefire way of letting it flourish in later life. Teachers can be truly evil. Not me though.


I was already really angry about the 'don't do anything to shine you might look weird' rubbish, but now I'm even madder. I often hate the institutions of education.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

Oh Dixie. The things we remember! Well, you remember for good reason and one can only hope that your remembering has made you a better person by understanding what's right and what's wrong. We already know that what goes around comes around, so I'm guessing we can assume they three have gotten theirs. And hopefully not too terribly many more kids were damaged beforehand!

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Mollie said...

Geez Louise- give you an afro and a red dress and you'd be Annie.

Those women are probably rotting in Hell. I only hope that part of their eternal torture would be having to sit next to my Kindergarten teaching assistant who spanked me for not sitting on my bottom; and my Trig teacher who told me he would not waste time teaching me as I was one of those hopeless math cases.

Big J found out about the spanking only because Brendan narced after seeing me cry in the hall. My father said he would see her in court if she ever laid a hand on me again.

You know? I would not have breathed a word if Brendan would not have told for me. Geez, I was 5. You were 10- these people were bigger than life and were our whole little worlds.

Bet you were wishing for nuns!

I'm mad for you. But I am glad to know that without a doubt, your mother would have had their butts.

M

12:20 AM  

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