In the dark heart of education there is a glow. Blythe, Ca. high school may have the highest rate of flunkers in the nation, so it makes sense that a novel approach could spark life into the monster that employs me as a substitute.
The bad news is that our school is under acute intervention by California with dreary testing, whip-cracking coaches, a morass of protocol, 20% new faculty, and ‘suits’ popping into my rooms to check the lessons on the blackboard.
‘The students are happy as larks to flunk,’ says the history teacher. ‘My first period class cheered themselves silly when I told them 75% were getting F’s,’ claims the science teacher. Yesterday the Spanish teacher resigned because 95% of his class had F’s. After having subbed all 900 students in nearly every room since school opened in September ’07, I estimate that 50% of them will fail and don’t care.
Besides hiring the new teachers, California handpicked an ex-career army sergeant with two tours of Vietnam as the ramrod whom the staff calls ‘the invisible principal’ for his policy of fierce orders from behind a closed door. I had heard but never saw him until two weeks into the term. On that day in English at last bell the kids filed out shrieking, ‘To the river to drink!’ There was a BANG and the room slowly filled with smoke. Advancing slowly from the door, the grey cloud headed at me kitty-corner at the teacher’s desk. I squinted for the source counting ‘one alligator, two alligator’ until the cloud was at my nose, and then looked left at the window and right at the phone. Like the sinking ship’s captain – surely they will answer the distress call- I picked up the phone and dialed the office emergency number. After eight rings, I hung up still holding my breath and redialed as fire alarms began to wail. A chalky dust settled on my head and clothes as I held my breath_ hoping. The door burst open and a thick figure hung in the frame like a gorilla- the invisible principal!
He raced in to open the windows, and as the smoke escaped I exhaled holding the receiver, ‘No one answered!’ He cut me short with, ‘I had to clear the campus.’ We discovered that a student had discharged the fire extinguisher.
My school adventures have heightened since that day as the student body backslides in performance and behavior. I walk cold into nearly every class jammed with defiant students who refuse to work and instead talk, toss trash, or sleep all day. The administration response is paramilitary to some success, but I doubt that our kids will surpass their worst statewide STAR scores, and so last year’s remodeled doors will shut. This is a desert oasis from which, at worst scenario, the student body will be bussed 150 miles to the nearest school in Indio, Ca.
But today a spark that provides a theory to revolutionize the nation’s schools that suffer as mine does occurred in the agriculture classroom squeezed between the ROTC building and an alfalfa pasture. At day’s end, I wrote the Sub’s Report to the absent teacher. ‘Your six classes are the best I’ve ever subbed. 120 students entered over the day, sat quietly, took out their texts, pencils and papers, and without direction or cheating did the assignment. More work got done in these six periods than in the rest of the school all day. I am stunned, perplexed, and congratulations.’
The Ag teacher was absent because he is driving 1300 miles to pick up 30 sheep, 30 goats, 30 cows and don’t forget the pigs. In three days he returns with them to their new student governors to meet, raise and sell for slaughter. A few will escape the death bullet to become high priced pets. I also discovered from a student aide minutes after last bell that the accounting per entrepreneur breaks down as follows.
Each student invests $200 in his animal, and may secure a loan from a local caring bank. This includes the price of the two month old animal, plus shots, and insurance should it die before the county fair. Then there is a further investment of $300 for five month’s feed, and the daily care of watering, feeding, walking and grooming. The average selling price at the live auction is $1000 per animal for a cool return of $500 per pupil, plus a good class grade if the daily text work is completed. ‘The best pig at the L.A. county fair brings $3/lb, but the worst pig at our county fair brings $5/lb.,’ the aide explained adding, ‘This community gets behind working students.’
They will work for grades and for pay in all classes. The students are capitalists!