Your Child’s School Got You So Mad And You Did What
Me and my grandfather, 1982
I was the student, but the story is so epic it has to be shared.
It was 1979, and I was in 4th grade. In the American South, land of “guns and religion”.
A little background… I learned to read at a very early age, and read basically anything I could get my hands on. I didn’t watch TV or go outside and play, I read. All the time. And way beyond my “grade level”. By the time of this story, I had read the Bible cover to cover, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all kinds of “adult” stuff that, according to my teachers, I had no chance of comprehending.
The year before this incident, I had gotten in trouble at school because I was reading “All The President’s Men” (for those who don’t know, this book was THE definitive Watergate scandal tale; the authors were the Washington Post reporters who basically took down Nixon).
My teacher at the time refused to believe I could read and understand this book. She tried to quiz me as to who was what, and I knew all the characters. She was confused as to who had what job, and insisted that there was no Attorney General named Elliot Richardson, and said NO ONE refused Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.
I knew this was false, so the next day I brought in the book and showed her the appropriate sections regarding the “Saturday Night Massacre”. She started yelling at me about how I was just a smart-ass and trying to make her look bad. I replied, in the way only an elementary school kid can, and said, “You already look bad… maybe if you read more and ate less, you’d look better”.
So I’m already on the school admin radar as a “trouble kid”. This time the book was the novel version of the movie “Kramer Vs Kramer”. There were several minister’s kids in my class, and one of them saw the word “f**k” in my book. He promptly ran to the teacher to tattle that I was reading a “dirty” book. Teacher comes storming down the aisle and snatches the book from me, telling me she is going to call my mom and I am in deep trouble. So now my book is gone (and I hadn’t finished it yet… waah), and I’m in trouble for reading a book… again.
Get home, and yes, the teacher called and told my mom I had PORNOGRAPHY in her classroom. Mom is all ready to give me the “birds and bees” talk, and asked what kind of magazine it was… “Was it a Playboy or Penthouse? One of those? I understand you’re curious about females, but…”
I interrupted her to tell her, no it wasn’t a girlie mag, it was a book… Kramer Vs Kramer. And it had a dirty word in it. That was it. I wasn’t looking at Playboy centerfolds, I was reading a book based on an Academy Award winning movie.
Your Child’s School Got You So Mad And You Did What
So Mom is supposed to go to the school the next day and meet with them about “my behavior”. Problem is, she’s a single mother who works 2 jobs and can’t just take off every time someone gets a hair up their tight little sphincters. A little while later she’s talking to my grandfather, her father, and telling him about this. She calls me to the phone and hands it to me. He asked me what happened, and I told him my version. He says not to worry, I am NOT in trouble, and he will pick me up in the morning and take me to school and meet with them.
We get to school and I sit outside the principal’s office and they go in and close the door, but I could still hear everything. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I was “causing problems” because I took tests too fast, and would break out my book to read while I waited for the test to end (I aced the tests, so my grade on it wasn’t the issue). I was “causing problems” because I would correct teachers who stated incorrect facts (I always raised my hand first and didn’t just shout it out or anything like that).
And the biggest problem of all, I had “embarrassed” a teacher because her pastor’s son had ran home to tell Preacher Daddy that Mrs X had “dirty books” in her class. And now Mrs X was embarrassed to go to church. GASP!! HERESY!!
God bless Papa, though… he was prepared. He asked them if this book was somehow banned by the school. No, it wasn’t. So no rule broken there. Next… have any of you READ this book? No. Did little Chris speak the word? No. So what exactly is the problem? They hemmed and hawed until someone said it wasn’t “appropriate reading material” for an elementary school.
And they walked right into his trap.
How would you define “appropriate reading material”, then? Well, basically it shouldn’t have any offensive language or subject matter. OK, so is divorce an offensive subject matter? No. OK, so this is all about a word, correct? An “offensive” word? He nails them down to saying yes, that’s what this is about.
Says Papa, “Mr. Brown (the principal, a black man… this gets important shortly), does your school library have a copy of Gone With the Wind?” Yes.
“Are 4th graders allowed to check out this book?” Yes.
“Does this book offend you?” No.
“So if I call you a “n****r”, that’s not offensive? It’s in Gone With the Wind many, many times. Are you saying that 4th graders are allowed to read offensive language as long as it is supplied by the school?”
I hear a much louder voice than I’d ever heard from Papa, telling them “My grandson will read any book he wants, when he wants, and none of you will do or say anything about it. This whole episode has been offensive to me, him, and his mother. If Mrs. Prissy Teacher cares more about her standing in the church than her students, then she can FUCK OFF. Please be sure to tell her I said that, and include my offensive language. This meeting is over. Now give him back his book.”
Interestingly enough, I never got in trouble again for reading. God I miss him!!
EDIT TO ADD: Since I was asked, yes, the next week I marched into the library and checked out “Gone With The Wind”. Carried that book around, always displayed, for a week. I think the librarian knew what had happened, since she gave me a big wink when she handed me the book.