My memories of my public education or at least the attempt are as vivid as if it all happened yesterday. I can still smell the floor cleaner, green beans, chalk dust and the other props of the behaviorist approach. The only problem was that I wasn’t Skinner’s dog, I was a human child with a human mind and emotions. It was going to be a long journey but my imagination would survive to be awakened again some twelve years later. I wonder if anyone else survived. As I write this book I am afraid I will be all over the road like a person who has made a jail break in a stolen car. I will endeavor to find the road as I move from past experience to my current understanding of the prison that held me, first as a student and later as a teacher for thirteen years.
There is a natural human need to qualify the shortcomings of public education by citing the fact that we survived it. We find ourselves excusing weaknesses or blatant mistakes by saying it was the same when I was a kid, you’ll survive. It came to me sometime late in my teaching tenure that we in public education should be doing much more than creating a situation to be survived. In my years in the classroom I never met a teacher who didn’t feel that they were doing their very best to educated. They used what they learned in college education departments as well as their own experiences in the classrooms of the past. I am in no way indicting my former colleagues for the crimes that public education commits daily to the young imaginations that find themselves confined in classrooms. The truth is that their are many teachers who break the rules daily by allowing their classrooms to be places where individuals can actively question and explore without the intervention of pedagogy that precludes the opinion and experience of the learners.
From my first day of school at Lincoln Elementary in Texarkana Texas, I knew something was amiss. Something in my young mind felt an invisible hand at work in all the procedures at work from the lunch line to choosing teams for gym class. There seemed to be a plan that assumed kids would do bad things and planned accordingly. The next thing I noticed was that the chairs were hard and uncomfortable. In the real world chairs of this sort were in restaurants where the goal was to have you eat, pay and leave so they could get another customer into that seat as soon as possible. Because we were brought to school en-mass many rules it seemed were designed to help manage a herd of people rather than a collection of individuals. Over the next few years I changed schools and attended a small school in Leary Texas. Many things were the same except that we had something called pimento cheese sandwiches at least once a week. In Texas in 1975, corporal punishment was the law of the land and I heard rumors daily of the punishments to be doled out for various incursions onto the plains of "free will". Standing up on the see-saw for instance was a crime worth "three licks". I struggled with the meaning of "licks" which I assumed to be a uniquely southern vernacular and it wasn't until I witnessed the afore-mentioned licks being dispensed, that the true meaning became clear to me, abundantly clear. After an altercation on the playground with a local boy, I came to experience "three licks" first hand or rather first "buttocks". The procedure was as well structured as a roadside sobriety test. The teacher or principal who was to distribute the disciplinary devices had to have a witness or fellow teacher, although I wasn't sure why. Perhaps like Miranda rights this was a privilege afforded the accused as part of due process. No jury presided over this particular act as the first of the "licks" made sharp contact with my seven year old behind. What I learned was that the numbness caused by the first "lick" dulled somewhat the effect of the second but by the third, the buttocks was ready for a break. I did live in fear of the crime I might commit, leading to the fabled five "lick" session. After my first paddling I returned to class and sat my still warm butt in the hard chair/desk that bore my name. I looked above me at the prescribed bean-owl, hanging over my head like an artistic albatross, predicting my creative mediocrity and in it's slow spin. I reconciled this experience as another part of what school would be. I enjoyed the interventional benefit of three more paddlings while at Leary Elementary, for crimes ranging from not doing homework, to kicking the same kid in the crotch but the gentle lessons the paddle sought to teach were never as crisp as that first hallway procedure.