Imagine, for a moment, that you went to a really strict school for second grade, the kind where the only decorations on the walls are multiplication flashcards and stern warnings about gum and running and talking. After the first week of first grade, you didn’t learn anything, you just spent every day filling out math worksheets. Not the good kind where if you know the answer to the riddle already you can work backwards and have it done in about fourteen seconds, but the kind that have fifty problems and a line at the top for your name. Didn’t pick nothing up after that first week, but you stuck around, and that seems to have been the graduation criteria.
Then you had summer vacation, with all kinds of freedom and fooling around. Nothing but clear skies, ’cause no one cared what you did at all. Pickup baseball and dirty jokes and riding your bike in the street and not coming in until it was way late, like nine! Sometimes the bully from a couple streets over would beat you up, but still, summer ruled.
When it gets dark at five, though, and it’s too cold to go outside much, you have to do something. So you move up to third grade. Third grade is cool. It’s interesting, it’s challenging, and they read books a lot more than they do math. A LOT more. The teacher’s cool, and if you learn stuff, he doesn’t care that much if your desk is messy or you’re not always paying attention. Things are OK. Not as good a summer, but you know somewhere in your mind, that someday you’ll probably need to know how fractions work. Plus, fourth grade, you hear, stone fucking rocks.
Then you come back to third grade after Spring Break, and there’s a new third-grade teacher.
The old one did a flit — got tired of the School Board, you hear, though of course all the kids have darker theories — and now you’ve got this new dude. Not good. He introduces himself, the shock slowly wears off, and you start slipping back into the school routine. After a week, he announces that you won’t be moving on to fourth grade at the end of the year. You’re not shocked, but you’re mad. You start thinking about other schools. But all your friends go to this one, and besides, the girl who sits next to you is awful cute. Lot to give up. You stick.
Come June, you get your end of year reviews. As promised, you’re not moving up to fourth grade. Not only are you not moving up, you’re being failed back to second grade. Busted back a grade! You demand an explanation. You kick. You scream. You hold your breath until you turn blue.
You start thinking about other schools again.