July 3, 2020:

"Busted him for ripping off."

Our middleschool English teacher is smitten with the phrase. I find that quite shocking. I'd expected the standard blustering-but-mechanical opprobrium over a student who submitted a short story about shoplifting. Instead she complements him, genuinely it seems, for authentic use of colloquial language.

I'm surprised, I think, because this entire milieu is teach-by-numbers. It's repeat whatever the book says, and if anyone steps out of line, punt to the Vice Principal. It's not about learning, nor least about encouraging independent thought.

Why should it be? These students' lives have already been chosen for them, by a school system which deliberately separates the "gifted" from the pack, where the "gifted" are pre-selected for college and the rest go to hell. Hell being blue-collar trades like mechanic or carpenter or electrician or cook or hair stylist or nurse.

Separated early. At the beginning. For me it was half way through third grade, the first or second week I entered their school system. Then three years of an altogether different hell — the one which had been structured for the white-collar kids to groom them for college, where ordinarily blue-collar kids like me were not invited.

Now in middleschool I've escaped through refusal. I refuse to continue in the gifted program, so I spend these years in the teach-by-numbers seats, where no-one in particular sees the ROI in teaching literature to future mechanics and electricians and cosmetologists. So that this teacher's unexpected effusion over colloquialism feels decisively out of place.