August 9, 2020:

That cultural disconnect had an outcome with resonance.

To set the scene: recess in grammar school ended with the kids lining up single file, each class in its own line, to march to their classroom. Why? No idea. It seems militaristic. Little girl and boy soldiers marching as to war. Probably that process made it easier for the playground monitors to detect anybody bolting for the gates. Whatever the reason, that's how it was done at all three of the grammar schools I attended.

In my neighborhood at the Whittier school, the culture was to compete to be first in line. The bell rang, we bolted for our assembly spot. "I beat!" It was a point of actual pride.

At Farnum with the gifted kids that was not the way. Not only was it not done, it was considered positively gauche. I do mean déclassé, in the most literal possible sense. I found out when, in my first weeks there, I did what I was used to, ran for the lead, elbows flying. I beat! And was very proud.

One of the kids told the teacher. That's something that was not done in my neighborhood. People could bully or steal or spit or threaten but the authorities would not be informed. If there were problems with behaviors we'd handle it ourselves. That it happened here without warning was profoundly shocking. I thought, What kind of little rat fuck...

Mrs. Shulman, the mean-spirited fourth-grade biddy with cancer called me out. In a sneering tone she said, to me, in front of the class, "I know your school. I taught substitute there. You're lower class."


Well — true enough. In fact she put her thumb on exactly the crux of the gifted program citywide. It was structured to funnel white-collar kids to university while consigning working-class kids to their blue-collar destinies as mechanics and beauticians and factory workers and cooks, just as God and genetics wished things to be. From fourth through twelfth grades I can think of only two or three kids besides myself from working-class families, and literally only one besides me who lived in an apartment. To me, anyone in a house was "rich", so that I knew in the instant she spoke that Mrs. Shulman was correct. I am lower class. Got it, and thank you for the sociology lesson.

That incident was sadly typical of that incompetent school system. No adult in La Mesa insulted the kids. Not ever. The kids didn't even insult each other. Put-downs, threats, sarcasm, bullying, tattling all entered my days via the San Diego City Schools.

What was Mrs. Shulman attempting ineptly to accomplish? To humiliate little fourth grade me into behaving with better table manners? Not a chance. The insult cemented a stubborn stance of rebellion, evasion, stealth, truancy, and before the end of sixth grade, drugs. These were not my people. For the most part I despised them and for the most part it was mutual. Between the teachers and myself without question. They made that perfectly plain.