Sunday, August 6, 2017

Opening Day In-Service: Teaching and the Cleavage Problem

As the teachers share their summer memoirs, and nervous Howard tries to conjure up a story more interesting than accidentally abducting a homeless man, let's dolly the camera back and upward to give us a God's-eye view of this learned congregation:

There are the young and restless, eager to begin what they believe to be a lifelong calling, maybe even a lifelong passion, but, untutored in traditional socialization and decorum, reluctant to make eye contact with their elders, while others, such as the gray beard just now entering through the double doors, are hoping with all their hearts this is their last first day back. 

Over the summer, the faculty's weight had been redistributed -- some had gained, some lost -- but collectively the group weighed the same as it did in June, a consistency accurately indicating a satisfactory systemic fitness about which few other schools can crow.

Eight teachers, six of them guys, had shaved their respective heads and grown the now popular Russian-novelist beards. 
Dostoevsky, Fashion Prophet

As one teacher after another share their riveting narratives, a posse of coaches, seated in the back, continue to chat among themselves with their outside voices. 

A few teachers have surreptitiously inserted ear plugs and are chewing gum to the beat of Lil Uzi Vert, Keith Urban, Khalid, Taylor Swift, Barry Manilow, Webb Pierce and that one female vocalist with the massive bows in her hair and bangs that reach her lips.  

Many, many years came and went as the teachers described their fruitful summers, then finally Howard -- just waking from a nap in which he dreamed about abducting one of the "realators" who had catered their delicious Chipotle breakfast -- heard Mr. Z say, "That's everyone, right? Is that it? Anyone else? No? Alright! We have time for a brief restroom break before our next meeting, then we'll finish up quickly and get you outta here. But first, everybody give yourself a big hand!"

Clap, clap, clappity-clap, clap.

And on and on, and the morning and the afternoon were the first day.

"Tell me, Howard, what did you learn today? Tell me everything, Howard. All day, I've been thinking of you and remembering the famous saying by the Chinese philosopher Confusion: 'The longest journey begins on the first day,' or something like that. So share, you large, laid-back lug!"

"Alrighty. As you know, I'm interested in learning about the balance between inviting student participation and relaying information, i.e., content that is critical to a particular discipline. Unless we inspire students to think on their own, to share their thoughts and insights, and listen to their classmates with patience, tolerance and civility, we have missed a rare opportunity and have deprived young people of a meaningful growth experience.

"On the other hand, they cannot discuss latitude and longitude or the contents of a water molecule or the boiling point of wort. We teachers are the founts of this quantifiable learning, so at some point, lecture we must, and become the often scorned Sage on the Stage.

"And of course there's the precarious balance between authenticity and authority. The students need to see the teacher as a human being, you know, 'One of us! One of us!' but also a person superior in wisdom, more experienced in learning, more mentor than mate.

"So I held up my hand to ask about these dilemmas, but our principal and former football coach Mr. Z cut me off and began the meeting thus*: 'Folks, we have to talk about dress code. We are going get on top of it this year, and you're gonna write up the non-compliers and send'em down and we're gonna call momma and tell'er to come pick'em up.'

"'Send'em down! Pick 'em up! Send'em down! Pick 'em up!' chanted a large band of teachers, but others tried to shout them down with 'School uniforms! School uniforms! School uniforms,' but lacking the rhythm of the original cry, it soon dwindled into obscurity.

"Before Mr. Z could respond, a man from the back row shouted out, 'I'm tired of seeing cleavage!' Then a woman near the front added, 'And butt cracks! I've had it!'

"'This year's policy will address both those issues,' Mr. Z told us. 'Each and every teacher will be issued a measuring sensor app, which basically serves the role of a ruler. If you see one of the young ladies dressed in what you deem an inappropriate manner, simply approach her and hold your phone near her, uh, around the, uhh . . . '

"'Boobs!' shouted a foreign language teacher known for her candid outspokenness.

"Mr. Z. continued, "Boobs, right [some snickering from the older faculty]. Your app will beep if the student is revealing two inches of cleavage or more. At that point, you will write up the referral, and send her down.'

"And again, the cry rang out: 'Pick them up! Pick them up!'

"'Now, are there any questions about this issue before we move on to our policy on butt-cracks -- or intergluteal clefts or plumber cleavage, as they say on the streets?'

"A seemingly nice lady who I was told had been at Medford for 26 years had the first question: 'What if the cleavage is, say, 1.8 inches? Do we just issue a warning, and is there paperwork involved in a warning? Or if it's 1.5 inches when she enters the classroom, but through the various natural movements of her body, swells to 2 inches? Can she not claim that she had adhered to the dress code but was then victimized by gravity over which she has no control? Then what?'

"After 17 more questions, we finally moved on to butt cracks about which the major issue was length, sex, gender, sexual preference, sex at birth, and sex currently. Was a guy's butt crack, for example, more of a distraction to girls than cleavage was to boys?  Should the butt-crack measurement take place when the student was sitting, squatting or standing? Or was it possible that since fashion has allowed exposed butt crackage for close to 20 years now, the nether crease may no longer be a distraction at all, no more shocking than, say, a bra strap?

"Apparently, though, this was time well spent, because the teachers seemed to believe that if they could get the kids to cover their bodies in a corporate, appropriate, modest way, they would be more eager to take in vital information about the wide, wide world and all its various cultures and values, and to improve their critical-thinking skills so they could grow up to be happy and creative human beings, and informed voters capable of transforming this Great Nation into a land of justice and compassion."

"Bummer. But Howard, you'll be teaching Pre-K kids,* so why did you need to worry about cleavage?"

"We all have to go to these meetings whether or not the subject is relevant to us. The reason we have to is because they are required. Mandatory. Obligatory. Non-optional.

"At any rate, we were still discussing butt cracks at the end of the day -- literally -- so Mr. Z said we'd have to postpone our discussion of all the new initiatives coming down from the state and some major changes in the benchmarks and standards and the reasons our union couldn't scratch out even a cost-of-living raise.

"'We know y'all have a lot to do and are eager to get to your classrooms and get this year underway, so we'll work really hard to finish up tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'd just like to thank you all for all you do on a daily basis. We appreciate your love of teaching and love of the kids, except for Mr. Renfroe's, of course, whose love crossed the red line, sending him to the pen for a while, but thanks to all the rest of you, and give yourselves a big hand!'"

Clap, clap, clappity-clap, clap.

*Or "thusly"

**In the interest of verisimilitude, I should point out that Medford school was very small, so it contained within its halls all grades, Pre-K through 12..


  1. I believe that if anybody wants to improve critical thinking skills in children and school going kids, then it’s the “freedom to think and do it yourself” kind of thinking. We need to give kids that kind of freedom. Anyways, interesting read.

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