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School’s Out & The Little Red Schoolbook

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Today’s song (lyrics here) is a little old anthem to help all my friends get through the next week or so (or more for those in el-hi) to the end of the school year. It took me a long time to realize that teachers feels the same sense of relief at the end of the year that students do.

Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” dates to 1972, but I was still a goody-two-shoes child then and didn’t fully appreciate it until I was in high school and going through my own teenage rebellion. Even then, I was rebellious in a goody-two-shoes way. I wasn’t smoking in the parking lot, at least most of the time, and I wasn’t yet drinking or losing my sexual innocence. I was just disobedient and disrespectful to my teachers.

Watching the above version of “School’s Out,” filmed at a concert in Sweden, made me think of one of my inspirations for my rebellion, The Little Red Schoolbook. (I mistakenly thought it originated in Sweden, but it was Denmark.) The Little Red Schoolbook made the rounds in the U.S. about the same time “School’s Out” did.

I don’t remember much about my own rebellion, except that I got thrown permanently out of geometry class and that the school administrators summoned my parents to confer about how to make me behave. My geometry teacher frequently assigned students who whispered in class to copy out passages from books as extra homework. He often suggested the Bible as a source. When I received this punishment one day, I chose The Little Red Schoolbook as my source—a passage about how authoritarian teachers are actually insecure. “All grown-ups are paper tigers…” “If you’re bored, you only learn how to be bored.” And so on. Mr. Houser greeted this with outrage. The one detail I will never forget is the shade of red his face turned when his eyes fell on the words I had copied out in my prissy schoolgirl hand. I was satisfied with that.

It’s interesting to me how those mixed feelings about school have stayed with me even though I chose a life in education. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy teaching, but I feel a constant tension with these issues of authority. And even my fellow academics, most of whom I believe generally love school more purely than I do, get burned out and look forward to summer or whatever short breaks we may get.

We don’t get cut many breaks in education these days, especially not in public education. When I found a video excerpt of a documentary about the Australian release of The Little Red Schoolbook, called As It Happened: The Book That Shook the World (2007), I was struck by its emphasis on the possibility of students striking. I had just posted on Facebook about the sorry state of higher education funding in the state of Florida and noted that “IMHO it’s time to start thinking about strikes, though we are all too grateful just to have a job.” I guess the rabble-rousing Little Red Schoolbook is still somewhere inside of me, though I have long since been absorbed into the status quo and the nation has backslid in terms of progressive education.

Below is the short strike-related documentary excerpt, and a longer, more general one is here.

Here’s to dreams-soon-to-come-true of summer, freedom, and much-needed rebellion.

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