Getting Schooled at the Open House

Well, it’s that time of year again—dodging bodies in the school hallway, navigating a strange new campus, trying to decipher a confusing schedule sheet, and hustling to beat the bell in time to find an empty desk before the teacher launches into a lecture about punctuality and respect.

Not my kids, me. I’ve just gone through two open houses, one for my daughter’s middle school and one for my son’s high school. They both had different approaches, but they both succeeded in making me think, yeah, my kids might be enrolled here, but I’m the one getting schooled.

School is different now. We receive periodic progress reports during every semester or quarter or whatever between actual report cards. The teachers send regular emails and have their own websites. Parents are expected to log onto something called Zangle so we can check up on our kids, see if they’re missing assignments or need to make up tests. Back when I went to high school, when the white board was a blackboard, the only way my parents would know if I was failing was if they showed up to the graduation ceremony and I was pushing a broom around the gym instead of receiving a diploma.

Now, like everything else in the world, it’s all online. The kids don’t even bother to bring home their textbooks. Sounds good on paper (ha ha), but here at the Wire household we are customers of Qwest. They are the qworst. We’re on our fourth shoddy DSL modem in five years. The Internet connection typically terminates several times a week for no apparent reason, and the glacial download speeds have me longing for the wild and crazy days of dial-up. Well, at least their customer service sucks. (“Oh, you’re on a Mac? Um, that guy is on vacation.”) When I do receive actual help from them, it’s usually advice like, “Unplug the modem and let the accumulation of poisonous static electricity drain out the power hole for one minute into a bucket.” Honestly, even on the phone, I must look like a sap. So it’s not uncommon that we can’t get online at home. And since there are no actual books in the backpacks, it’s panic time.

Oh, but that’s not all, Very Involved Parent. We’re going to need a thousand-word essay from you describing your kids so we don’t have to go through that whole unpleasant process of getting to know them. And while you’re at it, can you please fill out these six forms with all the exact same information that you’ve already written on at least twenty forms in the last two weeks? Super!

Speaker’s teachers at Judy Martz Middle all gave their spiel about what material they’ll be covering in the 8th grade. I looked around the classroom at the other parents, my palms upturned. They do know I’m not the one getting off the bus every day, right? I don’t really care if they’re teaching “math concepts” or the “language skills matrix.” Just teach ‘em what you teach ‘em in 8th grade, and call me if my daughter needs help. Don’t drag me into this. If I wanted to home school her, I would be boning up on textbooks, not reading Eric Clapton biographies and the Funny Times. And to be honest, I would probably employ a substitute two or three days a week.

High school is a different story altogether. Rusty is a freshman at Gauntlet High here in Missoula, and their open house was a real eye-opener. For one thing, the standard subjects have all been given highfalutin names that are designed to make parents think their kids are receiving some erudite education indeed. The aforementioned Language Skills? Come on, man, it’s English. I mean, really, “language skills” brings to mind the ability to order a double Cuervo Gold margarita at the bar when you’re so hammered you keep asking the cocktail waitress stuff like, “What’s a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?”

Barb and I moved through the hallways at Gauntlet High with the rest of the parents, clutching our boy’s daily schedule sheet and trying to find his classrooms. “Look, his next class is Health Enhancement,” I told her. “Pssht, when I was in high school, they called it Gym.”

“Right,” she said. “Me too.” She grabbed a passing teacher by the elbow. “We’re looking for Room 411C. Health Enhancement.”

“Oh, yeah,” said the teacher. “That’s the gym.”

The fancy name trend is also in full force at Judy Martz Middle. It’s no longer Home Economics. Now it’s Family and Consumer Science, or FACS. It’s still learning the same basic skills like baking shitty cookies and balancing a checkbook (or as I like to call it, “fiction writing.”) Math? Sorry, now we call it Numerical Integration and Modal Relations of Demarcation, or NIMROD.

Rusty was kind enough to prep us for the open house at Gauntlet High, telling us about which classes he liked and which teachers were cool. “Mr. Oden is my favorite teacher,” he said. “He teaches Introduction to Earth, Space and Physical Science Concepts.”

“Yeaaaahh,” I said, “I’m just gonna call it Science.” What can I say? I admit that time goes on. Things change. I’m old. Hell, when I was in high school, we didn’t have History class because there literally wasn’t enough history yet. So I try and roll with the punches.

Which, by the way, is worth extra credit in Health Enhancement and Locker Room Hegemony.

Speaker Wire works on her school project, a scale model of the Eiffel Tower made entirely of Elmer's Glue and old underwear waistbands.

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