The Saturday detention that never came, or: How I learned to laugh at public schools

They told me I could be mistaken for an intruder.

This was the same school that made all of us wear IDs on our chests for that very same reason. I had my ID. My beard's even in the picture—next to an incorrect spelling of my name.

I told them I wouldn't shave it. There was no reason to.

Them as in other kids. As in most of my teachers, who couldn't be bothered to really bust me. They had more important things to do than harass a 16-year-old for having a goatee. My art teacher—who had a bit of facial fuzz herself—was different. Told me she'd "write me up"—give a referral to one of the assistant principals. The assistant principal told me I belonged in in-school suspension. The in-school suspension supervisor told me I needed to "learn my place". To me it was clear that I didn't have a place—not in this top-heavy human centipede of a school, anyway. There were about as many counselors and assistant principals as there were teachers, half the students never read anything longer than a text message, and there was a fight every other week. But the real problem worth correcting? My beard, clearly.

To write one up. To learn one's place. The oft-heard phrasal verbs of school reprimand.

This wasn't the first opportunity they'd taken to needlessly occupy my supposedly important class time—they'd messed with me three months earlier about not having an ID, back on the first day of the policy's implementation. It was a Monday. They'd warned us all the previous week about the "ID sweep" they'd be making of the school: all students without IDs on their shirts would be rounded up from every classroom and given a detention or whatnot.

I'd gone that last Friday to the cafeteria—the commons, they called it—to get the ID they'd made me. One assistant principal's favored bootlicker, who was tasked with handing out tenth-grade IDs, had taken ten minutes and still couldn't find mine. He said I could come back Monday. So I did—and I was "swept", along with a few hundred other kids from around the school, down to the commons, where the several principals sat at a table giving out detention forms for the following Saturday. When I got up to their table, I tried to explain what had happened. "I don't care", one of them said. "Saturday detention." I tried again—"No, sir, listen"—he didn't care. He had other students to carelessly reprimand, and I was holding up the line. I told the principals I wasn't going to sign the form. I didn't deserve Saturday detention—I'd done as I was told, and had been polite in doing it. The principals were all engrossed in their petty bureaucratic harassment session, so they told me just to sit down in a chair a few feet away from the table: "We're not here to argue with you."

I was missing my second-period chemistry class. I sat in the chair for a good ten minutes or so before asking the principals if they were ready to deal with me. I was told to sit back down. It was obvious they weren't paying much attention, so I got up and wandered around the commons a bit, then decided to just walk back to class. They had nearly the entire faculty packed into the commons to deal with the rulebreakers—when a just-implemented rule is being broken by half the school, you'd think the rule might be reĆ«valuated—so my stroll through the halls was unsupervised.

When I got back to class, I told my chemistry teacher that I'd been let off with a warning. Five minutes later I had to go to third period—architectural graphics, which I might have found fun if it hadn't been a class. The teacher told me to go back to the commons to obtain my ID—not knowing, of course, the events of the previous hour—so I did. I went in, sat back down in the same chair I'd been sitting in thirty minutes before, and realized that none of the principals had even noticed my absence—incompetence at its most convenient. I went from there to one of the several tables of office workers handing out IDs, away from the principals. I evaded their detection and ended up getting my ID more or less uneventfully. I never did get in trouble for refusing to sign that detention slip.

All that was in November. Fast-forward, back to January where they're waging war on my beard. I got one day of in-school suspension and went back to my classes as normal the next day.

One of the best things about Texas is that homeschooling is legally allowed and socially accepted. One of the worst things about Texas is that the public schools exist anyway.

I left the State about a week after that, so no further abuse came to me for growing my facial hair. Florida's got its own public schools, of course, but they took a different view of such things; everyone I met there was shocked to hear of the draconian tendencies of my previous school. Forced to shave? Forced to wear an ID on your chest? "That's crazy, dude."

Not to say that Florida's educational facilities didn't have their own risible regulations. At my high school there, the main hallway, which was circular, was "one-way"—walking counterclockwise was a punishable offense. So was not wearing a tucked-in, collared shirt. Said shirt had to be one of four colors—black, grey, white, or maroon, as I recall—apparently to prevent the wearing of gang colors. Improving the school's demographics by kicking out the criminally-inclined "students" among us would be a massive no-no, of course, so we all had to deal with these silly and largely ineffectual strictures. I didn't mind this much, since I got to keep my prized beard.

At one point at this same school in Florida, I tried to change one of my classes to Advanced Placement. The counselor I normally talked to referred me to the head of the AP department, who sent me to another lady, who had me talk to a fourth counselor, who sent me back to the first one. A bureaucratic loop so simple and unassuming in its stupidity that I could not help but admire it.

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