The pus green painted cinderblock walls stared back at me. Yeesh, another local government issued cubicle, masquerading as a classroom.
A suspended ceiling lurked above my head. Fluorescent lights in it buzzed angrily, one of which winked like a teenager on his fourth Red Bull. Several off-white ceiling tiles sported round, brown water stains as if needing a pair of Depends. Posters scattered on the wall shouted desperate motivational messages over the ennui of the surroundings.
So, this is where my kid spends two hours of her school day. Very asylum-ish.
“Can we sit down already?” Annie, my goth wannabe, droned bumping against my back.
“We appear to be early,” I said. A group of tables sat to one side of where row upon row of desks marched in formation across the linoleum floor, a dull sea of vaguely beige squares, with mixtures of brown and black streaks across them. I’d seen toilets with that appearance, usually in public settings, and shortly before the automatic flush carried it away.
“C’mon.” I moved to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down.
My hooded vision of fury and apathy glided across the floor, and plopped in a chair next to me. Her glaring eyes swept across the wasteland of the room. “Why are we here, again?”
“The D you’re getting in Government. I want to know what’s going on.”
“I told you already. I don’t care about government.”
“Nobody cares about government. Particularly those running it, but you need to know why you get sodomized every April 15th.”
She cocked her head. “What’s sodomy?”
It dawned on me that this was yet another example of inappropriate topics my wife warned me not to mention to Dark and Stormy. “I’ll explain later.” Yeah, I’m going to parenting hell — as redundant a phrase as there ever was.
A figure appeared in the doorway, dressed in a formal shirt, tie and pressed slacks. I recognized Mr. Cox from the sharply drawn pictures my daughter doodled on her worksheets, minus the devil horns and projectile vomiting. His gray-haired visage pulled up, and he sighed, like a prisoner approaching the gallows, or perhaps a crowded shower.
An artificially whitened smile appeared. “Hello, Mr. Mills.” He extended a hand mechanically.
I pump it. Perhaps the eyes will rotate, or his head will spin, but sadly no such reaction. So, I sighed as well. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with us.”
Mr. Cox slid into a chair without ruffling his starched outer garments.
“Not a problem. Always happy to meet the parents of my students.” As Elvira’s gaze continued to laser holes in the tabletop, Mr. Cox attempts to peer past the edges of her hood to make eye contact. “Nice to see you again, Anne.”
This should be interesting, either she’ll shriek and spider-walk out the door, or unhinge her jaw and attempt to devour his soul. Instead, she smiles, or what passes as a smile, and mumbles an, “Uh huh.” The look on her face seems familiar, and I make a mental note to add Miralax to the grocery list.
Mr. Cox, ignoring the daggers being tossed his direction, turns back to me. “Well, let’s get started.” From a manila folder, he pulled a sheaf of paper and slid it over to me.
I look at the missive. “What’s this?”
“Everything we’ve covered.” He pushed over a single sheet of paper, with a large multi-columned table filled with data. “Here are the scores Annie has received so far.”
The data table was extensive and depressing. Poor scores across the board, particularly on vocabulary.
“I see vocabulary is an issue. How is it being taught?”
“Everything is in a PowerPoint. I give printed copies to everyone to put in their binder.”
I’d seen the overstuffed binder filled with grayish pages with thumbnails of slides, eight to a page. “I haven’t seen a textbook come home.”
“We don’t have one. That’s why I use the PowerPoints.”
No textbook? “How does a PowerPoint replace a textbook?”
“I lecture,” Cox replied.
I flashed Annie a glance, and she rolls her eyes, so much that I wonder if she can see the interior of her skull. Nonetheless, based on an unfortunate amount of personal experience, I know lecture bores the snot out of her. “Ah, okay. What are your lectures based on then?”
As I suspected, my child’s curriculum is being driven by Virginia’s Standards of Losers, the locally fermented Kool-Aid and cyanide homage to the federal effort to Leave All Children Behind. I’m torn whether to laugh or cry at the government mandated efforts to transform the next generation into academically hollowed out basement dwellers. “I take it the idea is that everything they learn here will help them pass the SOL test?”
“Yes, but based on what I’ve seen from Anne so far, she isn’t going to pass.” He passed a bunch of papers. “Here is a summary of what the SOL’s cover. I’d memorize them.”
My eyes strain to make out the minuscule print. “Uh, okay.”
Cox looked up at the clock. “I have another conference in five minutes.”
I glanced out the door, another parent and child are cooling their heels in the hallway. “Let’s go,” I said tapping Annie on the shoulder. She bolts upright and heads for the hallway like her ass is on fire. I shook Cox’s hand. “Thanks, I’ll help her study.” I race after my charge galumphing toward the exit.
Before we reach the door to the parking lot, I catch up with the Queen of Darkness. “Here,” I said, shoving the cheat sheets into her hand. “Memorize this, and you’ll be fine.”
She stared at the papers as if they were used Kleenex. “I can’t force myself to take this all in. None of it sticks.”
Somehow the irony struck me. “Well, at least you know what sodomy is.”