Society’s Hamster Wheel: Reflections on First Grade

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Off he goes. Photo by Kathy Copeland Padden

My dashing and brilliant six-year-old grandson is unbelievably (to me anyway) starting first grade this fall. I’m suffering a mild bout of milestone melancholia, but the Little Guy, after many assurances that I’ll be OK home alone (adorbs, right?), is completely pumped about moving up to the Big Leagues.

He is no longer on the lowest rung of the primary school totem pole — that’s those baby kindergarteners. He hasn’t been one of those for months!

We have our very own First Grader!

But right there, just below the pride and excitement lurks a nagging, undeniable sadness. It’s not just watching another of my babies grow up too fast, it’s the depressing realization that he is now on society’s hamster wheel, a new prisoner to the clock and calendar. He doesn’t belong solely to me anymore, safe and sound.

Every day of his young life, from this point on, he’s expected to stick to a rigid schedule and conform to meet everyone’s expectations and needs but his own. His future “potential” will depend largely on standardized testing, a terrible and unjust fate for any child. Not every kid is at their best carefully filling out black dots with a #2 pencil (do they still do that, or have I just dated myself?)

Like all children, the Little Guy’s at the mercy of a system designed to break his will and crush his spirit. Year after year, as he’s forced to study subjects he’ll never use or that bore him senseless; his natural curiosity is at risk of drowning in an ocean of yawn-inducing textbooks.

I haven’t even bought the markers and glue sticks yet, but I’ve already managed to completely depress the shit out of myself.

It’s just so damn hard to relinquish a beloved child to the system; especially now when all of our institutions have broken or are currently breaking down. It feels less like nudging a baby bird out of the nest and more like sending a soon-to-be martyr to the lions.

So much of what children are taught in school is a primer on how to be a docile employee. Ask no questions, always yield to authority. No pesky goal setting, as the MCAS will reveal whether you’ll be driving a desk or digging a ditch.

By the time the Little Guy hits the job market the oligarchs will probably have us paying them for the privilege of being in their employ.

Don’t laugh. Did you ever imagine a universe in which we’d be referring to that orange assclown as President Trump?

Realistically, the future for most American children is a bleak landscape of struggle and deprivation. They will suffer from the excesses of those that came before them, paying a steep price for their elders’ idiocy.

The elders in question will be past their pain, having kicked it after a nice retirement plan and Social Security provided them with more than enough to meet their needs in their twilight years, a luxury those in the workforce today will never enjoy.

Ugh. Make it stop.

Watching the Little Guy’s sweet, happy face, so eager to embrace the delicious newness of first grade, my heart won’t allow my head to seriously ponder what lies ahead for him and all the kids in his generation if we stay on our current Ayn Rand-approved path.

So what’s the plan? I’m going to take lots of pictures and enjoy the Little Guy’s Big Day.

Then back to the battlefield.

Written by

is a political junkie and history buff randomly alternating between bouts of crankiness and amusement while bearing witness to the Apocalypse. Come along!

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