“No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks”. It’s a happy ditty that’s been around since schools (and pencils) have been around. Although I’m not even sure if schools still use pencils.
And the immortal classic poetry of that paragon of virtue, shock-rocker Alice Cooper continues in his wildly popular 1972 song School’s Out:
Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.
School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces.
Take that, Shakespeare! Now, I certainly don’t advocate anarchy in the form of school destruction and truth be told neither does Vince Furnier (aka Alice Cooper, who is a preacher’s son, a celebrity golfer and who put on one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever seen) but there are a lot of kids out there who can relate to School’s Out right about now.
On the positive side, you just can’t beat that feeling the last week of June brings for kids. An odd combination of the looming promise of magical summer holidays ahead, and the giddy disbelief that another couple hundred days of teachers’ dirty looks have somehow become part of the past tense. Although they’re not exactly sure what “past tense” is because nobody every pays much attention in Language Arts class.
But those last pre-summer school days go by slower than molasses going uphill in January, as my Uncle on the farm used to say. Never mind that June school classes were mostly taken up with playing softball out on the school yard even though it wasn’t even a phys-ed class. Or when it was raining it was movie time in pretty well every subject. And in those days the movies were from the school’s limited library of “educational” films, which were so bad that they were actually worth watching every year for the sheer mockability factor. And they were shown on white screens that you could make shadow puppets on with your hands and projected from a large noisy Bell and Howell 16mm machine that broke down on a regular basis much to the delight of the entire boy population in class who took the opportunity to flick wads of paper at the girls we liked and the guys we were trying to get into trouble.
But everyone including the Administration knew we all deserved some curriculum compromise as a reward for all us surviving the preceding school year relatively in tact. That is, until some demented sadist came up with the idea of “Provincial Departmental Exams”. These dreaded torture sessions were first inflicted on Grade 9 and Grade12 kids, and they were lethal two hour written tests created in faraway places like Edmonton by retired sadistic teachers who secretly hated children. And since they were worth something like half your entire year’s final mark, for those of us who took things like marks pretty seriously, it was a pretty devastating diversion from the joy of June.
I’m not sure why, but I became — not to put too fine a point on it — pathologically obsessed with the dreaded departmentals in Grade 9. I had set up a card table and chair in the spare bedroom and studied, quite literally, until I was sick. This is when I discovered migraine headaches, stomach aches and the fine art of chronic neurotic worrying. I made meticulous notes from my classroom notes, and detailed study notes from those notes and created dozens of flash-card question notes from those notes. Sweating, fussing and fretting over every course for weeks on end.
I didn’t eat, had trouble sleeping, hardly saw my friends, and barely went outside. I was like a Grade 9 Study Vampire. I had decided that I had to get honours in Junior High even if it meant joining the stressed-out ranks of the junior high undead.
Funny thing is, after weeks of stomach-churning, head-pounding non-stop studying, I don’t even remember much about taking the tests at all. What I do remember, as sharp and crystal clear as all peak experiences are, were the french fries.
After the last departmental exam, a bunch of us friends, dazed and confused from the intense concentration and stricken with writer’s cramp, stumbled out of east doors of Central School for the last time, breaking the surly bonds of academia, squinting into the blazing sunlight and heading straight for the nearby Redwood Grill.
My buddies and I had planned this celebration of summer since the shock of the first Departmental, and suddenly there we were, crammed into a booth at the family restaurant in the Plaza Shopping Centre, most of us in the Redwood Grill for the first time without our parents.
In those days going to a restaurant was a big deal for a kid. Fast food had barely been invented, in fact the nearest McDonald’s was in Calgary and I had never even seen it. By Grade 9 I could count on one hand the number of times I had actually eaten a full-blown dinner in a restaurant.
I can remember that I practically had to hold my pants up on account of my pockets were weighed down with the coins that I had saved for a Coke and fries, and I remember exactly what the air conditioning felt like after the excruciatingly stuffy exam session in the school gym, and I remember how we were all being giddy and giggling about wonderfully stupid things because school was finally out for summer. Junior High School was out forever.
This is what freedom feels like, I remember thinking. The weight of the world lifted off my skinny shoulders, important things suddenly put into perspective.
And when the french fries came and we all dug in, I knew that I would never find another precious plate of chips that would ever taste as good.
So that’s what I think about when I see the kids, big and small, all over town this week, enraptured in the June exodus, heading out of school and into summer.
And at this time of year, I always get a real hankering for friends and french fries in the fresh cool air of the Redwood Grill.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate.