I imagine old schoolhouses had graffiti, too. It was probably less of a battle for students to etch their names into the worn wood, though. Then again, all I know about those schoolhouses is what I’ve seen in episodes of Little House on the Prairie. I remember feigning disinterest in the show, but if I was sick and skipping school, I would spend my mornings wrapped in a blanket, with a bowl of oatmeal in my lap and watch the filler-marathons some television stations would broadcast before noon.
There is one old schoolhouse that sits in a park back at home. Heritage Park has many relocated, historical buildings from around the county; even a train. I love that place. It comforts me to know that those “old days” settings aren’t just full of anomalies placed by Hollywood. The park has a schoolhouse, an old doctor’s house and a small shop. It’s nice to know, too, that Laura Ingalls Wilder could not have lied about everything.
I’m focused in class—really I am. There is no real wood to be found in this classroom. These modern classrooms are all carpeted with strong, cemented walls. In fact, this “schoolhouse” holds several classrooms, unlike its historical predecessors. However, the light from the window is wide-open and distracting me just as the large windows of those old structures would have; the rays from the sun are illuminating my notes and the desk in front of me. It’s empty. The back of the chair has Eric’s name etched into it—whoever he is. The words “love” and “fuck” are also etched into the chair so deeply, no paint will reverse the passion and determination it took one or two students to leave their mark.
In elementary school, we learn how to draw pictures on our desks and on the walls when there is a void throughout the academic day—or if clay and “learning” blocks cease to be as entertaining. I don’t know who we learn it from, or who started the trend, but perhaps our urge to scribble on the walls at home fuels our want to destroy public property everywhere. We’re elementarily impulsive at that age, after all. In middle school, those ahead of the social curve are already leaving slurs and phone numbers in the stalls. Where we learn the hate so soon, I’ll never know. You don’t learn psychology and anthropology when you’re a 13-year-old in public school. And those elementary doodles we left on our desks cover more of the desks and trail into our notes we are surely taking in class. In high school, students get creative. While some are still leaving phone numbers and expletives, my favorite piece of vandalism was from a theatre-kid who wrote an entire Shakespearian sonnet in permanent marker across one large wall in the girls’ bathroom. In college, I’m still surprised to see the infantile graffiti. I wouldn’t be as surprised, if our tuition money went to good use, and the clever decided to be thematic in their destructive relief. Perhaps paint and pastels could cover the bathroom walls of the fine arts’ facilities. Perhaps we could use more sonnets on the bathroom walls of the liberal arts hall. Maybe it would be best if all of those complicated formulas from chemistry were written somewhere in the science building for freshmen who take regular trips to the bathroom just to get out of two-hour lectures.
In class today we are flipping through issues of The Sun magazine. In “Hector Isn’t the Problem” John Taylor Gatto asserts that academia is too regulated. What started on the Prairie as a means for learning and thriving has become an institutionalized religion for government—a way to standardize what we learn and divide who we know. I suppose that is right. I’ve seen education from the teachers’ perspectives and the students’. We are filling longer days with less information, but we’re learning something. Perhaps, just like those Prairie kids that learned to read and write just so they could get by are not that much different from us. They fought on the playground and debated in the classroom. What we do learn we carry with us, too. For some, it is art and graffiti, for others, it may be sonnets.
I just find it funny that college students can still get excited whenever they see sharpeners on the backs of large crayon boxes. There’s one in the desk beside me right now. They didn’t have crayons or crayon sharpeners back in the day. But I bet those kids grew up to be young adults still fascinated with the toys they had during their school days, too.