THE EUGENE GRADUATION CEREMONY was held in a large auditorium called the Hults Center jammed to the balconies with a crowd of 4,000 or so people looking on at some 450 graduates. South Eugene High School is said to be the best high school in town of the half-dozen or so in the area. The school people who gave speeches during the ceremonies made several miffed references to a recent article in Newsweek magazine that left South Eugene High off a list of America’s best high schools. Given the speeches of administrators and a couple of teachers I could see why South Eugene didn’t make the cut, and that was before the diplomas were passed out. As each grad was announced to receive his or hers, the three school people taking turns to do the honors mispronounced a full one-quarter of the names, including that of Yusra Adi. (A real tongue twister, eh?) For all their declarations of love and dedication — both words long dead from misapplication but still abused round the clock throughout the land — the school people hadn’t even taken the elementary step of phonetically writing out the troublesome names before the ceremony.
BUT BEFORE they embarrassed themselves with serial surname gaffes, there was a lot of blah-blah about how smart and generally wonderful the graduates and their parents were, as the administrators who weren’t at the podium looked anxiously over their shoulders at a beach ball being tossed among the massed matriculators behind them. The rhetoric from the administrators, consistent with today’s prevalent edu-shamelessness and the low standards of public speech from shore to blighted shore, implied that the faculty, administration and the massed parents, relatives, guardians, keepers, care providers, and miscellaneous molesters were equivalently smart and generally wonderful to have produced so many smart and generally wonderful students. It was delightful to watch one kid do a fine break dance-like series of creative dance steps rather than walk up to receive his diploma. Another kid cartwheeled up to the School Guy to get his, two others did tandem belly slides, and another grabbed his diploma and the school guy simultaneously in a bear hug, lifting School Guy up off the floor. For a thrillingly expectant moment I thought the kid might toss School Guy into the orchestra pit. Unfortunately, the kid put School Guy down and, jubilant, strode off stage, evidently very, very happy to at last be free of the place.
SOUTH EUGENE HIGH SCHOOL, incidentally, is the usual medium security prison-looking place, but self-contained for that essential central control and monitoring that is the full-time occupation (and pre-occupation) of school administrators. The school consists of a continuous stretch of structure resembling a giant intestine set in the middle of a huge, barren tract as if clear fields of fire were its primary siting consideration, the whole length of it painted a truly hideous, vivid purple. Only a true lunatic could have designed the place, and only a double lunatic its color.
AMERICA’S architectural deterioration over the last hundred years can be tracked by school architecture alone. What schools looked and felt like to the young people confined to them used to be absolutely crucial to Americans; no more. Today’s schools are an aesthetic fist in the face that express only fear of the people processed inside of them. South Eugene is Eugene’s best high school, apparently a consensus opinion, and relative to what nobody I asked seemed to know. Eugene doesn’t have open enrollment, apparently, because the prole school down the street from where we stayed looked like an ongoing jail break. As the young scholars from this obviously hopeless educational enterprise hit the streets to pound down diabetes burgers and serial quarts of liquid tooth-rot to boombox tunes heavy on rape and mayhem lyrics, the girls were totally floozied-out in neo-hooker togs while the boys shuffled along looking like mobile laundry bags, their trousers falling down to expose their droopy drawers, the whole presentation, sartorial and human, appearing weighted as if by unattended loads of turds. These kids were on their own, obviously, and whatever went on in their classrooms it probably didn’t have much to do with survival in a class-bound, high tech, half-nuts society.
MEANWHILE, at Mendocino County’s by-default elite school district in Mendocino, irate parents and citizens are circulating this petition: “To the trustees of the Mendocino Unified School District. Future enrollment for the district is uncertain, and funding from the state is still unsettled. Accordingly, we taxpayers request that the trustees of the Mendocino Unified School Board pass a resolution stating that no contract extensions be given to administrators until these conditions are resolved.”
MENDO UNIFIED has laid off a janitor, a bus driver, a music program, and now wants to charge students transported by school bus. (If the law says a kid has to be in school, how he and his parents can be forced to pay to get him there seems like a very large contradiction if not illegal, but the point is the sacrifices are all at the expense of students and their parents, not where the true fat is. Mendocino’s over-large administrative apparatus will be spared so much as a minimal pay reduction as it assumes none of the pain the rest of the district will feel. Quite the contrary. Critics of the Mendocino district’s management fear the school board is poised to give their administrators a raise, a provocation I find hard to believe the school board would risk in the present context of community alienation, but...... Superintendent Shock is already the highest paid superintendent in Northern California when his hundred thou-plus annual compensation for his short work year is considered on a per student basis. He does nothing that the capable Sally Swann, the district’s financial manager can’t do.
NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO, small school superintendents also functioned as high school principals. I defy anyone to justify the pay school superintendents in this county get for carrying out duties so vague they disappear altogether when scrutinized, faster even than an early morning spider web when the summer sun comes out. Put a surveillance camera on these characters and we’d quickly be shaking the thing to get it out of freeze frame because the photo object, the superintendent, would be immobile for hours and hours at a time. They do very little for their big pay, and nothing at all that any old person with a tiny gift for gab couldn’t do just as well for a third the money.
THIS JUST IN. Mendocino’s large community of school management critics was surprised late Tuesday afternoon by a special, closed session board meeting few, if any critics, were aware of. The meeting, which may or may not have been properly noticed, has been called to discuss management positions, specifically the contracts of high school principal Matheson and district superintendent Shock. If the school board sneaks through raises for these two guys at this sneaky meeting, expect an exciting time at Thursday night’s regularly scheduled meeting of Mendocino’s furtive school board.
SPEAKING of edu-swindles, the County Office of Education’s annual mysterious millions (much less mysterious than MCOE’s utterly redundant functions) appear to be exempt from the budget cuts faced by the county’s independent school districts. At the risk of being even more tedious than usual, I’ll say again that the Mendocino County Office of Education does not perform a single task that the county’s independent school districts could not do better and cheaper. MCOE is a 19th century relic that should have been disbanded when Ukiah was electrified and the first Model T rumbled through town.
DR. RICHARD WHITE, a long-time county pediatrician, is much in the news lately as the county’s primary medical marijuana prescriber. Mendocino County, as we know, has more self-medicators than any comparably-sized population in the country, meaning we also have more ill people per capita than any other comparably-sized population or more stoners per capita. Either way is probably correct if “ill” is defined as psychologically impaired somehow. We also have fifteen or so medical doctors willing to scribble a pot prescription, a sheriff who’s brave enough to publicly concede that the federal laws against marijuana are only encouraging lawlessness given the numbers of people smoking pot, and a bold DA who prosecutes only the big boy criminal syndicates of growers rather than the millions of one joint citizens the feds apparently would like to lock up.
DR. WHITE has awarded the $5,000 prize he promised earlier in the year to the high school student who wrote the best essay on the “Insanity of the Current Marijuana Laws.” Ben Veater-Fuchs, a senior at Fort Bragg High School, is the winner of the first annual Mendocino Academy of Science Essay Contest on Marijuana. (Dr. White produces a quarterly news letter to which I’ve subscribed for years in which the doc usually explicates a single subject at great length; I’ve learned quite a bit from him. In the current edition, besides Veater-Fuchs essay on pot, the doctor takes on the huge prob first addressed by Darwin and, ah, the other guy, (Wallace?) Darwin’s contemporary from whom Darwin lifted a lot of the research the other guy did during mid-19th century explorations of Borneo and the Indonesian archipelago that Darwin appropriated for himself. The problem? The lack of specific evidence “for change and variation” in evolutionary change. Its absence has to be explained somehow; it’s the how that starts wars between believers in sky gods and scientists whose faith, if it exists, takes far more subtle forms. In any case, the theory of evolution is in a constant state of revision. Dr. White takes it on in an essay he titles, “Darwin’s Beak and the Evolution of Finches. The doc, by the way, was a Spock delegate at the Peace and Freedom Party’s 1972 convention. Subscriptions to the Academy’s newsletter are $6 a year, checks payable to Richard White at Mendocino Academy of Science, PO Box 165, Mendocino, Ca 95460.
MYSELF, I THINK marijuana, like pornography, has an overall detrimental social effect, especially on young people who get into it before their lives are objectively screwed up at age thirty or so when most of us hit the permanent skids. Today’s doobie is much stronger than that of twenty years ago, not that I speak from personal experience because I don’t smoke it, but only because I don’t like the foggy state induced. I used to like to drink but, as a person unable to stop until I either hit the floor, someone hit me, or I passed out, I gave it up a long time ago because booze got to be too much of an energy drain, and me with a payroll to meet! (That’s a joke; this enterprise pays our mortgage, groceries, a book now and then, and PG&E. Fortunately, my wife and I enjoy each other’s company because we’re the extent of our entertainment.) I speak, however, as a veteran of some 30 trip-a-roos on acid, and also as a person who still wonders what happened to that wonderful pharmaceutical mescaline that came and went in 1968 or so. Oh for one last hit of that! But, ahem, from close observation of the habitual pot smokers I know, I’d say they lack energy, the ability to think and write coherently, suffer fairly severe verbal impairment, tend to slovenliness, and always have these irritatingly smug smiles plastered onto their stoned pusses. “This stuff keeps you loaded for three to four hours!” a former contributor exulted, blissfully unaware that he’d dropped whole paragraphs from his stories and chuckling late into the night at televised Love Boat re-runs. What kind of recommendation for a drug is that? But it still shouldn’t be illegal, if for no other reason than so many otherwise functioning (more or less) Americans are doing it.