While driving home listening to my local public radio station, I hear it advertised that it is time to check out the LAUSD “Choices” catalogue and the time period to complete the application process to get your child moved into a different school, outside your neighborhood school, is already ticking away. The radio announcer says that if your kid loves bugs and frogs, there might be a school that caters to those interests. I sigh thinking about all the little kids spread out all over Los Angeles stuck in schools that restrict these kids from fully focusing on their passion for bugs. That evening, after finally getting our non-bug loving kids to sleep, I collapse on the bed and cover my eyes with my arms, realizing I have developed a full-blown migraine headache. After digging through our medicine cabinet and finding me some Excedrin Migraine, my husband asks me if I want to watch a sitcom on his laptop in bed. Sounds harmless enough. I told him that if the medicine finally takes a notch out of the pain, I might actually be able to open both eyes, but if the audio was funny, the humor might distract me even more from the pain that was hopefully about to subside.
We decided to watch an episode of one of the Fox fall line-up shows, one of the several sit-coms all jumping on the bandwagon theme of dumb or non-existent men, helping or abandoning women with kids. Even with my eyes closed, I quickly realize that the episode’s story-line was based on the mom and her brother (the goofy uncle) using an address of their friend’s parents’ home to get the little 6-year-old daughter/niece into the better school. The whole elaborate lie nearly unravels when somehow either the mom or the uncle accidentally invites the whole PTA board and others back their house (the house with the borrowed address) for margaritas. [As a side note, to make sure racism isn’t revealed as the reason the mom doesn’t like the school in her neighborhood, the show creators make the friend and his parents, whose address they “borrow,” African-American – what a clever twist!] Chaos and comedy ensues as the mom and uncle try to explain all the Black family photos hanging on the wall, and although they manage to layer on more lies to cover up inconsistencies in their story, the mom goes into the principal’s office the next day to confess the whole scheme. She pleads for mercy, promises all sorts of volunteer hours, and ends up with the principal giving them a waiver that he has managed to hold on to for just these kind of cases, that will allow the little girl to stay at the nice school.
I am not saying that the characters shouldn’t want a good education for this child. Nor that busting their butts with creativity or risking criminal prosecution for their goals wasn’t admirable (there was an aborted school break-in and a police car chase too), or even that old-fashioned honesty shouldn’t be rewarded in some way, at least on t.v. But all I could think about was how BAD they made that other school look! The show uses this little cut-away technique for emphasis (you t.v./film people probably have a name for that) like for showing flashbacks of the main characters when they were kids, etc, and in this case for showing just how bad the bad neighborhood elementary school is where the darling child could end up if she is kicked out of the heaven-on-earth school with its bright shiny art-covered walls. We see a scene from this bad school: some tough large woman yelling at kids as they go through a metal detector in some drab industrial-color painted walls. I know it is t.v., everything is exaggerated and slapstick, but how CAN it be that this awful neighborhood school is just an address away from the fancy school? It has to be relatively close in this fictional Los Angeles-like city. Isn’t there something wrong and unjust about that in itself?? Where are the protesting parents outside of the failing school acting out that new movie, “Won’t Back Down,” that the non-profit Parent Revolution is promoting to encourage parents to take back their schools? Or even less revolutionary – hasn’t the mom heard that she can apply for Choices, that Los Angeles school-choice application process I just heard advertised?
Of course, I doubt this fictional bad school isn’t even that bad – the cut-away was just the mom’s hysterical perception. Okay, I am getting crazy, getting defensive about a fictional school in a made-up story for t.v. – they aren’t talking about our school. We don’t have any metal detectors and we have art on the walls too. But, it is the exploitation of our parental fears that the scene plays into which I object to and it is the fact that this storyline made it into a new heavily promoted mainstream prime-time t.v. show that makes me realize this school hysteria is widespread and growing.
Tomorrow I will ask my kids if they want to learn more about bugs.