December 25, 2003 14:55 | Confession / Culture / Stories

Revisiting ironies

I just got an impulse to drive out to the suburbs where I grew up and visit the private french school I attended for eleven years. It was the kind of business where we wore uniforms, stood when the beloved leader (principal/owner) entered the classroom and were repeatedly told we were being shaped to be "Les leaders de demain!" ("the leaders of tomorrow"... many ironies here...).

Over the years I've learnt that most if not all my fellow inmates profoundly despised, and continue to despise, this school. I know more than one whose lives have been inextricably affected for the worse by having gone through it's doors. My oldest friend, whom I met in first grade, once declared: "I love my parents, absolutely, but I will NEVER forgive them for having sent me there." Harsh words. I've heard desires for class-action suits around reunion dinner tables.

Oddly, myself, I never minded it. I was so... hmmm... oblivious/unreachable. My eyes and ears were open and i just took it all in, stored it in the databases and made loose connections. Never asked questions and never studied for exams. Nothing affected me. And I was always in the top five, grade wise. Remarkably unremarkable.

Aside from the math, history, grammar and latin, I learnt one thing very well which our fuhrer probably didn't intend. I learnt, intrinsically, how fascism works, and how absurdly perverse it is. How it parades about in a luster of pretense and false justness. How, on an educational level, it seeks to "instill knowledge", rather than "foster understanding". How, through rigid application of discipline, it seeks to destroy individuality in an effort to maintain order.

I think this is why I was not affected as others were by my detention in this school... to me it was a big joke, utterly comical. For someone who went home everyday to the woods and the river and the trees and and the animals, it all seemed so unnatural and otherworldly. "This can't be serious! Nothing can truly grow and prosper this way." I didn't rebel though since I also knew that it was a safe and clean environment to get at least some of the basics of a "good" education. Well, in all honesty, that was lack luster as well, but anyways.

Our parents paid a lot of money for this, thinking they were giving their children a shot at the best. Ten years later, I look around and see that... well, let's see... One old friend now does illegal Ultimate Fighting in cages on the Indian reserves. A handful became auto mechanics. I remember a haitian friend telling me: "Boris, I hope one day you'll give me a job in your dad's factory because otherwise I'll end up a cab driver or in jail." I don't know what happened to him. Sorry Alex.

Most of the other "top fivers" didn't get so far either. The dreaded McDonalds career (literally), the receptionist for life, the marketing manager... Most never even left the suburbs, except for winter trips to mega resorts in Cuba.

There is one notable exception I am very happy for, though. A double major in Art History and Law, passing the bar in both New York State and here at home. I believe she ended up specializing in Intellectual Property Law and is now in Ottawa. Good on her!

There is another exception, of a different nature. I remember him to be a nice enough guy. Strong willed, hard headed, enormous ego and implacable personality. His mild racism at the time kept me from ever considering him smart, and he managed to turn every friend and ex-girlfriend of his, and there were many, against him. He became a "Leader de demain", or is working on it anyways: he is now the elected Councillor of the riding I live in. What is most odd about this is that the riding I live in is one of the most liberal and free and open places in North America, not to mention hippest. The guy was a WWF Wrestling fanatic! Another reason to bemoan the current state of western politics? For me it is. ;)

And what about me? In high school I was nicknamed "Le Philosophe". I was disliked by (almost) none of my peers and apparently quite beloved by the overlords, ahem, I mean teachers and management. In the meritocracy of the place, I had lots of merit. I bet they had me pegged to be one of their stars, one of their "Leaders de demain". I have every intention of being one, just not in their mean.

I could go on with the ironies. How the school was named Charlemagne, after the kaizer who reinstated education in Europe in the Middle Ages. How the principal railed against the injustices of WWII all the while marching us about and commandeering us in true Black Shirt fashion. How he would kid around with me about my german heritage, making a linguistic pun by calling me "le petit bon aryen" ("le bon aryen" = "the good aryan" Where's the pun? "le bon a rien" = "the good for nothing"...). Fools make me laugh.

I don't need to go back and visit. It would be pointless since I'd just stand there laughing at how futile it all is.


Salut Boris,

J'ai beaucoup aimé ce post. As-tu lu "libres enfants de Summerhill"? En Anglais, le livre s'appelle Summerhill's School de A.S. Neill.

Peut-être tu pourrais, juste pour donner un peu d'espoir.