Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Order Obeyers and Boundary Breakers

One of my dear friends is a boundary breaker.  We had been friends for several years before I began to realize the extent of her shenanigans.  During that time, she had related her kidhood stories of cutting school or sneaking into bars as an underage teen, or inadvertently causing property damage through her pranks.  (Name withheld to protect the repentant.)  She has a great sense of humor about those wilder days, and the stories are all the more funny because she turned out to be a nice--but still fun and funny--Mormon mommy today.

Her one story that hit me profoundly, though, had nothing to do with getting into trouble.  It was how she got out of it.  As her high school graduation approached, this friend of mine knew there was no way she was going to graduate with the grades she then held in her classes.  But she also knew that she held a secret power; a gift that had served her well and saved her many times before.  She went to her teachers and sweet talked her way into passing grades.  And then, because they knew of her gift, two of her cronies asked her to talk to their teachers about their grades.  "Sure, why not?" was her reply, and so she cajoled three diplomas for students who had not earned them.

That story rocked my world.  I was not a cajoler.  I obeyed order.  I was the student who knew how to get straight As, and so I worked and crammed for them.  My parents had told me at the beginning of my high school career that I would be paying for my own college tuition, and I could do that either through a job or through scholarships.  Scholarships sounded easier, so I got really good at the game of schoolwork and tests.  I had no idea there was an entirely different game being played by those who didn't care about school.

I thought rules were rules and success meant working within that framework to receive their highest reward and result.  The fact that my friend proved that some rules were arbitrary and associated rewards depended more on the discretion of authority figures than on adherence...well, it has given me pause.

As an adult, I've appreciated that the laws of man are themselves often arbitrary.  I once observed in small claims court a self-admitted speeding driver argue that she shouldn't be ticketed because of the circumstances.  She and the police officer agreed that she had been over the speed limit on a city street by about six miles per hour.  But it was after ten p.m. in a commercial area where most stores had been closed for hours.  The judge agreed and dismissed the ticket.

I thought the judge got it right in that case, which surprised me.  This was about the time that I realized adults don't really know what they're doing with society.  Politicians might pass a law...and a judge will later overturn it when it's been tested.  Business owners will try one strategy...and it may sink their business or attract a conglomerate buyer.  School administrators will swear by one curriculum...and then trade it in for the next trend in teaching.  Everything is fluid.

Like my friend, my own #3 realized this truth at a much earlier age than I.  I have referred to her as "Little Miss Loophole" because she loves to push boundaries.  I've discovered that trend is actually one of her traits.

Last week was spirit week at the charter school she attends.  Monday was Jr. High vs. Sr. High, and each group was to dress respectively in either all red or all blue.  Two minutes before heading out the door, I saw my eighth grader wearing all blue--the Sr. High color.  I questioned her, and she said no one would care.  I mostly just cared that she get out of the house that morning, so I let it go, figuring her teacher/s would call her on it and she could deal with the consequences.
I was right.  So was she.

During advisory, #3's science teacher--who has known #3 for four years and knows she is a smarty-pants as well as a smart-aleck--came into the classroom.  She noticed #3 and called her up.  "Why are you wearing all blue?" she asked.  #3 lied, "I got confused about which color our grade was wearing today."  "Uh huh."  The science teacher didn't buy it.  "You got confused?"  "Yep."  "Well, you're out of uniform.  You'll need to go to the front office and borrow a uniform."  #3 was not going down that easily.  She looked to her advisory teacher, "Do I really need to go change?"  The advisory teacher clearly had not been bothered by #3's so-called confusion, but she also wasn't going to undermine another teacher.  She sent #3 to the office.

Pushing uniform boundaries
way back when.
The school's secretary, who also knows #3 well and probably would have made her change clothes, was gone for a funeral, so #3 spoke with someone filling in.  The conversation went something like this:  "How may I help you?"  "My advisory teacher sent me here to get a uniform because I'm not in uniform today."  "But you're wearing all blue."  "Yeah, but I'm in eighth grade.  I mixed up which color I was supposed to wear."  "Then you just won't be counted in the total for spirit week."  "Yep."  "Do you want to change?"  "Nope."  "Okay, then don't worry about it.  Just go back to class."  #3 went back to class, was relieved that the science teacher was gone, and was not surprised that her advisory teacher said nothing.

I was somewhat disappointed, but not too surprised, to learn that only one teacher was willing to enforce the school's own rules.  I called her out on her lying.  #3 distracted me with another story.

At least ballroom dancing won't
tolerate rule bending.
Riding in the school's elevator is against the rules.  The school has a keyhole underneath the elevator button, which works to divert children at the elementary school.  The students there all assume the doors won't open without a key, so no one abuses the system.  At the secondary school, however, it didn't take long for students to learn that the elevator works just fine without a key.  Students routinely press the button as they walk past, and so the doors are often open when #3 is making her way to the staircase.  She and her friends began accepting the literally open invitation for a lift.  Apparently, the rest of her schoolmates are boundary (and button) pushers, but ultimately order obeyers: they open the elevator, but don't ride it.

A few weeks ago, the elevator carried #3 and friends upstairs and opened right as the school's director was walking by.  In telling me the story, #3 admitted to feeling startled.  The director stopped and watched the girls as they hid their panic and brazenly said hello on their way out of the elevator and down the hall.  Mr. Director called #3 by name, "Miss White, could you come back here for a moment?"  She knew she had finally been caught!  She turned back to bow to her fate while her friends ditched her for their classrooms.  (I was silently cheering as she related the story to me.)  "I need to ask you," the director continued, "How are you feeling?"  "Uh, fine."  Fine as in rattled and anxious!  "Good.  I know you got checked out for a headache a day or two ago.  I'm glad you're doing better."  Phew, escaped!  "I am.  Thanks."  She gave him a weak smile, and he returned a genuine one.  Then, she turned around and went to class.

So much for authority figures.  #3 is the dangerous combination of smart and not caring about rules that don't matter.  She has a bright future ahead of her.

Oh yes, and happy birthday #3.  I love you, you little boundary breaker.

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