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School cool

No matter how long it’s been since you walked through the graffiti-marred doors of your alma mater, there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air at the beginning of September. It’s a fresh start, almost as big as New Year’s Day, only without the hangover, the Y2K bug and the need for pointless resolutions.

"Did you like school?" asks the Lizard of Fun, interrupting my thoughts. "I mean, I’m assuming you actually went. Or were you one of those kids who spent the ’70s learning disco steps and eating granola in a hippie art commune?"

"Sure, I liked school," I say. "Especially the world peace days and the tie-dye classes. And, of course, the back-to-school shopping trips."

Speaking of which, I switch on the radio to check whether it’s going to cool down enough to justify shopping for a new leather jacket. Just to get into the swing of the season, you know. But before the weather forecast comes on, there’s a report about all the Detroit schools that aren’t opening after all.

"Whoa, what was that?" the Lizard yells, shushing me and suddenly paying attention to the radio. "They’re ticketing? Ticketing for what?" It leans closer to the radio, hyperventilating more loudly than the announcer’s voice. "Ticketing over ass size? Did you hear this? Freak Girl, don’t go outside!"

I whomp the Lizard with a rolled-up copy of the daily scab paper, and then point out the headlines.

"Picketing. Class size. That was gratuitous."

"Oh. Ow."

"See, look," I say, unfurling the paper. "This episode of the Snooze has devoted almost its whole front section to the Detroit teachers’ strike."

"Kinda ironic that they’ll pay attention to other people’s strikes, isn’t it?" asks the Lizard.

But much of the coverage, I note, focuses on kids who would rather be back in class than, say, playing one more darn game of street basketball or spending one more brain-numbing day at the beach. Either that or it interviews parents who are struggling to find a way to cope with the lack of school – as though they hadn’t been doing exactly that for the past two-and-a-half months.

"Well, who can blame the teachers for not wanting to go back?" says the Lizard. "Summer rules, but school just has rules."

"It’s not about rules, it’s about contracts," I explain.

"Contracts on teachers? That’s taking the school violence thing a bit too far, don’tcha think?" says the Lizard. "What about the old tack-on-the-chair or mouse-in-the-desk-drawer tricks?"

"Well," I sigh, "I suppose kids today have much more sophisticated minds."

"And heavier artillery, too. Teachers should maybe hold out for danger pay."

I shrug. "And back-to-school flak jackets?"

"Besides, I don’t know what all the fuss is about," says the Lizard. "If school hasn’t started yet, summer isn’t officially over! Think of all the extra fun we could pack in."

"Such as?"

"Well, we’ve yet to fall off a malfunctioning amusement park ride or climb an old-growth forest tree to spend a month there as a protest against logging. We haven’t got sick from swimming at contaminated beaches. Or gone swing dancing during a tropical storm in North Carolina. Damn, we’ve hardly had any summer fun at all!"

"But part of the appeal of going back to school was that it was fun, sort of. You know, to see all your friends, and to figure out new ways to push your teacher’s buttons."

"Well, it wouldn’t be so hard to face fall if I knew fun was built into the school curriculum," says the Lizard. "Now, if I was in charge, here’s what we’d have."

It pulls out a ream of crumpled paper labeled "The Lizard’s Curriculum of Fun," and begins to list the planned activities for the first day of its own proposed charter school.

• Violence in the schools discussion group: Students will decide which hallway locations would be the best places to install video games, to ensure maximum access by all those looking for an outlet for their frustrations.

• Computer science: Day trading for fun and profit! Earn piles of cash the easy way! Amaze your friends! Please your parents!

• Media studies: Identifying new trends in television sitcoms – the rise of the openly gay character from stereotype to token.

• Current events: Students explore the sex lives and other secrets of prominent political candidates.

• Debating club: Furby versus Pok√©mon. Symbolic duel for supreme eminence or marketing program run amok?

• Science class: Since scientists have now genetically engineered mice to be smarter, students can take the experiment a step further, and try it out on themselves.

"So they won’t need school anymore," says the Lizard. "They’ll all be too smart."

"But then you’ll go out of business," I reply.

"Naaah," says the Lizard. "Remember, we’ll also encourage skipping out."

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