Thursday, February 16, 2012

School Facism

There's a story in the news about a 4-year-old girl who apparently was told by a school lunch monitor not to eat the food she brought from home but instead to get chicken nuggets from the cafeteria. A concerned parent notified the right-wing authorities, and the story made its way through the news circuit. I'm sure it ended up in my poor Dad's email Inbox with a headline something like, "OBAMA FORCES WHITE CHRISTIANS TO EAT FRIED CHICKEN."

I'm just guessing.

It's a silly story that reminds me of something that happened to me when I was in fourth or fifth grade. At an elementary school in Papillion, Nebraska, my younger sister Shari and I sat at a table to eat lunch. We all had to wait until the prayer was over before we could start eating. Every day, a nice lunch lady led us all in blessing the food, and then we would open our sack lunch, hoping for a delicious Hostess Fruit Pie instead of lame-ass Twinkies. She had us say one of those recited prayers, like "God is great / God is good / Let us thank Him / For our food."

I didn't care much for this type of prayer for two reasons. First, I was a Mormon, and Mormons know the proper way to pray. Rather than using recited prayers, which the Bible cautions against, Mormons pray from the heart by stringing together cliches. Second, it bothered me that "good" and "food" didn't rhyme properly, which forced me to replace it with "fud."

One day, the lunch lady was disappointed with the fact that a bunch of us weren't praying loudly enough. So she scolded us and made us recite the prayer a second time. She asked something like, "Now I want to hear everyone! Is there anyone here who isn't going to say the prayer?" For some reason, my hand shot up.

The teacher told me to get up, leave my lunch at the table, and go put my nose against the wall in a corner. I remember that the gym was hexagonal, so there was room for me to plant my face snugly between two walls. I was to stay there until I came to my senses or something.

When lunch was over, I felt guilty. I had gotten in trouble. But Shari came up to me and told me she was proud of me for standing up for my beliefs. I had raised my hand mostly to be a smart aleck, but as soon as Shari said that, I internalized a different story. I was a martyr. A religious martyr. I was being persecuted for my religious beliefs. The lunch lady was coming after me because deep down, she resented Mormons for possessing the truth, or something.

The moral of the story is that people are awful and cruel. We murder and lie to each other, we tune out sometimes when loved ones are telling stories, we rape, we tattoo our bodies, we pillage, we conquer, we ignore, we coerce, we impose chicken nuggets on children, we bully. On the other hand, we make some good music -- especially in the 1890s and 1970s -- we tell funny jokes sometimes, we bury our dead and say nice things about them, and we give each other lots and lots and lots of good advice.

It all evens out.