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A short story about the path children our set on from birth. Groups and institutions tend to kill the soul of the individual for the good of the group.

When man leaves his mother’s womb, he carries into the world limitless potential.  Parents are engaged into the newness of their creation and the excitement it brings. Kisses, hugs, rosy cheeks, and compliments from everyone on the new addition to the family.

Each day marks a fresh milestone for the child as they progress from crawling to walking, mastering the use of the potty, and uttering their inaugural words. Parents are so proud when they hear “Mama and Dada” for the first time. They shower you with love and affection telling neighbors and coworkers how you walked at 8 months. Earlier than most kids, projecting your promise onto the world. 

At around the age of around five, all the firsts begin to evaporate. It is now time to enter the societal group we call school. Suddenly, you’re no longer cocooned with your parents. Your no longer swaddled with love; the protection your parents offer is no longer viable. You are no longer special. You’re now a part of the group. A first and last name on a roster. There are 30 other students just like you. All under the supervision of a teacher who will do their best to nurture the students.

For the next few years (K-5) you will begin your initialization into American society. Your teachers will be soft with you, but they will demand obedience. Straight line, finger over your mouth, “blow a bubble in the hallway little Johnny”, and always listen to your teacher. All for the sake of getting the group to comply as one. To get students under control. The lowest common denominator is the expectation.

Middle school is the most confusing time of a child’s life. Hormones, pimples, hair growing in places you never expected. The bullying and social hierarchy begin to develop right before your eyes allowing a peep behind the curtain of what’s to come. 

People that show early signs of what is deemed desirable behavior are given the title of potential. These students make all A’s and are never written up. They never question authority, they believe and do what they are told. Respecting authority at this level is given the upmost credence because true potential cannot be identified.

Instead in this stage the ones who don’t obey or question authority are no longer treated or looked at as special. In fact, because they don’t slobber over geometry or ask to go to the bathroom the right way their potential is considered limited. Now the threats begin. The students who are rebellious are told if they keep this up, one day they will be in jail, or working fast food.

The pegs who don’t fit into the holes offered are now separated into a different group. They are not treated with the same potential as the others.

In high school the pressure develops into a full-fledged war. The weaponization of GPA’s and standardized testing is presented to student to measure his capabilities. It’s all predicated off a curriculum. The social pressure from his parents, teachers, and friend groups all holds him to the standards of good grades equals good job. Outside of showing major potential as an athlete this student has now been prepped and seasoned ready to be cooked on the fire of propaganda and threats.

 After all the prepping through the years the intuitional authorities are now ready to present the pill of specialization. Once swallowed the threats never stop.

They say “Young man you need good grades so you can take out debt and go to college. It’s the only way to get a good job. Don’t you want to work for a good company?”

If you’re not bright in their eyes, they steer you towards the military. They say “You can retire in 20 years and see the world man.”

When college fairs come, they tap your shoulder and recommend visiting the military recruiter booth. He shows you the cool army hummer with the video games in the back and the speakers blaring music: “See the military is fun,” with a smirk.

All these paths are presented by schools and parents because they don’t think you know what you want. They will give you their opinions and well-intentioned guidance. They use their own enjoyments, biases, and experiences to steer you in a direction. However, it’s not good advice. Their experiences never translate into your DNA.

The predetermined routes laid out for you are carved and paved, lacking in opportunities for exploration and pursuing passion. Ventures into the abstract remain unattainable, deemed too risky to pursue. Your visions will be met with ridicule; any attempt to act upon them will be met with mockery. A delicate 17-year-old often finds themselves overwhelmed by these actions and defaults back to conforming.

As you stand in a single file line, awaiting your turn to stride across the stage and grasp your diploma, you sense that your entire future lies ahead. If only I adhere to the blueprint I’ve been given, a rewarding life awaits on the horizon. The principal smirks as he hands you a diploma. With that final gesture, your conditioning is now complete.

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