Are Any of Us Even Learning?

Rumor has it that some kid at second-lunch just set a fire in the bathroom.

Are Any of Us Even Learning?
Photo by Museums Victoria / Unsplash

by Bethany Cutkomp

Rumor has it that some kid at second-lunch just set a fire in the bathroom. Who did it this time? No time to investigate before those grating alarms usher us outside. Nobody is hustling to evacuate. We’re clustering the doorways. Exchanging jokes down the staircase. Is this another drill? Bet you five bucks that it was another fire-cracker in the trash can. Conversations buzz through the parking lot. We sure are lucky, aren’t we? Thanks for cutting lecture-time short, mystery kid. What a legend. They’ll be suspended and brushed aside, because this school has bigger issues on their hands. The state needs to milk test scores out of us. Hurry, let’s cram our short-term memory banks with any trick that’ll get us through next period. Quizlet flashcards and SparkNotes highlights are our friends. No time to preserve the material. We despair over poor grades. Don’t let our parents see anything short of perfection. That’s what universities are looking for. Flawless GPA. Decent ACT score. Extensive list of extracurriculars. We’re exhausted, wilting over our homework assignments due first thing in the morning. Never mind that separate priorities exist outside of the classroom. We scratch objections into the desks and sharpie insecurities in the bathroom stalls. It’s the phones that are ruining us, right? Our parents turned pages, none of this screen-swiping crap. They don’t understand that books aren’t relevant anymore, not since the community censored most from our curriculum. They say our innocent minds suffer exposure to topics deemed inappropriate by concerned adults. The true danger lies within the words we’re consuming, right? We skirt around the news, the actual threats to schools across the country. Who should we lash out at? The teachers? They’re already worn thin. We see it in their posture, the sluggishness to their patience. The weight of our futures presses along their shoulders but they aren’t even allowed a choice in how to carry it. They send us home with worksheets, which we cram in the bottom of our backpacks and forget about by the time we’re home. “How was school?” our parents inquire at dinner. “What have you been learning?” Our pupils buffer, radio static churning through weary brains. Our shrugs irritate them. Nothing we say will ever be enough. With a mouthful of food, we mumble, “Some kid at second-lunch set a fire in the bathroom.”

Bethany Cutkomp is a writer from St. Louis, Missouri. She enjoys catching chaotic vibes and bees with her bare hands. Her work appears in HAD, trampset, Ghost Parachute, Exposed Bone, The Hooghly Review and more. Find her on social media at @bdcutkomp.