Friday, September 10, 2010

COLUMN: Welcome to middle school -- now sign here and behave!

Dear Students and Their Parents:

Welcome to middle school! We hope you have a successful and productive academic career here, by which we mean one in which we don’t have to deal with you very often.

Several parents have asked us about the unfortunate incident last year involving Mr. Crenshaw and the unauthorized use of Bunsen burners by some now-former students. We’re happy to report that Mr. Crenshaw has completely healed, and we’re told he’s started a very satisfying new career in air traffic control.

However, we would like to make it known that we will not tolerate similar behavior this year. Ideally, we would enforce this through additional staff, including a contingent of seven to 12 trained psychologists, some of them armed. However, as budget considerations prohibit such expenditures, we instead are asking all students and their parents to sign the following academic and behavioral contract, as if that will work.

1) Behavior. I, the undersigned, promise to engage only in behavior conducive to a productive learning environment. Although I may be tempted, if I am a girl, to mercilessly target the self-esteem of other, less confident girls I deem to be a threat to my own personal social status, or if I am a boy, to loudly flaunt my bodily noises, I promise not to indulge in these activities until after school, while I’m texting incessantly at Dunkin’ Donuts and not ordering anything.

2) Dress. I, the undersigned, promise to dress in such a way as to not distract from the academic atmosphere. This means no shirts depicting inappropriate language, politically incorrect language, political messages, apolitical messages, flags of any nation, corporate logos, weapons, food, 1970s cartoon characters or Justin Bieber. Also, if I am a girl, I will wear nothing that reveals skin below the neck or above the wrists or a bodily shape that doesn’t resemble a sack of loose sand. And if I am a boy, I promise not to loudly flaunt my bodily noises. (Not dress-related, but worth repeating.)

3) Science safety. I, the undersigned, acknowledge that for some reason, school administration has deemed it appropriate for me to handle open flames, potentially dangerous chemicals, razor-sharp knives and animal carcasses, even though I have yet to master the ability to scrape the food off my breakfast plate before putting it into the sink. With that in mind, I promise not to engage in horseplay during science classes, except maybe with the animal carcasses, which, if I am a boy, will be too hard to resist. And if I am a girl, I promise not to target the animal carcasses’ self-esteem.

4. Athletics. I, the undersigned, promise always to engage in good sportsmanship on the field of play and to embrace the competitive spirit in a productive way that encourages personal growth over simply winning for winning’s sake. Unless we’re playing those stuck-up jerks from the next town over, in which case we need to win at any cost or you’re off the team, got it? We never had this conversation.

5. Parents. I, the parent of the undersigned, promise to ensure that my child gets to school on time, does his or her assignments and comes home to a secure and supportive environment. I will make this a priority even though it may interfere with my work and/or social engagements, along with … Wait a minute, I just need to check my Blackberry. (Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Just go play Xbox for a while.)

In conclusion, students, we’re confident that adherence to these agreed-upon measures will ensure a productive, high-self-esteem, bodily-noise-free academic year for you and your peers. Meanwhile, if you or your parents have any questions or concerns, please feel free to leave a message with your principal. He will get back to you as soon as he returns from air traffic control school.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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