Learning to Learn


Learning to Learn


Where: A high school in Indiana

When: Far too soon

            Early August

                  8:15 am

What: English 9A

Alright, people, let’s settle down now. This is the only day of the year when you guys want to talk during first period. No doubt, I’m going to have to wake you all up, starting tomorrow.

Too tired to laugh already, huh?

Okay, those in the front, please pass back the syllabi there on your desks. Thank you, thank you. Take one, hand the others back. Very good, very nice work people.

It is my firm conviction that there should be no real work on the first day of school, so don’t worry about having homework tonight. At least not in here. We’ll save that for math class.

Take a look at the syllabus you have in your formerly dirt-stained and sunbaked hands. Read it over. I’ll give you a minute. While you are doing that, I need to fill you in on some information, some changes that have been made this year at what will one day, for most of you at least, be your alma mater. Sorry, just joking. No doubt, you’ll all be the valedictorian.

To begin, our legislators in Indianapolis passed a few laws during the last session of the General Assembly, and I am going to need to update you on some of the new rules we will have this year.

First of all, I know you all had a library at your junior high school last year. We had one here, too. Truth be told, it wasn’t getting much use, but I do think a few kids were still checking out the fiction. Fairies and vampires and all that stuff. Everything else is online.

Am I right or am I right? 

This year, the school board decided that it would just be best, easier at least, to repurpose that room since the librarian was arrested for letting a junior take home a Harry Potter book. Turns out somebody’s dad read something about Dumbledore, and that was all she wrote.

Get it? Ha!

So no more books.

At school anyway.

That brings me to this course. Even though the librarian law did not extend to English teachers, the school board also thought it might just be the easiest thing to keep our reading non-controversial. This has caused some problems, since we cannot find many stories or essays that someone cannot object to. That should be easy enough to fix, however.

Currently, as you are no doubt seeing in your syllabus, there are only a few selections listed. I can’t tell you what used to be in the course syllabus because you might go out and find them yourselves. Easier not to let that happen. I can say there were a couple of guys from Indianapolis, a Native American, and a Black woman.

Should’ve seen how fast they ripped that one out of there!

Gone like it was never written.

So what we do have are a couple of articles from an old Reader’s Digest and a poem by James Whitcomb Riley. Or two. At least.

We’ll figure something out.

I think.

Should be easy.

Moving on, this is the last day I can talk to you about this particular subject, but please remember in the future that you are not to ask me any questions about sex – especially about anything having to do with gay people, being gay, or, I’m pretty sure, even being happy. If you have questions or want to talk to someone about this, it can’t be me. Or your counselor. Or the social worker. Or the principal.


In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even mention this today.

Let’s also just try to avoid religion, unions, Walmart, drugs, alcohol, and race.

And for God’s sake, don’t ask anyone in the class where they are from. That one just about shut the whole place down a couple of years ago.

To reiterate, please do not try to talk about race in here. The whole experience will just be easier on us all if we can stay away from that landmine. I think this extends to the Holocaust (just pretend I didn’t say that, okay) and the Jewish experience in the 20th century. Or ever. I don’t think this is illegal, I just don’t want to have to figure out how to present a Nazi perspective. So that’s out. And I didn’t say anything about God. I have no idea why you thought that.

Slavery happened, and that’s about all I can say. Same with Civil Rights. And the Civil War. They happened and some really good people were on both sides. Of everything. Easy enough to remember.

On another note, no personal discussions. Not with me, not in class. And NEVER give me anything. If we can agree on this, I will never give you anything either. This, says the GA, looks…what is that word you guys love?…inappropriate.

No gifts.

No chit chat.


Sweet. Easy-peasy.

Our state school board and the state legislature have asked that I remind you, per Indiana statute, all perspectives are welcome in this room and not to be demeaned. We will achieve that simply enough - by not talking about any of them. Please do not discuss recent purchases (that would be personal anyway), your home, or your job. Others may be offended, and that gets us all in trouble. Best to avoid trouble. Easy to avoid trouble.

Oh, and certainly do not mention your car. Ever.

We are going to write this year – this is English class after all! -  so that you have the opportunity to hone your skills as you begin your journey through high school. Here you stand, on the threshold of your academic future - a time to ask questions, seek answers, and challenge the received wisdom of the ages. Just not in this room. Or this school. That might make things difficult.

As for the writing you might expect to do, I am not sure, yet, what those assignments will look like. I will get back to you on this one.

Ope, I forgot. Politics. No one brings up politics. I won’t even say the names, but the guy who is in the White House right now, and that guy who was there before him (a man I am sure is decent to his kids and loves his cat and or dog) – that is not a reasonable subject for school. I won’t bring them up again.

I want it clear that I have never and will never tell you to vote the Democratic ticket. I cannot do that. I have never and will never tell you to vote the other way. I may be able to do that…but I won’t.

With all of that said, if I do offend you in any way, I am required to let you know that there is a grievance form now linked to the school website. You may fill this out anonymously so that your case may be considered on its merits. This is especially true if you are made to feel the slightest guilt about being white. This, at our school, will not be tolerated.

Or so they told me at the meeting yesterday.

Okay, I think that’s it. I’m glad you’re all here, and I do hope we have a great semester together in English 9A.

Should be no trouble at all.

Maybe we can just work on some geometry proofs.



Brian Hawkins

Brian Hawkins lives and works in southern Indiana with his wife Lacy, two dogs, and three cats. They own a bookstore in their hometown where they also teach high school. Brian's work has appeared in Morehead State University's literary journal Inscape, Scribes Micro Fiction, and Down in the Dirt. He has a short story forthcoming from The Barcelona Review. He can be found on Instagram @hawk.it.is and Twitter: @hawk_it_is.


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