Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cool Patrol Kids

When I was in grade school, it was cool to be a patrol kid. Those kids were the chosen ones. Not just anyone got to be a patrol kid. You had to maintain a certain level of academic standing in order to qualify. From there, supposedly your name was put 'into a hat' and if your name was picked, you got to be a patrol kid. However, it was pretty much assumed by us kids that the teachers had a big say as to whose name got into that hat. Being a patrol kid was an early harbinger of how successful the rest of your entire life would be.

Imagine my extreme consternation then to find out that Eugene had been picked to be one of the 'chosen few'. It was disappointing enough that my name was not picked...but, clearly, Eugene did not even qualify to have his name go into the hat in the first place. Eugene was a 'trouble maker'. He had less than stellar grades (lots of D's and maybe F's). And the friends he had were of the 'wrong kind'. Even back then, we 'good' kids could see that Eugene was on a fast track to failure. This was the kid that one of my teachers had sent into the school room closet for punishment in a previous year. That's what a loser this kid was!

Eugene chosen to be a patrol kid??? Not fair! Not fair! So not fair! It was one thing not to have made 'the list'. But that this kid had bumped me off the list was nigh on to humiliating. I was disappointed and outraged, as only a grade school kid can be.

The teachers in charge of the super-duper, super-secret patrol kid selection process held a closed-door meeting with the unchosen ones. The teachers told us that, indeed, Eugene did not meet the usual selection criteria. However, they thought this could be a positive experience for him. Give him something good to feel about in his, otherwise, mostly negative school experience.

I don't remember being convinced at the time that HIS failures should be 'rewarded' at MY expense. But it did take a little of the sting out of the situation.

But, more than that, the experience began to shape my thinking about what is 'fair'. As I grew older, I would periodically pull out that memory and be able to provide more and more 'adult' context into that experience. I began to realize that life isn't 'fair'. It wasn't 'fair' that Eugene was selectively chosen over that situation. But what was less fair was that Eugene was born into a poor family. Eugene was one of those 'trailer family' kids. He was raised in a family that probably did not value education. His family could not afford the money to dress him well. I don't doubt that he was probably was one of those 'free lunch kids'--that was shameful in, and of, itself.

I began to judge what was 'fair' based on context, not just on isolated incidents. Over time I realized that, in the big scheme of things, I had never had to deal with the situations that Eugene had had to. There is no doubt that I would have a hundred times over chosen my life (without the cool patrol kid experience) over Eugene's life (with the CPK experience). Life wasn't fair to Eugene. The teachers had just been trying to place a tiny pebble on the positive side of the balance for Eugene. For that, they were to be commended.

Did that experience change Eugene's life? I'll never know. Did it change mine? Yeah, you betcha!