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02 April, 2012

Laid Low by High Fives

This past Friday, I took a day off work to be at my daughter's elementary school. This was under the aegis of a nationwide program to get dads involved in their kids schools, and to increase the presence of male role models, and although I am not much for taking part in pre-fab programs or role modeling, the idea of spending a day at her school sounded worthwhile. 

I've been around schools and teachers most of my life, but this may have been the first full day I've spent in school since graduating high school. (College doesn't count. Not because it's not compulsory, but because I don't think I spent six consecutive hours immersed in academe during the half dozen years it took me to finish. And I'm supposed to be a role model?) My conceptual appreciation for the difficulty of teaching and wrangling a couple-dozen kids all day was enriched by this does of reality. 

Even as I signed on to do this, pangs of fraudulency bounced around inside my rib cage. Moms go into schools all the time--the day I went in, I recognized one in the classroom as a regular and unheralded volunteer--but a dad goes in one day and kids are encouraged to give him congratulatory high-fives? This particular program has made national news, why? Even before showing up, school officials expressed gratitude that a dad would take a day off work (in my case, a day of paid leave) to participate in the raising of his own kid? Deadwood hangs around for a few hours, more likely interfering than helping, and is exalted?

I vowed to at least try and remedy that last part. Having a head-start, I figured, by having spent some time in elementary classrooms, I could jump in and engage, instead of being in the way. So I engaged the disengaged kid during math, graded spelling tests, nudged writers, managed 8 kids at a time making clay pots, played tag, helped in the library, and read a book to the class (exercising my cartoon-voice acumen). By the final bell, I felt like I'd actually done a few worthwhile things. Like maybe I deserved some of those high fives.

Oh, the high fives. That's where this post started, right? The kids had clearly been told that giving the dads high fives is a great way to show appreciation. At one point, I had a line of kids streaming by doing it. 

And therein lies the biggest fault of the program. People who know have described schools, especially elementary schools, as petri dishes because of all the germs being cultured, but they are far worse. Petri dishes occur in labs, controlled settings in which the growth of unintended species is deemed "contamination." Better metaphors for the germscape of a typical school might be: cuspidor, public toilet, community handkerchief, get the point. 

Most of the kids look clean, and of course they are cute and innocent at that age, but there's no escaping the fact that the practice of encouraging them all to slap palms with one individual is a choice to maximize infectious vectors, exceeded only by the shared hanky or having everyone drink from the same cup. Dozens of hands touched mine, each depositing its biota, each picking up a film of the bacteriologic soup teeming there. 

This is not just theoretical. The volume of stomach contents rushing out both ends of me yesterday constitute solid (uh, liquid, actually) evidence. I haven't been sick like that in many years. Having not been in a school for a while, my antibodies were on vacation, and I was slammed. I guess I have some immunity now that I didn't a week ago, along with the realization that when in an elementary school, washing hands every hour is a good policy (and maybe high fives are not).

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