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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: So long and good riddance to classroom sheriffs

I visited a local elementary school last week and was impressed.

Everyone was so positive.

It seemed quite different from the learning environment of my own grade school experience, back shortly after the Earth’s crust cooled.

There seemed to be a lot less emphasis on training the kids to be narcs and informants about minor transgressions.

Are you old enough to remember classroom monitors?

A classroom monitor was a snitch, an allegedly responsible student selected by the teacher to keep tabs on the conduct of others while she went down the hall to suck down cigarette smoke in the permahaze of the teacher’s lounge.

You’ve heard the expression “take names?” Well, that’s what classroom monitors did.

It was a total joke, of course. Depending on who was assigned the task of ratting out his or her classmates for talking too loud or eating paste, the process of taking names could range from fair and restrained to vengeful and insanely subjective.

Mostly I recall the latter.

If, say, you were a gentlemanly fourth grade boy in a paisley shirt who had politely spurned the unwelcome affections of a certain female classmate, what do you suppose was your certain fate if that same lovelorn girl was named class monitor?

That’s right. Curtains for moose and squirrel. And Mr. Paisley Shirt.

She would fix her steely gaze on your now irksome face and wait for you to twitch or clear your throat. Then WHAM! Onto the list you went, as she cackled like a young Ozian witch toking helium.

There wasn’t a whole lot of due process involved. At least in the charging phase, this was a frontier justice form of jurisprudence.

Monitors didn’t need no stinkin’ badges.

At my school at least, capricious classroom monitors tended to make the McCarthy era Red Scare proceedings look like calm, just deliberations in comparison.

Oh, sure. There would be pleading and cajoling. Kids would beg the classroom monitor to erase their names from the list of miscreants. Promises would be made to the all-powerful compiler of the names of the accused. Bargaining would proceed as the self-satisfied monitor grew to look more and more like a pint-sized hangin’ judge.

We were too young and innocent to be talking about sexual favors. But pretty much everything else was on the table in these negotiations.

Some monitors would gleefully hold their pencil o’doom poised over the sheet of paper as if it was an ax looming above the scrawny neck of some unfortunate kid with his head on the chopping block.

Unfair? You bet. Sometimes retaliatory threats were made against the classroom monitor. You know, allusions to swift and certain retribution to be meted out on the “Lord of the Flies” fields of recess.

But that often resulted, predictably I suppose, in additional charges being jotted down on the sheet of indictment.

Funny thing, though. I can’t really remember what teachers did with the monitors’ informal arrest warrants.

I don’t recall witnesses being called to give testimony or rebuttal cross-examination being undertaken.

“Is it your claim that the yo-yo in question somehow leaped from your desk and struck Mr. Larson in the shin of its own accord?”

Mostly, I think the teachers made a stern face, stuck the monitor’s tattletale list in a drawer and moved on.

The thing is, you never really knew with adults back then. Everything could be going along fine and then, all of the sudden, boom. Military intervention. Discipline city.

It could be said of many a poor kid, “He never saw it coming.”

So, absurd as it was, we took the whole classroom monitor thing semi-seriously.

All of us knew that we children could be erratic and unreliable. That was a given. But teachers? They were grownups. And we knew grownups excelled at getting mad.

Why take any chances?

I’m not sure what lessons we learned from the whole classroom monitor farce.

Justice means getting to settle scores? Guilty until proven innocent? Absolute power corrupts? With great responsibility comes the opportunity for payback? Friends take care of their own?

Whatever. Most of us survived.

Though, come to think of it, I believe I am still serving a suspended sentence for informing Leslie Akers in 1964 that none of the Beatles would ever consider marrying her.

I wonder if that’s still on my permanent record.

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