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In the Back Row
My desk is located right by the teacher’s. I attentively take notes, occasionally breaking the monotony with a few laughs in between. The teacher is writing notes on the board in his usual short-sleeved plaid dress shirt and khaki pants. He is tired, as clearly seen by the bags underneath his eyes, but his ability to make the class laugh seems like he is not.
For right now, Murphy’s Law applies—when it would seem that laughter punctuates the monotony of pens scratching the paper or dry erase pen smell waffling through the room, steely silence ensues. An awkward silence casts a pall over the room as he asks a question to the class. Waiting for someone to give the correct answer, the class collectively begins to flip through pages of the textbook in a pretend hunt for the answer. But too groggy to bother raising their hands at 8:15am, the class holds out until a minute of stalling seems like an eternity and becomes too long for the teacher’s liking. Albeit to his slight chagrin, the teacher finally answers the question.
He writes down “IV. Earmarks” on a new whiteboard. He scribbles two brief lines of notes, but suddenly wonders out loud to himself, “Why is it that Americans say they hate earmarks, but yet vote in Congressmen who continue making them?” Prepared for him to continue in form as he did with Roman numerals I, II, and III, but more interested in where he was taking us, a small smile appeared on my face. Without missing a beat he continues, “Americans say they hate earmarks. However, what they’re actually saying is, ‘I hate everyone else’s earmarks.’ When it comes to earmarks that benefit themselves, it is not an earmark, but suddenly ‘essential spending.’ Everyone else’s earmarks are pork-barrel legislation. So in fact earmarks will continue to exist within both the Democratic and Republican Parties.” I was a bit slow to comprehend the political humor buried within his tangent as was the rest of the class, so we do not immediately laugh. Then like the most successful comedians, he chuckles to himself and the class laughs right on the cue.
As students who actually do read The Onion and watch The Colbert Report, we quickly understood the political humor. Or well, most of us. Many students, however, are apathetic towards history and politics, finding pop culture to be a more comforting pill to swallow than the harsh realities of American politics. Admit it, we’ve all done it, even I—every time we adore the Jonas Brothers or decide to watch Tom and Jerry instead of political commentators on CNN, we bury ourselves in a sweet pink fuzziness and avoid the harder, not so convenient issues. One such student was near me in the back row, with head on desk while doodling the facial features of her favorite movie stars on her notes. Smart enough to sit behind someone else who is actually paying attention, she would occasionally slip in and out of her daydreams as she doodled.
“OMG, The Last Song is coming out tomorrow! I can’t wait to see Liam Hemsworth! He’s soooo cute! Why couldn’t The Last Song have been released earlier?! Ok, I need to tell Megan and Jenny to come to my house at 7:30pm tomorrow or else we won’t make it through the long lines!”
When I hear the teacher switching the movable whiteboards, I snap out of my daydream, remembering that I needed to copy down what he said earlier about earmarks, even if all of the terms are going over my head. After slogging through three pages of notes, I cannot stand having to write down any more notes. I decide to stare at the clock instead, counting down the last fifteen minutes of class, waiting in anticipation for the bell to ring so that I can remind my friends about our movie plans.
In the last ten minutes of the class, the teacher finally set his dry erase marker down on the tray holder. He then walked towards the class, asking us, “Anything on your minds politically?” While the clock was still my main focus, I have always found this part of class, which is almost like a “bit” on the web show in iCarly, to be by far the best.
The teacher stands in the center of the room, occasionally walking to the podium and rocking it up and down. One girl who loves to raise her hand in the moment gets called on. The “Any News?” bit almost turns into a cover of People magazine. Her news flash of the day is seemingly as random as she—“Did you hear about the local cop who arrested his daughter’s boyfriend?” Our teacher does not have much to say, despite regularly reading the Mercury News—he probably forgot to get his fix today. A few more people, similar to me minus the Liam Hemsworth obsession, contribute further details about the event, drawing me away from the clock for a few minutes. It is after then that I do my best to count down the minutes without getting stares from the teacher. The elephantine issues in the room, the legitimate news station news topics begin to take over the discussion.
A boy across the class from me is prim from top to bottom—not a single wrinkle in his clothes, everything cost sixty dollars or more, and his shirts are fairly boring—no American Apparel hipster here. In his usual fashion, his politicized news update is interspersed with a personal story to prove his point while offering far too much information on his life: “I heard that Congress is considering to repeal the Bush tax cuts. The Democrats in Congress are taking this country in the wrong direction. For example, my dad is a small business owner, and he is getting taxed to death in this country. If the rich were not taxed so much, then they would invest in factories and use their capital.”
“That is supply-side economics, as promoted by President Reagan most famously,” the teacher lightly laughing at its loaded phrasing.
“Supply-side economics” is news to me, although it probably should not be. At least I do not have to know it, as the girl near me who also is in the back row quickly shoots up her hand and replies, “I think the best way to ensure that the rich do not hoard their money but actually invest it in factories is to give tax credits only after they build the factories, not before. That is the best way to help ensure the growth of industry in this country.” I think she was the girl who wore a smile on her face before the teacher went into his boring tangent about earmarks, but I am not sure as I dozed off quickly after he began.
The teacher interjects, “Yes, you’re right, that is one valid strategy, but that is not exactly what supply-side economics is. Just so everyone is clear…”
The class starts snickering, knowing the teacher is stuck. I am lost, unsure why supply-side economics theory from twenty-something years ago is entertaining. I sneak in one last quick look at the clock. I then turn back to the teacher and see him visibly grasping for words, opening his mouth to say something but then stopping himself before he even starts. The “oh, do I have to say this?” feeling of dread within the teacher that the other students immediately sensed finally dawns on me. Even I knew he was in a pickle as soon as he was lost for words. Normally he can make a quick and witty retort to this student, who has completely differing political views, but he seems like he is determining whether he should make the argument for the prim and proper boy by explaining supply-side economics to the class. However, in order to properly explain this economic subject, he explained the boy’s argument—a rare exception—but my mind was definitely off of Liam Hemsworth and the theaters and focused back on American government and politics.