I DON'T REMEMBER WHEN the first kid brought a "contract" home from school. I do remember it was a novelty, causing me to meditate on the wisdom, in our litigious society, of introducing first graders to the knottier points of Blackstone on contracts.
But the contract only spelled out the teacher's expectations for the year. They were surprisingly low: Show up on time. Be prepared. Have all your materials ready. Behave in class. Not only did the kid have to sign; the parent's signature was required, too.I momentarily played with the idea of not signing. What would the school do? Refuse to teach her multiplication? Expel her? I know what I'd do: Sue. Two can play this contracts game. I also thought of amending the contract, along the lines of "I go to work when it snows. So should you."
But as a onetime teacher, I wanted to be cooperative and positive, so I signed. Big mistake. It only encouraged them. School has only started and already I have signed 11 "contracts," most recently one balanced on my knee - "But I gotta have it in today!" - while driving the high school junior to school this morning.
This contract was for computer class, whose policy was, as best I could discern through the fog of academic persiflage: `You wreck it, you bought it.' And, my son elaborated, "I gotta promise not to download porn off of the Internet."
Perhaps President Clinton's current afflictions are retribution for promising every 12-year-old access to the Internet.
At the end of the day, 11 contracts, some of them four and five pages long, are more than I'm going to read, even though the whole point of having me sign them is to get me to read them. They're just so dopey, like the one making me "aware" of the school policy on guns, drugs and alcohol. Astonishingly enough, the school is against all three!
Tell me something I don't know or couldn't guess: "Because of the end of apartheid, the middle school cafeteria is now offering South African wine as a delightful complement to the mystery meat."
I had considered writing in an addendum to the guns, drug and alcohol notice: "If you catch my kid with any of the three, you have my express permission to bust every yardstick and pointer in the school over his butt and then move up to 2-by-4s." Given the times, though, that would only be an invitation to have the house surrounded by the child welfare police.
Many of the contracts aren't meant to inform but to absolve.
The permission slip for football, where there is some risk, asks only if the parents have any particular preference in emergency rooms. The three-page contract for chemistry class implies that the kids will be working with chemicals that could level entire city blocks and that in no, way, shape or form is the school responsible - assuming, of course, that the school is still standing.
Schools could make it easier for themselves, and certainly the parents, by sending home on the first day of school a blanket permission slip for field trips. Each trip has to have its own special contract, spelling out that, despite the school's best efforts, the bus may be a death trap and the chaperones homicidal loons: "Please sign to show your understanding of this."
If this contract business gets out of hand, I may have to start sending contracts of my own to the school: The high school undertakes to give my kid an education, as measured by her admission to Harvard, or I get all my school tax money back.
Sounds fair to me.