Sunday, October 14, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I'm having trouble starting this letter. I was going to start it - "There I was" or "Last night was an experience", but both beginnings sound equally lame. Pretty much as lame as how I throw out random punctuation. I went to an alternative school and learning was pretty much alternative to what I was actually doing. I think today I'll tell you a little story about my education at Aldo Leopold School in Green Bay. Not the topic was going for today, but tangents are what they are - We are but powerless to follow.
Aldo Leopold School was an alternative, tree-hugging, nightmare-gulag of an educational experience for me. I really didn't do much work in regards to education. You'll find, Temple, that there are a lot of schools out there that use pseudo-technical babble that really means nothing when it comes to true academic learning. Trust me on this. Even as a kid I knew there wasn't much there.
Take report cards for instance. The report cards at Aldo Leopold didn't have written grades, only comments on progress. Mix that with a err toward the ultra positive-esteem building dogma of the place and you get something like this. "Justin has made some progress in math since last quarter. Would like to see more initiation in the completion of projects." Translated: "The dang kid hasn't done any math all quarter. He just sits in the corner and reads." I did have the teaching staff pretty well pegged. If I put up with a lecture every other day or so I really didn't have to do any work. You'll get a lot of people who rile against the grading system, but it's hard to argue a failing grade. The comment system could always be twisted and rationalized to fit my needs.
Anyway, (can't I stick to anything?) all this just because I don't know where to put my commas. If a system like Aldo Leopold had would work, it would have to be a little more active in the free wheeling atmosphere of taking advantage of teachable situations. For example, our grade-level was doing a "sim city" project. One classroom was filled with huge boxes that we turned into businesses for commerce. It was a fun. Every frivolous subject like science, math, English, etc. were flung aside. For weeks we hung out in our simulated city every day and all day. We ate popcorn and played video games, bought and paid for with our "money."
I don't remember what the money looked like except that it was you basic play money reprinted off the copy machine. A teacher controlled the city bank and stamped the back of each bill with a dinosaur stamp. This stamp made the money valid. What a few of us realized is that nobody was verifying the money stamp when they took the bill. So a couple kids (not me, but I knew about it and used the money so I get just as much blame) took the money and made copies of it at the library. They used the counterfeit money the next day and nobody caught them. You know what that means? That means that stacks and stacks of bills were copied over the weekend. Kids in middle school don't have a real sense of scale, so there was money literally strewn about all over the place.
The teachers noticed - I don't know how they couldn't have - and they didn't handle it very well.
They called an assembly and, frowning and solemn, spoke of how disappointed they were in us and the grave disgrace of counterfeiting that was going on in our city. They had us write down on a piece of paper, confidentially, the names of the people involved.
We were one step ahead of our teachers though. They had announced the assembly earlier that morning and had closed the city for the day. It didn't take rocket science to figure out what they were going to talk about. Those involved in the printing of the money or the use of it made a pact and all wrote down the name of another kid. He was our sacrificial goat - but not really. The teachers must have known they were being duped and dropped the whole thing. They took the money off the market and told vendors to check each bill the received for authenticity.
What would have probably worked better, and have been truer to our project, would have been this - Keep the money in the system and see what happens. The teacher who ran the bank could hire a select task force of children to develop new money that was harder to counterfeit. It could have been a lesson in inflation - if prices went up everywhere 800% because of the mass-printing of cash (a problem we have today in real life) that would be a harsh pill to swallow for awhile until things balanced. How would we have handled all that worthless money? What would we do for the businesses that were duped the most? Would they go under? How could they be saved? Should they be saved?
It could have been so much better.
Sin is also a part of society, which is why we have so many safeguards against it. There are always people trying to take advantage of a system. They reap benefits of the system while at the same time messing it up with their own destructive behavior. Isn't it better to learn how to deal with that in a simulated atmosphere than to sweep it under the carpet? I think so.
I love you much and miss you always,
                                    Uncle Justin


  1. This letter had me chuckling throughout. When I was a student at St. Norbert, I rode the city bus once a week to Aldo Leopold to listen to kids read. Probably a couple years before you were a student there! Anyway, I hope Temple enjoys your letter as much as I did ;)

    Oh, and I have that same problem with punctuation...


    1. they're/their/there hearts were in the right place. Aldo Leopold did fuel my love for literature and allowed me to follow my educational interests. I went to Green Bay Christian school for 8th grade - that building is now Aldo Leopold. The old Aldo Leopold school building is torn down and there's a CVS Pharmacy in it's place (and a bank where the playground used to be.) Which is good because we used to joke a lot about lead poisoning. There were sheets of paint falling off the wals of the school on Webster. The old, old, old building where Aldo Leopold used to be was near downtown which we shared with Howe Elementary. I remember how we were all scared of the 'Howe' kids downstairs. Creepy.