I. SHS pride! What was our mascot again?

I attended Somersworth High School between ’00 and ’04. I spent a few semesters sitting in front of a computer. The internet was still new and exciting. Us young’uns were learning various Microsoft programs such as Excel and Word so that we might succeed in the world. Some students were joining school clubs related to these classes, including one that offered internships at the cubicle-filled Liberty Mutual offices nearby. Good lil’ citizens…

Like most young people today, I figured out Excel quick. It turns out when you put a kid in front of a computer, his natural curiosity prevails and he figures it out.

Sugata Mitra is a teacher in Mexico who decided to teach his students one lesson: you have potential, and no one can stop you. “If you put a computer in front of children and remove all other adult restrictions, they will self-organize around it,” Mitra says, “like bees around a flower.” Mitra introduced his students to this weird thing…a computer…and let it all happen. They learned what I learned, as most American children did in the mid-’90’s, if their parents weren’t watching: the computer, and the internet, are the gateways to freedom. Mandatory reading on Mitra and his experiment here.

My parents snagged those free AOL trial discs out of lines in K-Mart in 1995. We had the real deal a year later. I learned how to download music and burn CDs (my first mix had 7 songs on it; wish I still had it). My siblings and I were playing Backyard Baseball and I was trash-talking Yankees fans in chatrooms at the ripe old age of 11. Chip’s Challenge was the house favorite: a picturesque blond sleuther in a world of crazy mazes and technology. Roller Coaster Tycoon and its sequel Zoo Tycoon taught me entrepeneurship.

By 2003, I knew my way around a damned computer: easy credits in public education. I’d knock out my day’s curriculum and head over to the Lookout! Records website. This was before Lookout! went soft and started signing “indie” bands (their downfall came a few years after). Dweeby Ramones-core pop punk (and its wanna-bes) was all that mattered. I read every band bio; took in the images and read the shows pages. Lots of blue jeans, Chucks, and band tees. No band ever came up to New Hampshire, not even NH’s house band, The Queers. I’d meet my future best friend on Lookout!’s forums, a kid named Chris who set up shows up north in Conway (it was a rare show, trust me). I became the world’s premier scholar in Lookout! history and took it home, downloading my new favorite bands on Kazaa. My friend actually still books shows, keeping that market alive and well all over the northeast.

While punk and pop punk mostly focus on barre chords and expected chord progressions, the real message is in the lyrics. It wasn’t until 2013 that I had ever heard of a socialist “ramones-core” band. I ignored the heck out of them when my friend told me. Hilarious idea, though. Most punk bands, regardless of political beliefs, steer individualist in their lyrics, whether or not they intend to. This is because they write about their own lives.

Sure, most of the songs are about girls or farting or other silly topics (e.g. horror movie references). Then there are the songs about revolting against your dumbass abusive dad, or actually walking to a girl’s house and asking her out, or making yourself a better person overall.

There are liberal punx out there as well (e.g., NOFX). There are also racist skinheads and all sorts of nonchalant dirtbags anywhere you look. Not all of them respect property rights in the general sense, but as individuals they respect the non-aggression principle (minus the skinheads), which is why I am able to consider them all my allies in the fight against central planning and coercion.

II. revolt! revolt! in public school

I remember an english class I took in sophomore year. I disregarded the teacher because he kept going on tangents with a certain number of students that knew how to tangentize him: Harry Potter was hip and he was in the middle of the series, himself. Let’s b.s. for the rest of class. His only curriculum goals were to make us memorize poetry and to tell us what “linguistics” were. I took his “linguistics” seriously, but…Harry Potter! By the way, the poetry was terrible. Absolutely terrible.

Here is an example of the poetry we had to memorize. Most poetry is terrible, but I hate this ditty:

Ex-Basketball Player

By John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you’ll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.
He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.
Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

Oh, God.

What did I do? I sat in the back and read, until he made me sit in the front.

I thought I was cool, so I wore punk band shirts. I sat back there and read Stephen King novels. I read The Green Mile in 7th grade. My grandfather was a reading machine in front of the TV. He was more than willing to lend me any book I wanted. I can thank him enough for this wonderful habit! “I cannot live without books.” wrote Thomas Jefferson, and I can’t agree more.

I revolted against my AP ENGLISH class by reading SK in the back (“Richard, what did you think of this particular passage?” “I don’t know, I didn’t read it.” I got a C, but I had fun.

Other than being introduced to John Irving (the NH master novelist), I remember nothing from that class. Oh, except once when a few of the smarter kids in class (too smart for this crap) decided to invent a word and see if they could get the teacher to believe them. What was the word? “Q’faffle.” What was it? A dangerous situation (I’m pretty sure they just combined quagire and kerfuffle…). Our AP teacher didn’t get it, but she bought it! I think she refused to dis-believe because she was one of those “literary” types (e.g. a liberal with an English degree).

III. Conclusions and solutions

Let’s listen to the Offspring for now: “I’d like to think the world is a better place.” If you’re in a q’faffle, don’t worry, you can get out. Just stop believing in the stupid, faulty system. How?

Give kids books and give them computers and give them guitars and give them time. They will figure it out. Put kids in public school and hope they get bored and listen to punk music and understand its individualist message. Stephen King’s novels are filled with individuals who experience horrible things (public schools?) and fight their enemies.

Not everyone is going to be president, even if our teachers tell us we can be. But the potential is still there. Use it! If you don’t, expect the following conversation topics for the rest of your life: The Voice, sports, and weather.

Good citizen, have a treat. Let the statist pat you on the head. Bow gracefully.