An Unsentimental Education

A week on the inside with the students and teachers of Wayzata High and St. Paul Central.

"Play time!" yells the kid in his mom's nylon bathrobe and slippers, shouting across the school parking lot to no one in particular. He heaves an orange teddy bear into the air and drop-kicks it through the open window of a nearby car.

"Get in, idiot," his buddy behind the wheel yells back between drags on a cigarette. The other two in the back seat blow smoke rings out the sunroof, a series of neat, white zeros. The engine's running. Rain's in the forecast but it's clear now. It's Friday. School's out.

"Yeah, yeah," kid bathrobe says, climbing in. "Crank the tunes. Gimme a light. Let's cruise."

"Where to?"

The last cut off Nirvana's last disc cranks up. Someone flicks a butt out the side window. The car idles in neutral.

"I said, where to?"

"Wherever. Just drive."

They take off fast, snagging a curb with the front wheel before turning right at the gate and speeding off toward the mall, the lake, the field south of town where they party on weekends in some abandoned old house. The driver sticks his head through the roof hatch, lets out a long, wild laugh in the wind, and heaves his buddy's teddy bear into a pile of dry leaves blown against a fence.

The students' 1995-96 handbook opens with greetings from Dr. Craig Paul, principal: "Valkomna till Wayzata High School" it reads, in a language all but a few students recognize. Here in a sprawling, circa-1960 building just inside the limits of Plymouth, the kids of corporate Minnesota mix and match with the children of working class parents who remember the rural feel of this edge town even 25 years back, before second-ring sprawl overtook it.

This year, open enrollment for kids from outside the district--nearly 100 the last time anyone checked--shut down when the school reached a critical mass of 1600. In the lobby, every trophy case--tennis, golf, dance squad--is packed with gold. This afternoon, teachers direct traffic and kids decked out in blue and gold war paint, black leather, pajamas, and bandannas are figuring out how to kill some time before tonight's homecoming game. Whose folks aren't home? Who's got a car? We're outta here.

Down the hall, head counselor Barbara Donley is straightening files in her office. Business on this Friday is slow. "A hectic week, yes," she says, "but don't be fooled. These are good kids, maybe a bit wilder than we had in the '80s, who behaved so well it started to worry us. These are more like the early '70s bunch--high energy, not into authority. We're cracking down a bit with the rules, but overall they're good, tuned-in kids."

With nearly 80 percent of its seniors heading for college and a dropout rate below 1 percent, administrators at Wayzata Senior tend to dwell on a bragging list that makes this school the envy of, if not exactly a plausible model for, its urban-core cousins. The mantras among teachers and staff are the standard ones by which schools these days mark and market their success: National Merit Scholars ("I can't give an exact count, but we're always right up there"), SAT scores (well above average), alumni placed at Princeton and Harvard, a fair number of kids in the Gifted and Talented courses. Little reminders about "achievement" are everywhere, from the well-stocked college guidance office just inside the front door to the rotating list of recruiter visits--Bryn Mawr, Brown, Pepperdine next week--hanging in the bright hall. It's important at Wayzata, Donley points out, to say you're going on to college, even if you're not. It's important to go, even if you don't stay.

"But keep in mind," she adds, "that these kids, while they may not say it out loud, do have their share of problems." Just five years ago, she says, a rash of teenage suicides--three in a couple years' time, one other before that--cracked the mirror's edge, and prompted a quiet upsurge in support services and psychiatric referrals for kids who looked like they might be unraveling. From her vantage point, staying one step ahead of the dry, mean season predicted so often for America's kids is a tricky dance, even out here.

On homecoming night, the Trojan cheerleaders warm up in the gym. One girl stretches against her reflection in a wall-length mirror; the rest of the squad circles up to braid each other's hair, fix uniforms, and practice cheers. "What's that one about fingerbanging an orangutan?" another girl asks, elbowing her friend. "How'd that rhyme go?" They fiddle a new verse around and fix their ribbons. Susan, who's late, runs in with her jacket on and plunks down on the floor. "Hey you guys, listen to this," she announces, but the other girls keep chattering, worrying over their skirts and tights. "Listen, you guys. My dad finally came home." No break in the buzz. Kristin's voice trails off. "Hey..." She rolls over and leans against the wall. The others gather up their bags, late for the game, and start in on another cheer as they crowd out the door. The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire--we don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn...

After the game--6-0 over Edina--the kids mill around in the cafeteria, dancing to what sounds like a crowd-control repertoire of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and old disco. "Hey," the DJ blurts over the amps, "no moshin' out there. Let's keep it clean tonight." Chaperones hang off step ladders around the perimeter, checking for strays. Couples in hip-hop gear clot the dark corners in the courtyard, whispering and making out. Two cops from Plymouth patrol the hallway.

"Trouble?" one says. "Sure, we might get some trouble out here. Kids just don't respect authority anymore. They swear at teachers, at parents, at us. They don't stop when we tell them to." A kid fresh out of the locker room, with a residue of black grease still under his eyes, stops, salutes with a snicker, then turns and digs four bucks from his pocket for a ticket.

"See? It's the little stuff. It's weird these days. These are the luckiest kids around, with all the promise in the world. Best school, best families, got everything going for them. We can't figure out what the hell's wrong with them."

"I did call the doctor, I did do that. But his office says there's no time free till Thursday. So my baby's just sick. Plus the buses ain't running so I can't get there. My aunt's car's broke down."

The girl is standing outside St. Paul Central High School's nursery; inside, a dozen infants and toddlers snack on cereal and crackers. The teacher who's pulled her over in the hall between classes rocks back on her heels.

"Does he have a fever?"

"Yeah, he's burning up."

"Did he sleep?"

"Not so much. He was crying, wouldn't stop crying, all night. So I didn't do any of the studying. That's it. I got to take care of this, I got to get home." The bell startles them both to attention, and hundreds of kids flood into the hall. Students pry open lockers around the two, yanking out gym clothes and books, strapping on headphones and slamming the metal doors shut.

"You got practice later?" a boy yells to his friend on the stairwell.

"No man, I got to be to work fast. Later."

The young mom examines her nails, in detail, antsy to quit the talk and go. "You'll be here tomorrow?" the teacher asks, touching her on the shoulder. "Depends..." she says, walking away, "it depends on if I can get some better sleep."

Like Wayzata, Central High School in St. Paul is filled to capacity, with nearly 2,000 kids enrolled and another wave on the waiting list. It's a near-even split here between students who live in the vicinity and those who bus or drive in from elsewhere, mainly for the popular magnet specialties in Central's curriculum. The building itself towers on the corner of Marshall and Lexington, a colossal structure of tacked-on administrative and science wings with a spread of baseball diamonds and overgrown tennis courts in the rear. It's the oldest continuous high school in the cities, around since the late 1800s in various sites; a succession of keep-up-with-demand renovations still show in the seams around the original brickwork.

By 9 a.m., two door monitors are in place by the front entrance with walkie-talkies in hand, checking passes in and out of the locked building. At the end of the long corridor of administrative offices nearby, a teacher with a snazzy wild-animal necktie leans over the secretary's counter. A colleague nudges him in the ribs, says, "Ah, a safari tie--"

"Right-o," he shoots back, adjusting his laminated name badge. "I live in the jungle. I work in the jungle."

It's a joke some image-builders at Central don't find too funny these days. A bad reputation--sparked by a few incidents of gang violence and stoked in evening news leads--is tough to live down. But beyond the occasional toilet paper fire in a boys' bathroom and the periodic stash of hooch nabbed from a locker, most who run this school will tell you the bad rep is undeserved, a lingering rumor that's dogged Central too long.

"Many traditions, one school" reads the red banner on the building's face. The ethnic breakdown at Central--56 percent white, 26 percent black, 13 percent Asian, and the balance Hispanic and Native--looks right against integration standards. By the administration's count, 60 percent of these kids are bound for college, some two- or four-year, some tech. The Quest program in humanities, the International Baccalaureate program across the board, and an exclusive performing arts department are all recent inventions designed not only to launch kids toward college diplomas, but also (and this is the underlying agenda wrestled over at staff meetings) to stanch the "white flight" out of the city, to Wayzata, say, or into private high schools. In response, Central's curriculum offers more electives than any other school around, a battery of diverse clubs and after-school extras, and an Advanced Placement tracking system that, on paper, reads like the answer to middle class parents' prayers.

"Self-tracking" is how it's phrased. As in, "Advanced Placement classes run on a sort of self-tracking system, so students choose whether or not to include themselves." These are the high-powered courses--college-level calculus, philosophy, political economy--assigned to the best teachers and, as it turns out, populated predominately by white students. This academic school-within-a-school arrangement is high on Central's bragging list, and it's no wonder. Ivy League recruiters court these cream-of-the-crop kids, their lucky parents love it enough to resist the urge to flee, and overall test-score averages--a constant source of potential flak for today's urban schools--get boosted. Meanwhile, the "regular" classes of self-selected students struggle along in crammed classrooms, saddled with a new sort of in-house segregation no legal statutes seem able to remedy.

Mary Mackbee, Central's principal, knows the score all too well. In her book, and according to nationwide studies, the "learning gap" between academic levels is widening. "We've only got these kids for six hours a day," Mackbee told me during one of the few free slots in her schedule. "We can't fix in high school what's unjust in the whole system, what we've inherited from some perhaps misguided educational plans in the past. But we do try. Every problem in the country--racism, economics, the whole gamut--gets played out here, as it does with a different, maybe less visible, twist out in the suburbs."

And as it inevitably does even in Central's front yard. School breaks at 2:00, and, like a scene from a summer's-here flick, kids mob down the steps and onto the pavement. Four girls set up a gyre of double jump rope by the south wall. Others siphon off to the row of buses at the curb, to the parking lot out back, down Lexington toward the shopping district--all in strict skin-color cliques.

"Hey, wanna play?" one of the girls with a rope in her hand calls over. Sure. It's been a long time. In a second, my feet tangle in the rhythm and she laughs. "Do like this." In, skip, jump, skip, out. Easy. After a while, the game wears down and we kick back in the grass. The courtyard's cleared out by now, with just the sound of traffic and the occasional chance bell echoing from inside the building.

"That damn thing. Goes off all the time like a freak. I don't even hear those bells anymore," Teresa tells me. "Ever since I came to school here, those bells've been going like crazy." They're supposed to teach you discipline, I say, that's what they're for: learning a schedule, getting there on time, all that.

"Yeah, well, I got no place to get to now," she says. "But then, I'm not one of the students who's got much place to get to later. Sure, I got a home, got a family, I'll get some kind of job. But I'm not, as they say, excellent."

What's that mean? "You know, bound for glory." And that? "Well, not like the white kids here, most of whose names I don't even know. They don't know us and we don't know them. Earth to Mars, come in?"

I ask Teresa what she thinks public education is meant for, a question that draws a long blank, and then: "I think it's supposed to teach you how to remember facts--the wars, science terms, that stuff. Also, maybe to show kids how to be Americans in the right way."

Like in a democracy? "Yeah, like in a democracy."

And how does that work? "I guess if I was taught that in school, really, I could answer. For now, I'll just have to say everyone's supposed to get life and happiness. You can vote if you want to. It's better to have lots of money, and know how to speak right--that gets things done for you. Also, it's like, you go to school to get a job--it sets you up for whatever job you're suited to. If you're really smart, then you can go work for the government."

Grace McGarvie teaches American government and politics at Wayzata Senior, courses no longer offered at Central. Today her student teacher's in charge, a young, clean-cut man fresh out of the education department. He puts a transparency on the overhead and turns to the rows of kids arranged with their desks facing a common middle aisle.

"We're on Day 20. Let's take a look at these figures." All eyes study the projection, which rates Republicans and Democrats on a 1 to 100 scale, conservative to liberal. Bob Packwood and Dave Durenberger--both recently pried out of their seats by the Senate ethics committee--still rank on the list. Rod Grams, it appears, received a 100-point approval rating from the right; Paul Wellstone, a 100-point approval rating from the left. What's up with this split in Minnesota? the teacher asks, scanning the classroom. A blond boy in the front row shifts up in his seat and offers, "It's kinda weird."

Day 20. Turn to the questions in your packet. Number 72: "What happens to representatives who don't vote with their parties?" Beth reads from the answer she copied down last night from the assigned material. "There are risks of retaliation." Correct.

Number 47: "Why has the two-party system survived?" Julie in the corner raises her hand and waves it. "Well," she reads off, "it's always been a tradition. We're scared to change it." Correct. Anyone else? The kids look around, one starts doodling, another sleeps with his chin in his palms. On the wall, Ronald Reagan, Hubert Humphrey, and Jimmy Carter smile at each other from their bright posters.

"Remember that there's also a feeling that we share common beliefs and values," the student teacher adds. "And these two parties take care of those things. Anything else? OK, we've got the two reasons."

The call-and-response continues for several minutes, running the gauntlet from gridlock to gubernatorial races. Together the class agrees that the reason Republicans, although the minority in the whole population, control the House and Senate is, well, because most Democrats don't vote, or as the teacher puts it, "they don't get off their butts and go to the polls." They agree that independents tend to be secret Democrats, or was that Republicans? One boy in a Star Wars T-shirt wakes from his snooze and blurts out the answer to number 72 again. "Oh, sorry," he says.

McGarvie's been teaching at Wayzata since Watergate went down. As a civics instructor, she says, "I try to overcome these students' near-total cynicism in government, which I must add is not entirely unwarranted," and ticks off a laundry list of shady dealings inside the Beltway, from bad verdicts to rotten wars to the Hill-Thomas hearings. Above all, McGarvie figures, "No matter how exciting I try to make the political climate here in the classroom, we're still working against the cultural grade." The kids see the dirt, and while they may not get all the fine-tuned machinery of the "bigger system" on a critical level, it does sink in. "About half the senior class turns out at precinct caucuses," she notes with an edge of pride in her voice. "Of course, we do offer extra credit for that."

By her reckoning, politics is scarcely connected to these kids' world. "Just look around the hallways. Half these kids are dog tired from working ungodly hours, 20 to 40 a week sometimes. They're addicted to the immediate rewards, to the quick freedom a few dollars buy and education doesn't. And it's all extra money--for cars, for spring trips to Mexico, whatever. For no good reason except parents who encourage them to get with the American work ethic. To stay busy. They're heirs to exhaustion. Busy, busy all the time, and going nuts. I'm trying to get them ready to be human beings, but they're too busy turning into exhausted adults."

McGarvie leans over and adjusts the strap on her Birkenstock. The big clock on the wall ticks. A quote on construction paper taped to the wall by the doorway reads: It's no disgrace to be poor, but it's no great honor either.

"Understand, here, that many of these kids know they're going to make it without much effort. They've got big safety nets to fall back on--a system designed to bail them out, a society that gives credit just for being so-and-so's kid." Eager college recruiters. Trust funds. Good odds. "It's their parents' job to brainwash these kids," McGarvie says--to keep their world small and manageable. "And most of the parents around here," she whispers, turning back to the computer on her desk, "do a pretty good job of it."

Meantime, the why-vote-a-straight-ticket question slows down the politics quiz when Carrie and Michelle strike up a brief debate.

"I think you shouldn't vote that way, you know, straight down the line. Why vote for someone you don't like? You should vote with your heart," says Carrie.

"I disagree. That would cause chaos," Michelle argues. "Even if you're not sure what you are, you should stick with one thing."

"But then stuff like racism and prejudice would never be brought up or changed. That's what outside parties and views are for."

"Yeah, but you're not going to get everything you want in life. Anyways, you still get some choice. This is America, I mean."

"Well, I think we should have a multi-party system."

"Get off that," a third kid pipes in. "We'd get a bunch of one-kinded crap then. At least we have variety crap now."

The students, collectively, sink back into their seats and start to zip up their backpacks. Gloria Steinem smiles across the room at the Declaration of Independence. The student teacher collects his notes into a neat stack, another lesson done, another hour gone. The morning newsbreak, put together by seniors and broadcast over TV sets every morning in every room, clicks on.

"Nightly gunshots wake Minneapolis residents often," reads Laura, a girl in a tie-dyed T and ponytail. "But most do nothing to stop it." Somebody reads the score of the football game. The credits roll.

"Who's ready to take the test?" Jill Hedquist yells over the din of talk and CD headsets. "If you want to take the test now, come get a copy. Who needs notes? Who can lend your notes to a neighbor? Who wants to use mine? Come up and copy mine if you didn't take notes on the lectures. You'll need them to pass this test."

Several Central juniors and seniors crowd to the front of the room, grabbing American History tests and notes and textbooks from the stack on the floor. Yesterday, in this class of about 40 (the average for "regular" classes, and double the size of Advanced Placement courses), over half were absent--either in D.C. for the Million Man March or at home watching it on the tube. Today, it's make-up time.

Martin nods off in the corner. John, a recent transfer student, pulls a pencil and a sheaf of notes from his backpack, cribbing for the third question: Who was King Philip and what is he known for? Drawing a blank, he looks over Charlotte's shoulder and copies down her answer. When Hedquist wanders down the aisle, checking on progress, John asks if his guess on number 5 is close enough. No. She points out the right response on his page of scribbled notes.

Across the room, Martin and his buddy start banging on their desks, cracking one-liners and bugging another kid to pass that disc over. A girl who's painting her nails between hiccups glances at her test and laughs. "Glorious Revolution? What the hell was that? I don't remember no Glorious Revolution."

Hedquist has been teaching at Central part-time for a year and a half, her first stop out of Bethel College with a degree in social studies. What she calls an "innate distaste for the snottiness, the my-parents-are-so-and-so attitudes in the upper ranks" keeps her calling roll in this classroom that is never, by any stretch, peaceful.

"There's a lot of pressure on teachers to produce decent grades," she tells me, under the general din. "It's no easy task in this classroom, figuring out how not to punish my kids for the cultural biases that train them to fail. The best I can do is equip them with a diploma somehow, which may be one way they can survive out there. Teachers like me, we develop a high tolerance for noise." At that she laughs, calls again to keep it down, and shrugs.

"What I do is give points for taking notes. Some students have a tough time copying off the board, so I let them copy off each other or off me. I let them use notes on tests. My main goal is not to drown them in information or facts per se, but to teach them how to use notes effectively. And how to pass the tests."

With test score averages routinely used as political fodder, and drop-out rates tied to a school's reputation (and, in turn, to future enrollment and funding), teachers across the board feel the heat to "teach to the tests" and to pass kids on toward graduation, whether they can read the diploma or not. Grading procedures vary like weather. Notes are available for borrowing, if the kids didn't happen to take their own. Test answers are fair game for discussion. Some call these methods a way out of the corner "regular" teachers and students alike get backed into. Some simply call it cheating.

Down the hall, social studies department chair Phil Mead teaches African American history at Central, a course not offered at Wayzata Senior. You'd be hard pressed to find a teacher in the building more committed to the open-door, equal-access-for-all idea of public education, which makes Mead a walking, talking sore spot in a school engaged, in his words, in the "problematic strategy of self-tracking kids" along economic and racial lines.

Mead's view of the situation goes like this: "Problem is, the majority of people in daily contact with these students--administrators, teachers--have middle class values. Suburban values. Regular attendance, passing tests, handing in written assignments, staying quiet and compliant--these values get rewarded. If you don't fit, you're out. That's the rule. Which makes it tough to do much more than a McDonald's education with some of these kids; it's like serving up hamburgers."

"Look," he says, leaning across the table in the faculty lounge to make his point, "students might memorize what's down on paper, but they don't, in the end, learn what's real. They learn textbook fictions about the world they're about to pass into, and many of these narratives are at odds with the true story: that certain groups have power, while others are powerless. But if we're really a democracy, the bottom shouldn't suffer from political rigging for the rich. Academically speaking, we're taking from the poor and giving to the wealthy. Here, and in the suburbs. What that means for the future is that all these we've put on the bottom will take it from those on the top, either by peaceful means or violently. If you teach and think historically, you'll already know this."

Back in Hedquist's classroom, time's winding down. John hands the teacher his test and asks, "Is number 8 right?"

"Well," she answers, "the colonists also had some powers. What were they?"

"I don't know. You're pushing me."

"OK. Let's back up. What did the colonists lose when New England was created?"

"Their land?"

"No."

"Their freedom?"

"No."

"I give up. It's not my fault." Period's over.

John gets up from his desk, hands in his test, and heads for the door. Ninth grade International Baccalaureate American History students, a stream of white faces and button-downs, file past him and take their seats. The teacher, who gives Hedquist a nod on her way out, begins by announcing that "when we get to the Revolution, we'll have to unlearn a lot of the stuff you were taught earlier."

He queries the class about what conclusions they picked up from yesterday's video. What were some effects of geography on human behavior? Elizabeth, a blond girl in the front row, raises her hand. Go ahead.

"Well," she says, "the terrain in the new world was harsh. And Europeans were afraid of the forest."

The Wayzata school district is building a brand new high school among the cornfields on the west edge of town. It's a long hike from the city. The way there is lined with new developments--Heather Run, Boulder Crest--many of the houses still in the framing stage. The site itself, a mess of muddy ruts and cinder brick piles, is announced by a sign at the entrance: School District #284 and City of Plymouth, it reads. Creating a new era together.

Financed by the recent passage of a $64 million levy referendum, this is the largest high school construction project under way in the state, and will, by the time it opens in 1997, accommodate a total of 3200 kids, grades 9 through 12. Counselor Barbara Donley says the new school will of course have room for open enrollment students, though she admits, "I don't know if parents from outside the district will realistically want to drive out that far."

"Scared. That's what the new high school's about--parents running scared as far as they can get from the dark city." Tracy, a senior at Wayzata, props her elbows on the table at Denny's and picks at her fries and hot chocolate, her standing breakfast order between morning classes. She lights a cigarette and fiddles with a ring on her finger that she says she ripped off a while ago at the mall.

"I've seen some of my own friends who've tried leaving here, but they come back to their parents' house and just, like, go nowhere. Pregnant girls drop out all the time. My ex-boyfriend's so strung out he can't even think. That new high school won't stop this stuff. It's part of the craziness you never hear about out here," she says, twisting a strand of long blonde hair between her fingers.

"Right now, I sit in class reading books and getting lectured about the way America works and it seems like dream crap. Next spring, I'm heading out to Hollywood where my agents and my manager live--see, my mom got me into modeling early. Eventually I'm gonna be a star. I'll have a bodyguard with me all the time. I'm outta this town. Cool."

Tracy tells me her current boyfriend's in jail. Her parents don't like him. "But then, they hate everything about my life. A few years ago, we were down south on vacation. I got home, like, 10 minutes late from this dance and they went ballistic. They called in this whole--what's it called?--intervention team, that's it. Shrinks, big guns, the whole works. I guess their pretty baby was going bad. See, they were, like, Mr. Straight and Miss Poodle Skirt in high school, even though my mom got pregnant. Ha. Anyway, they locked me up for a week in the psych ward. That's where I met my boyfriend. He's crazy too."

"That's why you're so hung up on him," her friend in the next booth says.

"That's total bullshit. I love him since he's the only one who really, like, understands me. And he's coming with me to L.A. It'll be great. We'll be together. It'll never snow. Everybody out there's got it goin' on. Sweet cars. Great sunsets. Not like here, where it's like all those people in the city probably hate me because I'm white and all. Plus they kill each other all the time. I'm scared to go in there since maybe I'll get shot."

This draws several nods around the group collected at our table. The waitress comes by to collect plates, and everybody lights up one more before heading back to school. The talk turns around to the Simpson verdict, hailed as "a defining moment in American history" just yesterday on the cafeteria TV, and greeted with a general shrug in the rush to class.

"Reasonable doubt," one of Tracy's friends says on the way out. "Hey, I'm down with that. Like I said yesterday, I've got reasonable doubt about everything."

"This country's full of reasonable doubt and unreasonable violation all over the place. Seems like the level of hostility's been rising since the 1980s. And us kids, hey, we're getting a lot of the blame for it." Nate is giving us his rap about the way things work.

"Adults are scared," he says, pulling at the hem of his T-shirt. His friends circle in close, punctuating his impromptu comments with amens and nods.

"Like I say, adults get off on the tension in all these news reports. Our image at Central and down in the 'hood is like the freaks in the National Enquirer, like the man with three heads or those alien babies. It's all hyped up, it's big money. Comin' off the O.J. verdict, it's like a black-white war zone's been drawn. Crazy. Crazy. And one more reason those kids out in the 'burbs won't want to mix with us around here."

"That's right," Matthew says. "Man, you can't even look somebody in the eye anymore."

"Which used to be a sign of respect," Carlos tells him.

"I figure all that fear benefits the 'burbs a lot," Nate goes on. "Tell you what, if I was a mom out there, see, and heard about all the hyped-up violence around here, I'd try to keep my kids sheltered away too."

"All the same, there's getting to be so much more noise and heat in this neighborhood--not the way it was planned," Matthew says.

"Maybe it was," Nate tells him, turning toward his friend. "Think about it. I don't know how to say it without sounding racist, 'cause I'm not, but... OK. It's 1995. The city's got public housing and minorities, and the suburbs've got new mansions. That's what I hear. So the way it works is this: They're trying to keep one class of kids away from the other. Even in school. The white kids get taught to be scared, but man, they didn't come up with that idea. It was set in them by parents, by the media, by the way school works.

"I don't know where this fits in, but I'm thinking that all us kids have similar dreams. We all want success, whatever that is. For the well-to-do kids, it's probably go to Harvard, graduate, get a job for millions of dollars."

"Slow down a minute," Carlos interrupts him. "I got something to say but, but--"

"Just say what it is--"

"OK, see, thing is it's important for kids to mix it up. Learn how to get along. Otherwise, that's how racism gets made--by ignorance. By what TV says. That's why poor people get kicked. You got to learn to get along with people different from you. Got to learn how their lives go here in America. What's the use of school otherwise? Besides all the book facts, I can't figure out what would be the use."

"Maybe I don't sit in all the upper classes," Nate says before heading off, "but it sure seems to me like the only causes America's teaching is for personal happiness, entertainment, and getting a job. You know, how to get ahead of somebody else. Us kids, we get all divided trying to figure it out, and I got to wonder who profits off that?"

"Sometimes, man, it just seems easier not to think about it," Carlos says, to no one in particular.

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