Hey! What reason do you have to NOT climb up a tree at 1 AM? (Part 2)

I started telling this story in Part 1.

My mother reasoned that these Untouchable Bureaucrats are in fact mortal, and that they have offices somewhere which she can physically visit. Having once worked as a journalist, she has practical experience with getting interviews with people who are hard to find.

She did in fact find these bureaucrats, and she even got them to make a decision favorable to my grandmother, which everyone told her would be impossible. It was a horrible process – I think my mother said she broke down in tears once (note: I have never, ever seen my mother break down in tears, which demonstrates just how rare that is) but she did it.

So what does this story have to do with the concept of ‘compulsory’? Mainly, I needed to establish my mother as a character for my next story…



High schools, in California and much of the world, have ‘compulsory subjects’ – classes you must pass in order to get a high school diploma.

I went to a small high school. This could cause scheduling problems. For example, when I took Physics in my junior year, that was the only physics class offered the entire year. Yep, just one physics class. The class had sophomores, juniors, and seniors because … well, to make a long story short, this was practically the last chance we had to take a high school physics class, even for the sophomores.

Of course, that was nothing compared to the drama around Physical Education (P.E.) credits. I think, starting my sophomore or junior year, my high school actually started offering two P.E. classes for 30 students each. Considering that California law requires 2 years of P.E. for a high school diploma, this was a bit of a problem. About 30% of the students (myself included) didn’t need to worry about P.E. credits (we were automatically enrolled in dance classes which counted as P.E. classes), but the rest of the students were scrambling to get recognized P.E. credits.

The advantage of this system is that, because the school administrators knew this was a problem, they were much more open input and creative solutions offered by students, which encouraged us to actively shape our education rather than be passive recipients. One student (who, like myself, didn’t need to worry about P.E. credit, but I think he just loved bikes) started a bike-to-school club and made arrangements with the school administration to allow students to get P.E. credit for bicycling to/from school.

One of the biggest disadvantages was, if you got a bad teacher … you could get pretty stuck, since that might be the only teacher teaching that particular class, and even if there was a second teacher, you might not be able to arrange your schedule to get that teacher (especially since everyone else probably wants that better teacher too).

This is how I ended up with a terrible math teacher and a terrible French teacher. Which forced me and my mother to explore just how ‘compulsory’ these classes actually are…



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