I awoke on the first day of May 2007 and saw that lovely suit that was too big for me. It was suspended on the hanger that was attached to the wall, reminding me of the plan I had for this special school day. Have I shrunk since two years ago? Whatever the case I now must get myself ready and into that suit. What have I gotten myself into?
It is almost first period. Eyes glued to me from all corners, as I entered the school. Anxiety swept over me but it was expected. I finally get to cafeteria B, where I am greeted by some, ignored by the rest. I am the only “C” student in this Law Day program; a day that will help me in my future career by experiencing what the working world is like. Law Day: when seniors sign up to take the place of (or shadow) an elected or appointed official, either in Town Hall or in the offices of the Board of Education. (i.e.: School Superintendent or the Mayor.) Honor students usually participate in this program. I being an underachieving borderline pass/fail student, went along looking for a day out of school. I did not expect to receive a revaluation of my then current social and political belief structure.
Around 8am I was handed a card that said Assistant Superintendent of schools; it had no name. Two people hold this position; they are Nicholas Sacco and the head coach of the varsity football team. I was the only one to receive this assignment so I did not know which of the two individuals I would shadow. In my mind I hatched a plan to try to shadow Nicholas Sacco, because he is also the mayor of North Bergen. Here is some employment information on Nicholas Sacco who has three jobs that are the following: Mayor of North Bergen (my town where I went to high school) - $15,000; State Senator of New Jersey- $35,000; Assistant Superintendent- $120,000. He has held these positions for over a decade; and as for the office of mayor, his election races never yield opponents. All these salaries and their eventual pension payments come out of the pockets of taxpayers.
Upon receiving my assignment, I proceeded to enter the office of the Board of Education which is next door to the high school. Upon entering the building I was asked which office I had been assigned to. When I stated that I was assigned to the Assistant Superintendent I heard one of the workers state, "Oh you’re going to be with Nick!" With that said, I had the possibility to carry out my wish to see Mr. Sacco. Within a half second of responding to her statement, I quickly evaluated the risk factor of creating mischief. The card, which assigned the position, had no name, just the title of office. This is obviously the result of most officials having only one position.
I followed the young secretary to Sacco’s well furnished office. Upon entering, I was struck by a top of the line computer with a 20 inch screen, fancy desktop paperweights, and expensive looking artwork covering the walls, all barley touched and used. After I surveyed his office for a brief time, I sat alongside his secretary’s desk.
“Oh he is not in yet, he will be shortly.” said the secretary, “Therefore in the meantime, I'll introduce you to everyone in the office.” One by one, I’m introduced to the workers and officials and shown around the small one story office building. At some point during my tour, I entered the school record room. This is where all permanent records are produced and stored. I could not resist but ask this question to the staff, “What is the dropout rate of freshmen through seniors in North Bergen High School?” The answer was not surprising to me, considering I have witnessed many of my peers “sign-out”. The percentile was around 75%; my graduating senior class was made of about 360 people. When I first came in as a freshman, my class size was about 1,400 people.
I was called in to the Assistant Superintendents office. I stepped in expecting to meet with Mr. Sacco, but I was told to wait because he was on his way to meet me. This was the end of my tour; I was lead back to the chair near the secretary‘s desk. To quell my anxieties of meeting him, I drifted into a nap. I awoke to my name being called. But it was not what I hoped, it was not Sacco. I was told the Superintendent Mr. Fishback wanted to see me in his office.
Once I got there I met with the Superintendent and his shadow. We were told to help him set up the next school year’s calendar. This was mindless work which involved some basic math. Afterward, we witnessed how lockers are distributed among the students. I asked Mr. Fishback why the system couldn’t be based on the proximity of the students’ classes, instead of their homerooms. But he responded with a harsh tone saying “All students should carry all their books on them at all times.” I found this to be very unsympathetic and inquired further into the issue. What started as a helpful comment, turned into the sub-threshold of an argument. We were discussing the importance of the conformity of youth to the aesthetic values of their guardians and school educators/administrators. I remember he asked me “Would you cut your hair if your parents wish you to do so?” I answered “Of course not, they must respect my style of dress.” This was the apex of our debate. He stated that I must conform to the wishes of my parents because they rasied me and gave me life. I told him they must respect that they deiced to create a human being who is his own person. I could spend a few pages talking about the chat we had, but it will digress too far from the main point.
Toward the end of our dialogue he quoted his mother, “Education is a dangerous thing because there is always going to be someone more educated then you, and with that education might come dark desires” This statement puzzled me as it did not fit exactly into the discussion. Before I could respond he called lunch time for himself. So at that moment I witnessed him exercise his power by ending our chat. I felt it was such a copout. I started to feel some hunger creep in and I asked when it was lunch time for the students. To my great astonishment, the lunch hour was at 11:30, and it was 12:40 at the time. “Those bastards forgot to wake me!” I thought to myself, “Ah! Fuck this shit, I am going to walk around the school and enjoy the rest of my day off.”
I proceeded to walk around the school in my classy oversized suit. At this point, I had given up all hope of meeting Mr. Sacco. In wandering about the hallways I felt such a sense of discovery. I never had this perspective of the school before. Usually in walking the corridors, I would be limited to a schedule of classes. I finally got to experience the sensation of leisure as I walked around in an otherwise work filled arena. I was actually able to stop and smell the chalk dust. Amazingly, no one yet cared to ask what I was doing idly walking around. A little while later, I encountered the only person to ask me what I was doing, a music teacher named Mr. Halves.
“Who are you representing?”
“Uhm, Nick Sacco.”
“Oh so you’re the MAYOR!”
“No, I am the Assistant Superintendent”
“So why are you just walking around doing nothing”
“because this is exactly what his job is... nothing.’ ‘He is never at his desk, even when everyone else is.’ ‘So I am the shadow of his work, just wandering about.”
“Interesting.” He said this with a smirk on his face. Shortly after, I walked my suited self home to reflect on what the hell just happened there.
Since then I have been contemplating the dishonesty of public officials. The level of corruption prevalent today does not occur mostly within large cities. It manifests inside of small towns where everyone knows each other, and also knows when to look the other way. My town of North Bergen is home to this kind of small community corruption. The fact that as a tax payer I pay the salary of Sacco’s three jobs is an outrage. His office in which I patiently sat, is so well kept, clearly shows that he does not spend any significant time there. He gets a free check every week courtesy of my hard labor. If he was really able to perform all three jobs, he would have been able to spend some time with me. The fact that he couldn’t, shows how he cannot perform three full time positions at once. That day opened up my eyes to the complete understanding of the cynic’s favorite phrase, “That’s just the way things are.” Hitherto, I have started to become more existential and analytic about my political and social beliefs. What this has led me to is a completely critical attitude toward the current governmental and social structures of our time. This Gandhi quote really elucidates the mythos of my life, gained from this unique experience: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
All in all, I got out of class that day and got an eye opening view into the working world. As of now, I understand the power of information and how some people use it to their advantage. They do not use it to expand their personal potential or to help others, but instead keep most people in the darkness of ignorance by holding up a veil of virtue. The quote that Mr.Fishback mentioned sums up exactly this kind of mindset. The fact that “education is seen as a road to dark desires” rather than humanistic idealism demonstrates how some of these officials view themselves in contrast to those they represent.