Mans Skool Blues

Tiny - Posted on 06 July 2019

Man-Skool Blues


For the first ten years of my life, I wanted to be normal. To not be the son of someone who is looked at with reverence by a lot of people. To not be the supposed leader of the next generation. Instead, I wanted to be a child that doesn’t have to go to a protest or action every other weekend. That's because for my entire life, being normal, having a life without protests and marches every other weekend, was something that constantly eluded me. The one thing, however, that was normal about my life was my school. I went to a normal, low-income elementary school in San Francisco, Leonard R. Flynn. I loved being normal so much that I missed being at school when I wasn't there. While I was there, I was exactly like every other kid. I got normal grades, got in a normal amount of trouble, and generally fit in. I loved it. I was a part of the soccer team, and we won a couple of games but lost an equal amount of games, perfectly normal. We weren't the most extraordinary soccer team on the field. I played kickball when I could, and had three best friends and I had a crush on the most popular girl in school before even knowing what a crush really meant. Like I said, normal. After elementary, however, the one thing that made me normal, my one connection to the norms of people my age, vanished. When I was 9 years old, after systematically being evicted from house to house in San Francisco, the tide of gentrification finally swept us into homelessness, and then Oakland, after not being able to afford San Francisco’s rapidly rising rent.


It was Deecolonize Academy. The radical and revolutionary school for children who needed to be taught the “real” education, how America was colonized, not “discovered,” how the Obama Administration wasn't everything we had hoped and dreamed for. That's beautiful right?, something to “Deecolonize” the minds of the new generation, the kids who will save the world one day with the knowledge and teaching that they have been given. It was a beautiful, amazing, wonderful idea for everyone...but me.


Now remember, back to my normalcy and my fun times, after elementary, I was already expecting to go to the most normal middle school in San Francisco, James Lick Middle School, and follow all of my normal friends all the way until college. I was so ready. I had my book bag all picked out, not too flashy, and an unobtrusive but cool gray backpack that I was planning to show off on the first day, and a bunch of school supplies. That bookbag was a doorway to my future. After James Lick, I had planned to go to Mission High, and then if I could, UC Berkeley. That excitement ended when I heard about Deecolonize Academy. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't completely hating the idea of going to school at home, (Homefulness, which was soon to be my new residency, was going to be the main campus of Deecolonize Academy) or the idea of going to a new, unheard of school with people who I've been hanging out with since I was little. But somewhere, somewhere not too deep in the back of mind was angry and hateful for not being able to continue the normal life that I once enjoyed. That was the beginning of my plot to return back to the mans-school, and normalcy as I knew it.


Do you know what is really hard? Trying to stay mad at something you like. I'm not really good at keeping grudges anyways, but Deecolonize Academy was a whole different story. I was everything anyone who has been stuck in an institutional learning environment their entire life could ever dream of. Me, who has been stuck in an institutional school since I could remember, loved it, and it showed. There was a reason, also why I loved Deecolonize Academy and that is because it is a fun school. Every Tuesdays, we took a trip to IKEA for our lunch, getting it free because we were under the age of 13, and IKEA lunch was heaven after 5 years of soggy public school lunches. The other four days we had lunch homemade by a Latina lady who has been cooking her entire life, and she made food that I still remember 5 years later. We had an extreme variety of classes every single day, from Spanish 101 to Herbs and Potions, to Permaculture and Construction, Art and Science, Native Creations and Guitar and Indigenous Music Class, to Capuera in a Capuera studio, taught to us by a master of the art.


Year two of Deecolonize, and I continued on like always. I kept moving throughout this deep community, not feeling enough of it yet but starting to feel a bit cramped. Some of the old students left, and new ones took their place. I laughed and played every day, and overall was a cheery lad in those times. I started really doing Aztec Dance (Danza), something that I am really into today. I also got into karate, something that changed my life. It was a schedule. I would be at school until I went to karate. On Mondays I would do Danza from 6:30 until 9:30 and that would be that. It wasn't until something happened in my family that introduced me into real depression that I started to see it.


My thoughts became really refined after that incident, observing things that I hadn't before, yet still not thinking about them fully. It was then that I started to see it. The monotony of Deecolonize Academy. Every day, wake up and take care of the animals, be in school and do the same classes, do P.E and go back to class, go to karate and on Monday go to Danza, day by day, hour by hour, over and over. That’s when I really started “remembering” my times of the man's-skool (what public schools are referred as in Deecolonize Academy). “Remembering” referring to the fun times I had with friends at the man's-skool, in my desperation making them more exciting then they were, furthering my want to go back to public school.


It was when I was thirteen, so, the third year of Deecolonize Academy for me and of its existence, I started making it known that next year, I wanted to leave Deecolonize Academy to go to a nearby public school. It was a decision that I thought about for a long time, not about whether or not I should leave or stay, but where I would want to go, what kind of friends I would get, if I would get a girlfriend, how popular I would be, which I now realize were the fantasies of a fool. I pressed hard on the issue for the entirety of my 8th grade, and since my mom didn't let me go for my freshman year, the entirety of my ninth grade as well. I begged and pleaded to my mom, and used all of what I thought was my voluminous wit to convince her. So, finally, after a lot of thought, she allowed me to go to Coliseum College Prep Academy.


This is what messes me up to this day, but is also something I am very grateful for. When I left Deecolonize Academy, and basically the village in general, I had no idea what I was leaving behind. Leaving this village helped me truly appreciate every blessing that I was receiving while being enveloped in its folds. So I went to the public institution. Something I had been dreaming about ever since I left it, retaining that “grass is always greener” mentality that dominated my thought process at the time.


 There were valid reasons for me to leave Deecolonize Academy, and I used them because even though I was a fool, I wasn't an idiot. I did not take the homework in Deecolonize seriously because it usually wasn't seriously given out. There was no solid due date, and the pages of the assignments changed, however, my mother wanted them too, and therefore I gave that as an excuse for me not being able to learn in this environment, not taking responsibility for the fact that if I wanted to, I could conform to the ways of teaching in Deecolonize, and be a better learner and person because of it, but I selfishly blamed Deecolonize for my personal learning issues.


That summer was one of the best I have ever had. The entire summer was me eagerly anticipating going back to public school, making friends and interacting with other peers of my age, the whole lot. I spent countless hours on the computer, looking up the website of the school I was going to, seeing all the classes it had and immediately looking to sign up for the soccer team, it was a whole dream. I and my mom went uniform shopping, uniform shopping!! even though we went to DD's discount I couldn't stop grinning. I was finally going to be safe, back where I belonged, and in an institutional system that respected the way I wanted to learn, which was by-the-books, straightforward, old-fashioned, lessons. What I knew was that the curriculum at Deecolonize Academy was made that way because the people who go to Deecolonize go there because they weren't able to learn in the formal institutional systems, and I solidly believed that I was a person who thrived in those systems.


The time for going to my new school was rapidly approaching, and I had everything together weeks before school was even on. I thought constantly of how my first day would be, laying out the exact pants I was going to wear and the perfect shirt and undershirt to have on that would make me look cool and not like a nerd, all of the best school supplies and a cool backpack, good, solid, notebooks I got from Target, and every expectation of the public school system that I had in my head straining to be proved right. I would talk constantly to my mom about how cool I would be, if I would be cool, how the teachers would like me, not seeing how extremely depressed she got with every word I spoke about the system. I didn't notice that in the weeks, and then days leading up to me leaving the village and going to public school, her health got increasingly worse, and she got sick very often.


Yet I still continued, to talk constantly about how much fun I was going to have, to her, to my other friends in Deecolonize Academy, to everyone. This decision that I was making was also creating a bit of a rift between my community, in the form of my aunties and uncles. Some of them thought that it was a good idea that I was transitioning to the public school system, because they saw that my way of learning would be a good fit for a formal institution, or simply because they wanted to see me make some more friends, or get a girlfriend among the many kids my age I would meet when I went there.


Others believed that the “man's-skool” as we call it, was going to poison my thinking, make me lose faith in the idea of this community, and become a capitalist when I grew older. My mother was one of those people. In fact, one of the founding ideas of Poor Magazine is taking care of your mother, and showing Deference to the person (or people) who birthed you or raised you. In fact, one of the original magazines that Poor Magazine wrote, Issue 4 the “Mothers Issue”, talks about eldership, and the very idea of deference that capitalism was born to destroy.


“Of course my mother will always live with my family- no matter if she becomes very ill. How could that be a burden? She is our mother...”, these are the words of Nani, a Palestinian daughter, from an excerpt of The Mothers Issue, Poor Magazine Vol.4. The thing that we talk about in this community all the time, called “the cult of separation” by my mother, is the very thing capitalism promotes constantly.


The cult of separation works in many different ways in a capitalist system, weaving throughout a young person's life. One of the most common forms and most obvious examples of this practice are young adults graduating from high school, and immediately leaving to go to a good college thousands of miles away. Then staying in the place you went to college to and only visiting your parents twice a year for holidays or family emergencies. Not once thinking about the mental and physical well-being of the people who raised you and took care of you for your entire life, not to mention brought you into this world.


Another example of the cult of separation that capitalism promotes constantly is the idea of putting your parents or grandparents in an “elder home”. Elder or Old folks homes are one of the many systems that America has created to profit off of multi-generational families. They seed the idea that if you want to truly be a free adult, stop worrying and taking care of your mom and dad and dump them in the place that we have created for them, allowing you to live your life without having to take care of your parents. That is one of the best-selling business in America, simply because in order to achieve the true American Dream of complete freedom is to completely get rid of everything that is holding you back.


A final example of the cult of separation is the very thing that I did myself. Leaving the care of your mother and a tight-knit community to go to a school that counters the beliefs of your family. And I left all the people who loved me behind with the biggest smile on my face. While I was there, I abandoned all lessons of deference and humility that have been carefully placed in me by my community and family for my entire life for the allure of an intricate and Hollywood-like high school experience inside the public school system. I will get nothing out of regretting what I have done, so I should just learn from it instead. Learn how I hurt my mother and my community in order to never do it again. The way that I am able to do that is to truly examine, what was I thinking?


It is difficult for someone with a bad memory like myself to examine my thoughts from a year ago, but what I can remember is the media that influenced that decision. There is a constant stream of media promoting my brand of separation. You have high-school movies, TV shows that show kids my age falling in love and finding romance in high school, or the books that I have read that talk about high-school being the best time of their lives, the stories I heard about chess clubs, sports teams, and student electives. I dreamed of being apart of every single one of the things that I watched, listened to, read and saw personally.


However, I didn't go without internal conflict. As stupid as I was at the time, I still did see the conflict I was creating at least within my community, and it created a bit of unease within my head. I saw the grand prize of high-school, but also saw the love of my people, the ones who have always have been there for me. And yet, my want for something better won out. To be completely honest, I'm glad It did.


“I stayed out late, roaming with my friends on the far side of town the night before. But he silence that shadowed our dinner hour was hardly a sign that God was about to punish me for my sneaky ways”, an excerpt from the short story, Detained. The story of a small slice of conflict in the young life of Challa Tabeson. The conflict that he was having at that time in his life was very similar to my own. He didn't know how to deal with the opposing sides of his life, his colonized friends or his very religious family. He was bearing that weight constantly, almost “Detained” by it.


That was one of the main allures that high-school had for me when it all boils down to it. I wanted to escape the conflict that was my life. It became difficult to just talk and be around my mother and everyone, and I wasn't completely aware of why. I just knew that that would just stop if I went to the mans-skool because I wouldn't have to see them. Having that mentality in mind, I eagerly awaited the time I would be able to “escape” from Deecolonize Academy.


So, the day finally came. After a summer of waiting and planning and registering for the school and its classes, the big day finally came. The weekend before was surprisingly and anticlimactically normal. Which, at the time, was an even bigger nerve inducer for me. I could barely sleep Monday night, thinking about all of the friends I was going to make and the high-school experiences I was going to have, not realizing my mother not going to sleep and thinking about the exact same thing I was, except not with an electrifying expectation, yet one of mind-numbing fear.


We were late to school that morning, eventually creating an uneven early morning schedule where sometimes I would wake up on time and other times I would be early, and other times I would wake up late and we would be late or I would wake up on time and we would be late because of the different things going on at Homefulness. Because of this uneven schedule, I started to skateboard or bike to school every morning and return the same way to control my timing. I was able to get on school early those days, up until my ankle injury which forced me to return to the schedule of waking up early or late and arriving early or late.


I had already seen the school, so it wasn't like I was seeing anything different when I came to the schoolhouse that morning yet it was like I was seeing a whole new thing in front of me when my mother pulled into the parking lot. I saw a whole chapter of my future ahead of me, shining with a bright white light, not knowing that the angler fish behind that light was waiting to strike.


My mother walked me in, we talked to the receptionist and walked down the hallway to go find my classes. I was extremely nervous and at the same time buzzing with excitement. One of the things I didn't notice at the time was the looks on the faces of the kids returning to school. What I remember now, looking back on that day, was the complete and utter listless looks on these teenagers faces as they marched into the campus. Almost like prisoners being escorted into a penitentiary.


Being who I was, having the expectations I did, blinded me from seeing almost anything about that school at all. Like the fact that our grade was not allowed to use the Gymnasium, we had no Physical Education, no art class, and no classes at all besides the core important ones. I was also blinding myself (because I did notice them) to the looks that I got from the other kids who I was walking among, taking in my Caucasian skin and features, immediately classifying me as someone who doesn't belong here.


I chatted with some of the kids, and they were actually kind of inviting at first introduction and didn't hesitate to fill me in on the goings-on of the school. Who was with who, which teacher they hated because they were the most annoying, girls to avoid, things to do after school, so on and so forth. To them, these were normal everyday conversations, but to me, those were the conversations that I had been dreaming of for the last five years.


I went into my first class, and there was nothing unusual about it. I loved it. It was an Algebra II class with a pretty disinterested teacher and some of the students that I had met prior to the school beginning. We started the class, and most of the things that he was teaching I didn't know, but they looked relatively easy to learn. I tried my hardest to contain my delight when I pulled out my pencils, pens, and a notebook to begin writing down notes. I was flying high, yet looking completely normal in the process. Nobody at all could tell by looking at my face that I was completely euphoric.


One thing that was on my mind the entire first day of my supposed “new life” was that I was glad to be rid of every burden that I had at Deecolonize Academy and the Homefulness community in general. It became a surreal experience, me, being a formerly homeless, currently poor teen, usually, am not able to have my deepest desires come true, and the euphoria came from actually feeling that desire play out in front of my eyes.


Then, I was that kid. I look around, shocked at what I'm seeing because what faces me is nothing at all. It is two months later. I snapped out of my Deja Vu, shaking off the memories of when everyone surrounded me, my false, self-proclaimed family that were the kids in this new school. In my khaki pants, and a black tee shirt, with my crutches laid out next to me on the bench, knowing the crutches were not the reason that I had no one sitting at my table. I had ostracized myself, not feeling right with the way that the kids my age lived their life. Every petty squabble became meaningless, every girlfriend and boyfriend became irrelevant, and once again I fell into a pit of depression, deeper than the one I was trying to get out of by going to that school. 


I walked (hobbled) across the campus, the morning air whipping my skin, as I rushed on crutches to class, everyone else who was going to the same class far ahead of me. Alone, again. I had no trouble in my classes, but learning was difficult when you were teased for raising your hand in class. Loving to learn is criminalized when you are taught by society that school is worthless. There were some classes in which I smiled, and others where I just wished the day was over with already. When I attempted to hang out with others, my limited knowledge of Spanish prevented me from getting too far into a conversation, and that frustrated me. It wasn't only Spanish I was lacking in, it was the cultural knowledge of not growing up with a predominantly Latino family. 


I didn't actually grow up in any one specific culture. I never went to family barbeques or quinceaneras. I didn't have 5 brothers and/or sisters to teach me the way of the world and the do’s and don’ts of my community. I grew up in something that my Mama Junebug has coined “the culture of poverty”. It's a culture that unsurprisingly, many from other cultures growing up in the same places I did were able to understand. My entire cultural learning experience from my childhood was completely based around poverty. I learned how to socialize by teaching myself on the street, and that prevented me from being as comfortably outgoing to kids my age as my peers were. That, combined with my limited cultural knowledge, made it very hard to survive in that predominantly latino school. 


Those conversations...even though the school semester only lasted for a couple of months, those conversations had been going on my entire life. To me, this was just another relapse into trying to fit in where I knew I don't belong and failing to fit in, as I always do, because of the various reasons that make me different. The linguistics that escaped me were the ones I was clowned for. In most conversations, so many spanish “slang” words were tossed around I had no idea where the conversation was headed. 


When I was 6 years old, in first grade I believe, I was in a school that actively taught light-skinned children like myself Spanish. For the beginning of my life, I felt like I had the actual right to speak Spanish. I didn't know that the act of speaking Spanish itself, being a white kid, being poor, and hanging around Latinos for most of my life, would be the biggest challenge I would have to face so far.   


I also didn't know that being a poor “white” kid in a latino neighborhood would mean always having to prove myself if I was cool enough if I knew an adequate amount of Spanish and didn't get too excited when something cool happened. My entire life has been about proving myself because my one fatal flaw is that I live to make others like me. I am never able to develop my personality and image enough because it might contradict a positive image someone has of me. For my entire life, the “cool” guys were the ones who just didn't care about how they were seen or who was looking at them, even if they were the ugliest and the worst-dressed.


In high school, that passive-aggressive oppression took my self-consciousness to a whole another level. When you are in high school, especially one where your entire grade is comprised of about 100 or so students, you are looked at constantly, no matter who you are. This was torture on a cellular level for me, my main level of paranoia deriving from other people’s thoughts about me, so I did what any self-respecting depressed teen would do. I curled up.


“Curling up” is defined by me and most commonly diagnosed (and undiagnosed) depressed persons as “putting up every mental wall imaginable, not talking or doing as little as you can, and walking through life quietly enough so that everyone you once knew eventually forgets or stops caring about you”. I wasn't that dramatic about it though. I loved being the person who was in the spotlight, as long as I was seen as cool and talented. So, I only shone when it was time for me to do things I liked, and the rest of the time I was a dried out husk.


Attempting to do anything but my designated shine spots was immediate pain, so recoiling immediately was the only option. Becoming someone else was never a thought. What would never cross my mind at that point in time, which I look back at now seems ridiculous but if I go through that process again I would do the exact same, was maybe being myself, not worrying at all about how other people saw and or addressed me, and lived my own life. The funny part about that is I am still unable to that, hence the process is repeated.


A couple of months later, with the life of Homefulness bustling around us, I sit down and talk with my mother about how she felt about me going to that school and about public education in general. This all started with me and my mom, so it would only be right if I really sat down with her and asked her thoughts on the matter. 



Me: Hi mom. 

Mom: okay are we doing the interview or not?

Me: yeah, ok so how did you feel when I asked you to go to the mans-school?

Mom: yeah...I knew it was the culmination of your “grass-is-always-greener” complex. I felt like the state won, I felt like the digital streets won, but then...then i was at peace. Like the great philosopher Thich Nhat Hahn said, it wasn't about winning or losing. 

Me: Cool. cool, cool, cool. 

Me: so how was your experience in the mans-school.

Mom: I loved being in school. Even though I was put in the middle of the classroom, called stupid by the teacher, and tried so hard to fit in, I still loved it, and i felt so inadequate that I wasn't “Brady Bunch White”

Me: Did you see a noticeable change in me when i was in the mans-school? How?

Mom: Yes. You became withdrawn, weirdly sad and quiet, and dark. You became more pessimistic, and sort of stopped caring about stuff that you normally cared about, adapting to the no-caring mannerism of the rest of the world. 

Me: Did you see a change in my overall personality from before I ever went to a public high school, to now, after I got out of one?

Mom: I did. Before you went, you were constantly dismissive of all of the blessings you had here, of the people that loved you, of the knowledge you already had, and the work that we all did. You were dreaming constantly of what was waiting for you in the “mans-school”, and the funny thing was, you didn't see the man's-school aspect of going to college, no, you were only fixated on going to High-School. 

Me: Thanks. 




“(colonial education) annihilate(s) a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves.”, quote by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Kenyan writer, from page 157 of Poverty Scholarship 101.  


Those were words that as I read them, felt like they were springing from my head when I was in the man's-school. I was beginning to lose every lesson i learned at Decolonize, lessons that even I knew would help me later on in life, and replacing them with the monotonous droning of general education. I stopped reading books like Assata, and Always Running, and started reading vaguely revolutionary books that didn't begin to touch on current struggles but instead talked about the civil rights movement about 50 times.


I realized now that at that time, I was beginning to be ok with my loss of intense, activist studies and sink in to the everyday mud of hearing the teachers drone on about things I know won't help me help the world. This isn't criticism to any of the teachers. Some of them actually cared about the education that they were providing. Some of them, in their way, wanted me to succeed and really learn what they had to offer. I also saw that most of them would be interested in the idea of Deecolonize Academy, and Homefulness, because of the education it provides and the care for its students. 


I had a little bit more than a vague idea of what the “cult of separation” was before I went to the mans-school. I believed it was spoiled, rich white kids leaving their hometown to go to a far off college to try as hard as they could to forget about everything that made them who they were. To forget about their parents, who constantly cared for them enough so they could have the educational prowess to be able to go to that college, and their lives before while going to a college and seeing a bright future ahead of them.  


What I ended up figuring out is that I was perpetrating the cult of separation by going to that school. What I didn't realize until later is that the cult of separation is a process, not just done by rich kids going to college, but by almost every young person and their parents influenced by capitalism. The idea behind the separation nation is media constantly telling you you need to leave the house as soon as you are 18, strike out on your own and find your way, and that sounds all fun and good except for the fact that you are ignoring your parents and the people who raised you. 


Just like Ngugi wa Thiong'o said, being in those formal institutions makes you believe that any education and informal, spiritual and/or personal learning is inconsequential. It made me believe in the security of the learning system, and take comfort in the fact that my entire education was being planned out by a big system that cranks out tests, and results, so nothing personal is involved in the process. There is a countrywide curriculum that is only slightly altered by the teachers, and every bit of knowledge that is taught is expected to be learned at the same pace as everyone else you are left in the dust.


I had a friend named Chris in the mans-school who was 17, in my grade and had given up on learning. After years and years of not being given a reason to care about his education, he started to think sensibly about what his life was going to look like from here on out. He needed to get a job that paid, and support himself and his family. This thinking was the creation of years and years of the educational system leaving him behind. 


What I realized as I thought about leaving public school once and for all is that people like Chris are all over the U.S, in every school, and just like him, will be stuck in low-wage jobs like fast-food restaurants because they are barely able to read and write. This is the result of the school system passing them every year without truly being interested in their skill level, and at the end of the line they are spit out to fend for themselves. The system thrives off of kids like my friend Chris, and actually loses money off of the people who succeed. This is a never-ending chain that makes most of the United States’s total profit, the school to work or prison pipeline. 


I bought into that pipeline, if only for a bit, because of my shame of not fitting in, because of my grass-is always greener complex and caused my mother unnecessary stress. I strived once again for the false sense of security and perfection that my previous experience with public school had left me with. I went in there, believing that once again, i would be the popular class clown but ended up being that sad white kid with crutches. I went in to the behemoth system not realizing that my being in Deecolonize Academy has irreversibly changed me into a person that could no longer fit in. And for that, every single day I am grateful.  


It is said that for every perfect system to work, there has to be a few failures. That is true. However, The “perfect system” of the U.S education system is perfect in its goal to not have everyone succeed, and its failures are the people who are able to break free of that system entirely. I was one of those failures. Because of the teachings of Deecolonize Academy, of my mother, and the support of my community, I failed to fit in the system. In every way, I failed to be colonized, and decided to rejoin the revolutionary school known as Deecolonize Academy.







Page 157 “Colonial Education” 


  • Lisa “Tiny” Gray Garcia, Co-Founder of Poor Magazine and authors Mother.


  • Poor Magazine: #4 “Mothers Issue” Editors Statement, Page 14 “Detained” story by Challa Tabeson


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