First published in Bartleby Snopes, in 2016.
On Monday, our teacher decided, because the principal decided because the state decided, to remove all desks from the classroom and drill through the floor and plant an olive tree beneath the overhead projector. We threw the chairs out the windows, which our teacher said the principal said the state said would free us from the restrictions of old schooling processes and allow us to better focus on the project at hand: planting the olive tree.
But we couldn’t plant the olive tree. It was too dangerous for us to handle the equipment, and someone’s parents might sue the school; four big men came in—they were muscular and toned like Mexicans, except we didn’t hire Mexicans anymore because they were illegals—and planted the tree in the center of the room below the overhead projector. The tree was only a sapling, and when the big men finished, dirt was everywhere on the floor, and our teacher said the principal said the state said we had to push the dirt into a pile around the trunk in the shape of a female breast. This was to dissuade the boys from giggling at future mentions of female anatomy. Then our teacher projected onto the wall an image of a naked female, and the boys giggled. The breast pile of dirt was good, and our teacher gave us all outstanding marks because the principal told her to give us all outstanding marks because the state . . . .
Two weeks later the tree died. Our teacher said we watered it too often, and the principal came and said the breast-shaped pile of dirt was too flat for the tree to blossom, but our teacher said it was the perfect shaped breast-shaped pile of dirt, and she projected the image of the naked female on the wall—the boys didn’t giggle this time—and the principal nodded that the female’s breasts were equal to the dirt. But the following day the principal told our teacher that the state told him that we couldn’t show naked females on the wall anymore. We giggled, and chopped down the tree, except we didn’t chop it down because the tools were too dangerous, and three of the four big men returned to cut the tree to a stump. The fourth man was honest, and we didn’t want him to tell the state that the tree-growing had failed. Our homework was to find a replacement tree before exams.
Nobody found a replacement tree, but from the breast sprouted a sapling, which we called the nipple. The sapling was white and not an olive tree, but we were all happy anyway since we would keep our outstanding marks, and that meant passing to the next level, which was to raise guinea pigs. The classroom two floors up had already raised two guinea pigs to full size and placed them into a container to produce offspring. This was after five failed guinea pigs, all of which didn’t want to continue living under such conditions and jumped out the window and plopped onto the steamy blacktop parking lot. Once the two successful guinea pigs had offspring, the state would grant us enough money to build better lights for our football field.
They said it was all for the betterment of our education, as we had been falling behind the Finns on our math subject exams. Damn Finns always outscored us, and our teacher said the principal said the state decided to run things as the Finns did. They didn’t sit in desks the way we used to; they went in the woods and collected flowers and played tag. But safety regulations forbade us from running through the woods and picking flowers (if anyone tripped, parents would sue the state, and the state didn’t want any more lawsuits). We planted trees instead, which was close enough to running around them.
The Finns outscored us again. Our teacher said the principal said the state didn’t understand why, because we had planted a tree, shaped the dirt in the form of a breast, and stopped boys from giggling at the female body. The state had to do something to excuse losing to the Finns, so they fired our principal, but that wasn’t allowed, and they fired our teacher instead. Nobody thought to hire a replacement, and we projected the naked female on the wall because we all wanted to know what her funny parts did. The boys asked the girls, but the girls didn’t know, so we all looked at the little white sapling that grew out of the stump that formed the nipple of the breast-shaped pile of dirt and danced until the state hired a replacement who was trained in the manners of the Finns.
We asked the replacement about the female projection. She said it was her and took off her clothes to prove it. She asked us if we wanted to know about the male body, but we said no, and she nodded, but told us we had to anyway because the principal said the state said it was best to learn naked. Apparently the Finns were also more sexually open than us, and we had to get ahead somehow.
The sapling didn’t grow, but didn’t die either, and we lost to the Finns again. One boy asked the replacement why we lost again, and she said because the Finns get to run in the woods.
The boy said so why can’t we go in the woods?
The replacement said it was because the county regulations said it wasn’t safe to go in the woods.
But it would help us beat the Finns, the boy said, and we agreed. We begged her to let us go in the woods.
She said it was fine with her, but we couldn’t tell our parents if we tripped.
Our clothes we left in the lockers, and we went into the woods behind the school. The ground was combed and soft, and we ran fast and far. The replacement shouted for us to stay near, because there was wildlife in these woods, but we were already gone—we had to run farther than the Finns after all. We stayed in the woods until dark and returned to the replacement, who returned us to the classroom, where two policemen were waiting. They said it wasn’t right to be out in the woods naked like that all day, and that we all had to stay inside and feed our sapling.
The replacement was fired, but the state didn’t issue another, and since nobody wanted to be a teacher or a replacement anymore, the principal came to our class and said, as we weren’t going to beat the Finns anyway, we might as well enjoy ourselves while we still had the chance. They passed out blankets and closed the blinds and left us alone in the room to make love. At first the boys were shy—we never learned about the male body—then one girl found a projection of a naked male, and that made everything better. We all made love around the sapling on the breast-shaped pile of dirt.
This time we beat the Finns.