One fine morning in third grade, I awoke in a very good mood. As a pretentious eight-year-old addicted to public broadcasting, I planned to spend the day, as sometimes I would, speaking in an English accent. Befuddling classmates and fooling strangers as to my origin, I was just quirky me expressing my happiness. Halfway through that morning, my mood would get even better.
We had times when we were allowed to wander the classroom in order to investigate different “learning stations.” It was a good idea in theory, but I dreaded the “listening” station. It consisted of a record player with eight bulky headphone sets slinking from it like an octopus. The rule was that the first child to arrive at the listening station could pick the record. We had a collection of perhaps a couple dozen records, but you’d never know it from the class’s listening habits. Every time, I arrived late, and every time the first arrival had pulled out the “101 Dalmatians” record. Not only that, but every time they selected the same track–the “K9 Krunchies” dog food commercial. They would play the track to the end, lift the needle, and play it again. It drove me absolutely mad to hear that inanity over and over. And there was no convincing my classmates to play anything else, even from the same record.
But this time would be different. Finally, I was the one to reach the listening station first. And this meant…a different record! This time I could play anything I wanted–anything other than those simpering puppies and their corny commercial! So I pulled out a different record, some sad Russian tale of a little boy who had to eat lentils all the time, and placed it on the turntable. “No, we don’t want that!” cried out the other children. “Play something else! Play ’101 Dalmatians’!”
“But I’m the first one here,” I retorted in my approximation of British schoolboy English, “that means I get to pick the record.”
Quite the brouhaha ensued, enough to bring the teacher over. “What’s the matter?”
“Mrs. Benson, he won’t let us play the record we all want!”
“But I was the first one here, that means that I get to pick out the record, that’s the rules.”
“But,” Mrs. Benson replied, “no one else wants to listen to the record you chose, and we need to pick what’s best for everybody.”
Angry and broken-hearted, I sat back as the poor little Russian boy gave way to that damn dog food commercial.
My voice was noticeably Midwestern the rest of the day.
There was a lot for that eight-year-old boy to absorb that day. “The rules” are fluid and unpredictable, and cannot be called upon to determine order. “The one in charge” can be put down with a revolt. And most importantly, the rights of the minority must cede to the caprice of the majority–individuality must yield to mob rule.