A Conversation in the Check-out Line

Last weekend, I was at the local HEB … the nice new one on Bulverde Road and 1604, the one newly-built and opened last spring to serve a rapidly expanding population along that crossroads. When I bought the home that I live in now and probably forever, there was nothing much out that way but a gas station and a large plant nursery. Now – all kinds of commercial enterprises. We like that particular HEB, by the way. It’s a longer drive to get to, then the one nearer the neighborhood, which we term “the podunk HEB.” One is better for a slightly more upscale and very much wider collection of groceries and household stuff, the other is more convenient, just around the corner, and where we are more likely to encounter neighbors.
At any rate, I was in the check-out line; an early Sunday afternoon, with all my purchases laid out on the belt, and a very much younger woman with a toddler in the seat of her cart, and a pretty full basket of comestibles in the basket, next in line after me. The toddler; a boy, about a year old, and with a short haircut of his dark hair. She was about mid-twenties and Hispanic, with purple-dyed hair. She reached up to the top row of the rack where impulse purchases are arrayed, books and magazines mostly, in a last attempt to get shoppers to make that one last purchase and picked out a small book. She laid it down on the belt, and said to me,
“I can’t resist books.”

The book in question was a pre-school math primmer, with big pictures and thick cardboard pages.
“Looks like that one is more for the kidlet than for you,” I said, forbearing to mention that I also couldn’t resist books either and she grinned.
“Books for him to learn,” she said, and when I voiced my serious approval of that concept, we began to talk. It was one of those random conversations that happen – in the south, and in Texas. Not so much in other places. My daughter says that a random, friendly conversation between total strangers stuck in a line someplace doesn’t happen in California anymore, and some of the other Chicagoboyz contributors agreed, when we last met face to face several years ago at a meet-up in Austin. The person ahead of me in line had a full cart, so we had a wait of some minutes.
“If he can read by the time he hits first grade,” I said, “You’re ahead of the game,” and she agreed.
“He might be pretty bored in a regular classroom, though,” I added. She agreed, and ventured that she was considering home-schooling the toddler, and his three-year-old brother. She worked, but at a job that she did at home, so it was eminently doable. I agreed vehemently. There is enough to worry about in a lot of schools, even the better public and private schools: what with unpunished class disruption by unruly students who don’t want to be there, crashing academic standards, racially-based violence, stigmatizing boys, gaslighting those descended from more or less white Europeans, bullying of every sort (including on social media), and what seems to be a concerted effort to brainwash students with regard to global warming, social justice, and sexual orientation. Education of our young in public primary and secondary schools over the last few years seems to be a pretty dire and pointless experience for most kids. Most of them don’t seem to emerge from the public school experience with what earlier generations would have recognized as an education.
“The thing is,” I said, when the line finally advanced. “Even if it’s a good school, and they’re really learning – there is only so much individual attention that a teacher can pay, when it has to be split up between thirty kids over six or seven or eight hours a day. Better that your kids have your complete attention for two or three hours at least. My daughter kept up with her classes, with two hours a day spent on lessons, once when we were home on leave and TDY for almost two months during the school year.”
I reached the cashier at this point, who began ringing up my purchases. Before I left, I wished the young woman with the purple-dyed hair the very best with home-schooling her little boys.
“They’re too precious, and education is too darned important to be left to chance and the mercy of public schools.”
A meditation on the future of our higher educational system here, from Quillette. Discuss as you wish.

9 thoughts on “A Conversation in the Check-out Line”

  1. Would prove very informative to meet this woman and son some years down the road and learn whether she remembered the conversation. I suspect you will, especially as you witness the unfolding of vindication of your evaluations.

    I have long thought that random conversations in grocery lines (and similar situations) have more power to influence thinking than intense televised debates do.

    I can only imagine the intense longing when she said, “I can’t resist books.” But rather than sidetrack on yourself, you focused attention on what she cared for. Your heart for the woman and particularly her concern for her son made that conversation what it was. Good lesson for me.

  2. Texas is a great state for homeschooling, and the Texas Home School Coalition is a great resource. https://thsc.org/

    there is so much power in reading often to children from birth. i knew a first grade teacher who called it “Lap Time” … and the more lap time littles get with parents reading books to them, the greater their ability to learn so many things.

  3. It was one of those random conversations that happen – in the south, and in Texas. Not so much in other places. My daughter says that a random, friendly conversation between total strangers stuck in a line someplace doesn’t happen in California anymore…

    I never seem to have a problem striking up a conversations in CA – have had quite a few interesting ones, and then occasionally, are the times you never wished you opened your mouth ;-)

    I have often thought how California public schools have gone from the best to among the worst (depending on district of course).

    Near my house is a charter school. It opened in 1959 as a public school and I attended 6th grade there (Mr. Groom).

    A few years ago it became a charter school. I think these days, if I had children here, they would go either to a charter school or private school (if I could afford it).

    I blame both the teacher’s union (nearly impossible to fire a public school teacher now unless they have molested students), and the huge educational bureaucracy.

    My first grade teacher in Sherman Oaks, Mrs Clarke, was a pioneer in teaching children to read phonically.

  4. “in Texas”
    It may depend on who is doing the talking. My wife seems to have little trouble starting up random friendly conversations here in Wisconsin (near Madison).

  5. Like James, my wife chats up anybody within ear shot. Although, half of the time the people have this look on their face like, “we’re allowed to talk with other customers around here?!”

    When I go into a grocery store, on the other hand, I am in hunter mode. It must be a primal part of the male brain that clicks on after coming in contact with a foraging environment. I don’t like any deviations from the mission, and I figure there will be plenty of opportunities for socializing just as soon as the raid is over and we’re out of hostile territory.

  6. A high % of people around here are on their phones while in the checkout line, and even while the checkout person is ringing up their purchases. Not nice.

  7. I think these days, if I had children here, they would go either to a charter school or private school (if I could afford it).

    I sent my younger kids to a private school in San Juan Capistrano that was filled with doctors’ kids. Long story but it was founded by a retired Anglican priest and schoolmaster. The tuition now is $25,000 per year per kid. I would love to send my grandkids there but cannot afford it.

    Fortunately, the two younger are in a charter school that they like a lot.

    The Catholic high school that my two younger daughters attended now has a serious drug problem , I am told.

    I am also told that California ism planning to outlaw online college.

    The goal of the legislative package, bill sponsors say, is to make colleges put student success before profit — and to ensure that fewer students are saddled with debt and low-paying jobs. …

    State law requires that all private institutions with a physical presence in the state must apply for approval to operate with the bureau, unless they meet specific criteria for an exemption, such as accreditation from a regional accreditor, said Matt Woodcheke, a spokesman for the bureau.

    According to an analysis by lawyers at CooleyED, the law could apply to out-of-state distance education providers that enroll California residents.

    We have talked with my son about trying to get his daughter into U of A as a resident. That may not be easy,

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