Education at fault

by: Wise Kit | Story In Progress | Last updated Jan 18, 2024

Chapter 3
Chapter 2; An unusual school

Chapter Description: Nicholas finally start learn what the institution is about.

We all kept complaining for a few minutes. It wasn’t really a discussion, more like a cacophony. I won’t repeat what was said during these few minutes, as it can easily be imagined. I can’t speak for others, but the clothing wasn’t what concerned me the most. Since the day of the court, I kept hearing about « re-education ». Many of the moments I had with the psychiatrists and psychologists were actually very close to infantilization. Is that what was about to happen? Would we be forced to be ‘’kids’’? It was starting to look like that. Sure, I could already think of worse fates, but it was still quite degrading. 

I must have been lost in my thoughts for about 20 minutes because the other inmates started to actually get undressed and put on their pajamas. I swallowed my pride and decided to proceed, realizing it may not be the best time to be defiant. I needed more information before. If it wasn’t for my lawyer, I would probably have already refused to comply. The day before the bus took me to my doom, just before I went to a party with my friends, my lawyer stopped by my home, looking nervous. He wasn’t wearing a suit like usual, he was actually dressed quite casually, with a graphic shirt and jeans. 

« I’m not here on official business. In fact, I’m not supposed to be here at all. But I have to warn you.

- Warn me? Will you finally tell me what’s going on?

- I can’t. The only thing I can say is…

- What do you mean you can’t? You’re already here, we’re not being watched, just spill it!

- I can’t cause I don’t know enough details. All I know is that whatever will happen to you, it can get much, much worse, and I know no legal way to stop them. You may feel like you’ll understand what’s going on, but you must know that you won’t see the worst of it before it’s too late. Please, whatever you need to do, just comply. I’ve seen many people come back from there and… every single one of them changed. The most rebellious one definitely went through the worst of it.

- Please, you must be able to tell me more!

- Just… accept the process.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, just next to my pantry, which I didn’t dare to open. I already felt quite humiliated by my predicament, but seeing myself dressed like a child made it worse. Despite having a beard and mature traits, I somehow looked much younger than I was. The fact that the pajama was actually quite comfortable, definitely good quality, made me feel even more childish.

Lights went out soon after that, but it wasn’t really necessary. All four of us were silent, lost in our thoughts. I sat on the bed for a few hours, refusing to get under the blankets, as a small way to defy my predicament. Of course, it didn’t change anything other than I was getting cold at some point. Since they forced us to wear pajamas, it made sense for the room to be a bit more on the cold side. I eventually realized that making myself feel cold was just foolish so I slipped under the childish blankets. At least, it was mostly dark, so I couldn’t see the large cartoony prints. The only source of light was the glowing star on the ceiling. I heard many stories about the first night in prison, all sadder than the other, but I was willing to bet very few could compare to mine. Other than my freedom being gone, nothing else was like I imagined. 

I was finally here. The room was just a regular classroom, with no artifice, but it was where my future would be determined. My director and all my favorite teachers were on the jury, as promised. All of them were aware of the stupid amount of work I’ve put through this project, which is to be expected in higher studies, but rare are the people like me who never asked for a single time extension. After weeks of testing my arguments, born from years of research, I was more than ready. So ready that I wasn’t even anxious when I was called out to defend my argument. As expected, I took around twenty minutes to present my main subject, since not everyone was as familiar as my thesis director. As we finally reached the questions round, I was sure of my success. Until I heard the first question.

« It’s been a big day for you! We are all so proud! Do you need to take a nap before we resume? »

Suddenly, the desk in front of the jury swapped colors, from an old chestnut brown to a pastel blue. Next to me, a fox plushie was smiling, raising a paw towards me. 

« It’s ok, you can go rest. The grown-ups will be here when you’re ready 

-         I don’t have any change of clothes to sleep in, I said.

-         Then why are you already in your pajamas? »

I was definitely wearing my dark suit when I got to my hearing, but my director was right. I was wearing my cozy pajamas with paw prints, so why shouldn’t I take this opportunity to rest? I gave my hand to the fox paw, letting them guide me to my bed, which turned out to be quite far. We had to take a bus that drove us from the fifth floor to a classroom on the ground floor, which had nothing in it but a bed. During the duration of the drive, the melodious sound of a school bell kept ringing, louder and louder…

I finally opened my eyes when the bell sound got too loud. The night felt very short, despite being the longest night of my life. I had quite a hard time getting to sleep, and it wasn’t because of the other inmates, who eventually started talking. I even hopped in a few conversations, but I was the most silent. Despite that, I heard enough snoring to know that I barely got any sleep compared to most. The melodious bell made me feel like I was back in elementary school, which was probably the point. The light was turned on, but not at full brightness, so it wasn’t aggressive to the eye. Nothing happened for a good ten minutes tho, so we started talking. Being dressed like a child made everyone uncomfortable, as I realized we were all avoiding the mirrors. Seeing someone in ridiculous garments is still better than seeing yourself in the same situation.

« Yeah, fuck all of this shit, said the prisoner closest to me as a way to greet me, wearing green pajamas with dinosaur and « RAWR » prints.  

- Fuck this indeed… »

I could see his desire to talk more, but I couldn’t oblige. He didn’t insist more, but I could notice some understanding by the way he acted. The two other inmates barely had a longer conversation. I think everyone was affected by of lack of sleep and still on high alert, considering how little we knew about this place. After a few minutes of awkward silence, the door finally opened. A lady, looking slightly older than myself, entered the room. She was dressed casually yet professionally, with a pale blouse and fitted leggings. She gave me the vibes of a daycare educator, which wasn’t a good thing considering the situation.

« Hello everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful night of sleep and I also hope you liked the cuddly friend that was left with you! Please grab them gently and follow me to the common area! »

She was definitely speaking like we were small kids. I knew I was supposed to feel insulted by this, but I was more embarrassed than angry for some reason.

« Can we have fucking normal clothes before, said the dino pajamas guy.

- Your clothes are perfectly normal for someone in your grade. You will keep your pajamas on until breakfast is done and that applies to every day. Also, swearing is not allowed for the whole duration of your reeducation. I will let it slide for now since you haven’t gone through orientation yet but expect punishment if you don’t fix your language.

- Yeah, whatever. »

It was obvious that he had more to say, but he was clever enough to just shut it and endure for now. He decided to take the lead and started to walk through the door.

« You’re forgetting someone!

- What? Ain’t we supposed to follow you? »

He looked towards us, confused. I didn’t understand what the issue was until a prisoner in blue pajamas was similar to mine, but with star prints, pointed to his lion plushie. 

« Ok that’s really dumb », I said, before grabbing my fox.

- What about shoes, asked the one who remained silent, which was a good point. We had to give up all our clothes, including any socks and shoes.

We were all barefoot, which made sense at night and was ok on the pastel carpet we were standing on but would suck on the cold ceramic floor. 

« You should have a pair of slippers under your beds or at least one pair of socks in your nightstand. »

That’s when I noticed a pair of fuzzy foxes' heads peaking from under my bed, matching with my plush. I didn’t even bother grabbing them and opened the nightstand. There was only one pair of socks in it, making the whole furniture seem kinda pointless. The socks were colorful and covered in the same prints as my pajamas. I was already getting annoyed with the apparent obsession with making everything match. It made the whole outfit feel even more childish in my opinion. Despite that, I was luckier than the one who actually asked the question. His nightstand was empty, which he complained about, forcing him to wear a pair of fuzzy puppy slippers, matching with his plushie and mostly white pajamas decorated with prints of happy puppies.

The dino guy, who was still standing in front of the lady, looking more and more annoyed, went back to his bed to put on a green pair of socks and grabbed the happy-looking dinosaur plush, ironically matching his outfit, before taking back his position. It was quite a surreal situation. Four men, dressed like small children, holding toys and following a perfectly normal woman. The colorful hallway seemed so out of place the day before felt quite appropriate at this moment. It only took about two minutes to reach the end, but during this short time frame, pretty much every other door, which were other bedrooms, opened. Every prisoner was wearing some kind of pajamas, but most of them weren’t as colorful as ours. I would even say that some pajamas looked like something a pre-teen would wear, which I was a bit jealous about. Despite that, every single one was holding a plush toy. 

About thirty inmates entered a big room that looked like a school cafeteria. I couldn’t see Rick, but some people were actually behind me so I wasn’t too worried for now. Still, I liked the guy and was worried about his fate. The cafeteria wasn’t as colorful as the rooms I’ve seen so far, it was actually mostly white bricks, but some of it was decorated with simple drawings, like a sun and clouds, or crayons and school supplies. The whole thing gave up an elementary school ambiance.

The four of us were brought up to a table and told to sit there. The seats were simple benches, but I was personally ok with that; I pictured myself sitting on the floor, looking up at the institution workers, feeling like an actual six-year-old. As I sat down, still awkwardly holding the damn plushie, I realized that we were not sat down at random. Two large numbers, one red, and one blue, were carved in the middle of each table I could see. 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6. The higher the number, the less childish the outfit seemed to be, generally. I guessed the table behind our group would have a « K » carved on it. I was about to verify, but my attention was caught by the group of institution workers gathering on the other side. A man, younger than myself, dressed in a full business outfit, took a step towards us. Despite his young appearance, everything about him screamed authority. His piercing blue eyes gave me the impression he was staring at everyone simultaneously. His posture was perfectly straight, yet relaxed, showing strong self-confidence.

« May I have your attention »

All the room went instantly silent, which was quite a feat, considering it contained thirty confused and humiliated prisoners. Most of us seemed to be male, but there were a few women. Still, they weren’t dressed more feminine than any of us. In fact, I could swear I saw a man wearing something pink when I came into the room.

« Welcome to the New Reform Institute (what a lame name, I thought) You must have a lot of questions. After I give you more information, I will give you permission to ask for any clarifications. You won’t be penalized for it. »

Nobody was saying a thing. Everyone was focused, without any exception.

« During your psychological evaluation, you probably heard my team mention the term Reeducation. This is what your journey here will be all about. Over the last years, we conducted research about rehabilitation and came to an interesting conclusion; every single successfully rehabilitated inmate shared a specific trait; the reeducation you’re about to go through will help you reach that trait. To improve the rate of success, I can’t be more specific about this topic. I can let you know that our first release happened a year ago, with a successful rehabilitation rate of more than 92%. After this discussion, you will meet the rest of the population, some of them being on this successful path. You will be more than welcome to talk with them during recreation time.

What is the purpose of the reeducation? Our methods are based on the idea that your childhood was flawed. The basic is, that through rigorous supervision, controlled activities managed by a specialized team of caregivers, and an appropriate environment, you will reach a state of mind similar to the one of a child, allowing you the unique opportunities to fix behavioral issues and understand the source of your faulty socialization. »

As a scholar myself, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Even tho most of the information was missing, I could already see how… invalid that argumentation was. The idea of exploring childhood to diagnose a behavioral problem made sense, but not this way. Even the idea of being in touch with our inner child through regression, under the supervision of a therapist, was in my eyes something completely valid. I didn’t understand it, but wouldn’t judge anyone healing themselves through it, since it’s generally done in a private and safe space. And with consent. This wasn’t what was happening here.

« You were all assigned a grade upon arrival, mostly based on your psychological evaluation. The building we are currently in is the elementary school building. The grade you received is the grade you will enter in, but not only that. It represents the age you are considered as, between 5 and 11. »

Great. So I was seven years old for them apparently.

« This age will determine most of your activities, your wardrobe, obligations, and privileges. Over the next few days, you will learn to act like your assigned age. You will feel humiliation and frustration, but it’s part of the process. There’s no way around it. Be compliant and you will be rewarded with more privileges and grade promotions. Be rebellious and you will be disciplined. The caregivers (again, what bullshit) are here to accompany you through the process, they are not here to make you miserable. 

Just like a regular school, you will have classes from Monday to Friday, twice a day. At breaks and after class, you will share recreation time with the other grades, while respecting the restrictions caused by your age. Weekends will be often occupied by special activities. If not, it will be mostly free playtime. The caregivers and teachers will tell you more about that.

To complete your reeducation, you must be promoted to high school, which happens in another building. Only after completing grade 10, you will be considered rehabilitated. If that happens before your minimum sentence, you will still be released. Before I let you ask your questions and let the caregivers take over, I have two last points: you probably were surprised to be given a plush yesterday. For the duration of your stay in elementary, you are required to bring them everywhere with you. Treat them as your friends. Give them a name. It might sound silly to you, but it’s an important part of the process. Your plush will accompany you even in high school, but you will not be required to bring them everywhere, even if many do it. Last but not least, it’s not only your age that has been… modified. The concept of gender is irrelevant here. We know it’s a controversial topic, but here at the New Reform Institute, we believe all children have the right to a gender-neutral education. By the end of high school, you will all be welcome to identify yourself as you desire, but for now, you’re all considered agender. Activities and clothing do consider this. Questions? 

- What the fuck do you mean? yelled someone in the front row. I’m a fucking man!

- You will be welcome to identify as such after reeducation. For now, you are genderless and will wear the clothes you are provided. »

I was surprised about the lack of reprimand for the language, but it’s true that we were given permission to speak freely. That fact was actually terrifying. It meant that no matter the complaints, we had no power over our fates…

« What about visits? Can we … hum … dress normally from them? »

As an ironic way to confirm the implication of the last question, the man asking about the visits was wearing a pajama with light shades of pink and frills instead of cuffs. It was still much less childish than mine, but definitely feminine.

« Visits will be allowed on weekends two weeks from now, where you will be dressed in a neutral fashion for the duration of it. Speaking about any details surrounding your reeducation is prohibited and will result in … heavy restrictions. It will also remove your rights to be visited permanently. »

I wasn’t surprised by this reply. Despite my lawyer saying it was legal, he didn’t know the details of the program for a reason. I doubt the institution wanted to fight in court. It was good to know about this weakness. For sure, I would wait to know more about the nature of the punishments, but I was already planning on a way to leak information. I still hoped for my friends to find less dangerous measures to get me out.

« What happens if someone in my … grade gets disciplined? »

The voice was familiar. I finally looked at the table behind me to witness Rick, sitting with a ‘’caregiver’’… and was shocked by his outfit. The long-sleeved shirt was mostly red, with large prints of puppy characters from what I consider a preschool cartoon playing with toys. The sleeves a light blue, like the pants, and covered in smaller prints of the same characters. As if more colors and contrasts were necessary, the cuffs of both the shirt and pants were a bright orange, almost lost in the ridiculous slippers in the shape of a paw. As Rick noticed me and moved a bit, I could read the childish « Pups to the rescue » sentence in the same shade of bright orange under the larger print. The realistic cat plushie he was holding almost felt out of place next to the ridiculously infantile garments. 

The question only made sense by considering his degrading kindergartener status. I already figured being demoted to a lower grade was a possibility, but I don’t see how he could get worse than Rick’s fate.

« It’s true that your grade is the least favorable in elementary, but you have many privileges that can be removed, other than the temporary disciplinary measures you might experiment with. A portion of our team is dedicated to the removal of said privileges. All you need to know is that we have more buildings than this school and high school. »

Well, that was grim. I still felt sorry for Rick, but I was mostly concerned by these privileges’ removal. It was vague, too vague, which I was sure was perfectly intended.

None of the other questions were relevant to me. Some were just plain stupid, like «If it’s a school, will we have exams? » or stuff about the food and schedules. Soon, the young and charismatic man stepped back, letting the caregivers take over and head towards the table. 

« You must be hungry now! said our caregiver. As first and second-graders, you don’t need to do anything but wait. The older kids will bring you breakfast and will clean. »

That’s how we got our first taste of grade difference. It might not seem as much, but for me, it was quite revealing. Let me explain. Third and fourth graders had the responsibility to bring the food to the table under the fifth and sixth graders' supervision, while these last ones had to actually prepare the plates, still cooked by workers, and wash the dishes. The older the inmates were considered, the more obligations they had but it came with more autonomy and less infantilization. It meant that the younger inmates, like myself and Rick, would be more ridiculed, more humiliated, as a price to pay for less responsibility. Quite a hefty price if you ask me. I would soon realize how impactful these distinctions were. Even if recreation time was shared between grades, ‘’older kids’’ would rarely interact with the younger ones as a way to protect their status. The reeducation process was presented as fair about the grade promotions as long as we would comply, but the reality was … promotions are unlikely for lower grades. Less responsibility meant less chance to prove compliance and more chance to actually be monitored since we were meant to act like our ‘’age’’. Trying to interact with higher grades would mean more difficulty in showing compliance and legitimation of the infantilization over the simple fact that older kids would limit their interactions with the youngest. Just like real kids, socializing with other age groups would be limited. 

« Tomorrow, you will start school, but today, you will have the whole day to meet your friends. The other first and second graders who are already attending this school will join you for breakfast »

This was probably the only question I almost asked. I was wondering where the other inmates were and if they were all in other buildings. The good news about it is that expected more unfiltered information from them than the caregivers.

« After breakfast, you will head back to your room to change. An outfit should be ready on your bed, but by the end of the day, your pantries will be filled. You will also find weekly schedules in your room. After getting changed, you will head to the recreation area. Today will be inside, but you will have plenty of time to play outside soon enough! »

I already had enough of the condescending attitude, but I knew I would need to get used to it. It was at that time that the doors of the cafeteria opened, letting in the other inmates. For some reason, I expected them to be dressed normally, but they were all wearing some sort of pajamas and holding a damn plushie. It was a relief to see at least two other inmates join Rick, dressed as colorful. In total, about forty inmates joined the room, five of them sitting at our table. I wanted to discuss this with them, but we were rapidly interrupted by ‘’older’’ inmates bringing plates of food. It was some fruits cut into small pieces, buttered toast, and yogurt, all served on colorful plates. We were asked what we would like on the toast between fruit jams and peanut butter, amongst other things. I naively expected to be given a jar or small cup with a spreading knife, but it turned out I was considered too young for it and the fourth grader had to prepare it for me. It was even more humiliating than if it was done by a caregiver since it was a representation of the difference between grades. 

At least, the food was alright. It would have been better with regular cutlery, but the small plastic forks and spoons had to do. Sitting in front of me was an inmate named Sarah, dressed in a very similar pajamas to mine, with planets instead of paws for the prints. 

« So, I bet your first day in prison is exactly as expected, she jokingly said, as a way to break the awkward silence. »

I actually appreciated the initiative a lot. I laughed and replied with a sarcastic «absolutely». We talked for a minute about ourselves, exchanging names and former jobs. Dino pajamas guy, who I will now refer to as John, hopped in the conversation. It was actually nice. Sarah talked about her experience as an engineer, John talked about his dream to build a home isolated in the woods, and I talked about my scholarship. It was nice. Almost normal. But John had to break it.

« Hum… what are the f… what are the classes like?

- Well, don’t expect to actually learn anything. It’s mostly boring topics and ways to force us to act as kids. »

I looked at the caregiver monitoring us, worried. 

« No need to worry about the caregivers. Unless I go too far, it’s the one day we can speak our minds. Classes are not pleasant, but at least they get predictable. You’ll see on the schedule, it’s the same crap every week. 

- What do you mean by the same crap?

- Well, the new term will start tomorrow, so I don’t know the classes yet. I can say last spring I had a class every Friday about music. We had to write songs about toys or other stupid childish stuff, create dances and other degrading bullcrap. I hated this one. I still hate the weekends more cause I never knew what to expect.

- Yeah, sounds like classes will be bullcrap. Nice way to put it. So you’ve been here since spring?

- Nah, I was in just before September, so it’s been officially a year since a few days.

- So you started in first grade or kindergarten, right? How much time it took to go higher?

- No, I started as a fifth-year. »

John stopped talking, realizing he might have gotten too personal. I decided to hop in.

« What happens on the weekends?

- Sometimes nothing, just free recreation, but not as free as today. You still are expected to occupy yourself like a child. So yeah, toys, pointless games, and the like. But often, it’s like themed activities with other grades and these are unbearable. It’s the time when I saw the most punishments. »

I wished she had more time to elaborate, but we were cut by the caregiver. It was apparently time to go back to our room. The plates had already been picked up by fifth and sixth graders a few minutes ago, so we simply had to get up and leave the cafeteria. Sarah promised to talk more like me and John thanked her.



End Chapter 3

Education at fault

by: Wise Kit | Story In Progress | Last updated Jan 18, 2024


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Baby Sofia · Feb 25, 2024

I've had this open in a tab and just now had the time to go through and read what you have so far. This is a really interesting start! A few odd formatting punctuation marks, though? "Quotations" for spoken dialog is a more standard way to write. I hope you'll continue this, and if you do, look at Grammarly. It helps make it easier to read what you write.

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Love the concept

Sebtomato · Feb 25, 2024

Mysterious hints about what is to follow, well done. And always like a story with pajamas!

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