I can remember sitting at a desk in junior high school, shocked to see that someone had drawn a crude picture with an equally crusty suggestion below it. Not because I was oblivious to such things. On the contrary. My own sense of what was dirty and clean was being informed on a nearly constant basis in those years by George Carlin, Monty Python and Lenny Bruce. It might have been that there was no cleverness designed into the scrawl, no sense of design. I could have appreciated it from an aesthetic point of view, but it was just angry scribbling. This was something that had not been present in my elementary school. It did not occur to us that you would ever deface the desks in any way. We had heard stories and seen cartoons depicting such acts of willful disobedience, but it did not make sense in our world. If something like that was happening at our school, it would most certainly have ended with the expulsion of the vandal after a public shaming.
I don't work at that school. By the time I reached high school, I was more familiar with the defacement of public property. In college, I may have even penned a note or two of my own to fellow students who might have occasion to glance down at the desk we shared over the course of a week. Even then, I did so with a modicum of shame, imagining that there would be a custodian charged with cleaning up the dirty limericks and literary ramblings as part of their job. It would be so much easier if students would contain their musings to paper, properly contained in notebooks or binders. Not hastily etched ramblings on the furniture.
I don't work at that school. When markers go missing from a teacher's cabinet, the assumption is that they will be used to write something with limited legibility on a wall or stairway or bulletin board because we did not have the sense to make the whole school a dry erase board. I am periodically reminded of who likes whom and just how angry many of our kids are. More often than not, the words are verbs and not generally the polite kind. When they are words at all. We get a lot of horizontal slashes, mostly marking territory rather than attempting to generate meaning.
Unless the meaning is simply, "I was here."
And that makes sense. At the school where I work, there are plenty of kids who need someone to know that they are here. They matter. They leave their messages in those wild pen strokes and pencil-snapping flurries. I hear them. I wish I could make more sense out of them.