Jump rope, jacks, dodge ball, four square, tether ball; there were more things to be excited about, when it came to the first day of school, than books and a new teacher. I still can remember the crispness of an early autumn morning as we rushed out the door, and ran most of the way to school; the first day being the most important of the school year, because everyone was new that day. After that, any kid who showed up forever wore the label New Kid.
As we arrived, all the kids, no matter our age, pushed and shoved to get a look at the sheets of room and teacher assignments which were posted in the glass display case at the front entrance of our school. First we found our grade’s section, then there were two to three sheets of paper for each grade, with room numbers and teachers names at the top, and students names listed below that. It was pandemonium, but an exhilarating pandemonium. And there were just kids searching the display case. Looking back, it seems interesting how parents and schools assumed, if we could read our names, which we all could, we would be able to find out classes by ourselves. There was not a parent in sight, and no one ever did not find his or her classroom.
New teachers, seating assignments, checking out the other kids in class; was there anything more exciting than that first day of school? I recall large name tags on the desk we would occupy for the year, locating our own being the first accomplishment of the day. Once seated, we waited for our teacher to introduce herself, and then introductions of all our classmates began. The same kids moved along, year after year, to the next grade, and we all knew each other as well as we did our siblings; but, it was part of the protocol, and we dutifully said our names, and often got to tell something special that we did during summer vacation.
Next, we had the tour of our school. I suppose there might have been a new kid or two each year, but for most of us, we attended that school from first grade through sixth, so we knew the place backward and forward. It was fun, though, because if we were touring, we were not studying, and that always was a good thing. We were led to the restrooms, cafeteria, nurse’s office, and the principal’s office. We were shown the boundaries for our age group; one side of the school was reserved for kindergarteners through second graders, and the other side was the domain of third through sixth graders. It was our home away from home, a place familiar, safe, and fun.
In my 1950s schooldays, children did not have to provide their own school supplies. Pencils, crayons, paper, paint, paste, rulers, scissors; everything, including books, musical instruments, and playground equipment was provided to us. We never lacked for anything, and never ran out of anything. Each classroom was a cornucopia of supplies to get students from that first day in September to the last day of class in June.
And nothing compared to the lunches from our school cafeteria. For 25 cents, we got a hot lunch cooked right there in our cafeteria, by the sweetest ladies in hair nets one could imagine. They arrived at school in the mornings before students did, and cooked delicious, balanced meals every day. The cafeteria smelled so good, as our lunch was being cooked, and dinner rolls were baking in the oven. It was a wholesome feast, and the closest we ever got to junk food was once a month we had hot dogs. There was never a chicken nugget, slice of pizza, mini corn dog, or tater tot slapped on our trays. Ever.
I read about the challenges schools face today, and am puzzled when and how things changed. Besides children providing all their own supplies, and lunches becoming hazardous to a child’s health, programs that seemed as essential to an education as reading and math have been eliminated. Today’s kids have to deal with bullying, the pressure of learning from curriculum and teaching methods seemingly test-results directed, with the risk of bodily harm or death at the hands of a random lunatic who could destroy them and their childhood, at any time, looming over their heads.
Progress and change always are touted as necessary and beneficial. Looking at the state of schools and public education, I am not sure things went in a good direction. I do not have the answers; however, sometimes when things have gone awry, going back to a time or place when they worked can be helpful. And as I consider the issues of today versus those of yesteryear, back does not seem synonymous with regression, with regression being a return to a less developed state. It seems education, at one time, was far more developed and successful than the mess it is now, so it actually could be a forward movement to return to a time when kids were taught, fed, corrected, and directed; their successes measured by the integrity of their personal life outcomes, rather than a test score.