The Old Coot is Old School

We had it easy when I went to “grade” school, now called “elementary” school. “Grade” school was a big change in the education system; one-room schools were expanded into multi-room facilities where kids could be separated by grade level. We worked hard on our lessons back then. All day long: multiplication tables, state capitals, cursive writing exercises penning rows and rows of evenly spaced spirals and loops to train our hands and brains to perform properly. We’d mastered printing in kindergarten, along with shoe tying, colors, how to print our name and address, but more importantly – how to get along with classmates, to share, to be patient and wait our turn and to manage our tempers. 

Yes, we worked hard in school, but the key words in that sentence are, “in school.” The only homework we had was a weekly list of 10 spelling words. We did all the rest of our work in class. When the bell rang at three o’clock, we were free for the day. We walked to school, back home for lunch, back again and then home at the end of the day. I learned as much on those walks as I did in school. It’s where we got some street smarts, or to be more accurate, sidewalk smarts – we had to be careful not to step on a crack: it would break our mother’s backs. 

Yes, for sure, we had it easy, not just because of the no-homework philosophy in grades one through six, but because the teachers had control of the classroom. Discipline was administered immediately. Throw a spitball? Go spend 30 minutes in the cloakroom. Pull a girl’s pigtail? Go spend time in the hall facing the wall. Get caught chewing gum? Spend half an hour standing next to the teacher’s desk facing the class with a wad of gum stuck to the end of your nose. And yes, for really disruptive behavior, a paddling by the principal or an eraser to the ear, tossed by a teacher with accuracy comparable to that of a professional baseball pitcher. The focus wasn’t on self-esteem; the focus was on getting us to function in society and get an education. When we did that, our self-esteem increased. 

Kids today have it hard! Teachers have to struggle to control the class with hands tied behind their backs, and to face phone calls and lawsuits from parents who think their little darlings never do anything wrong. Kids have it harder than we did, but not as hard as the teachers.

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