I have been covering schools for 25 years, and if you’ll pardon the pun, it has been very educational. I feel fortunate to have visited more schools than the milk delivery guys. As Johnny Cash sang, I’ve been everywhere, man. From the dusty rural roads to the swanky private prep schools, and everywhere in between.
I wish everyone could see the changes and progress firsthand, but due to safety concerns, that will never happen again. Many of us remember the days when we could stroll through the front door of our neighborhood school and begin volunteering. Tragic events across the nation have resulted in fortress-like safety measures at every entrance. Once inside, the office staff checks your ID, and makes sure you have a good reason for being there.
I am not being critical. That’s how we must protect our children in 2019. The days of cracking open the classroom window, or propping the front door open on a clear fall day are long gone.
There are other things I miss, too. One by one, small community schools with creaky wooden floors and classic auditoriums are fading away. In most cases, they are replaced with cookie-cutter mega-schools, with plastic stacked chairs in multi-purpose café-gym-atoriums. The shiny waxed floors and color-coded hallways lead to the first grade wing. To get there, a GPS would be helpful, because you might get lost if you miss that third left turn at the aquarium.
I also get nostalgic for the dusty chalkboard. We would be rewarded for good behavior by being sent outside to bang the erasers together. Then again, that may be what caused the smog that engulfed my neighborhood back in 1969.
The biggest discipline problems in my classes were gum chewing, throwing paper wads, and being disruptive. My one and only paddling occurred when a teacher lined up all the boys, because no one would admit to making a certain noise. The teacher figured by paddling us all, the guilty party would definitely be punished.
Technology took a major step forward when I was in eighth grade. That’s when our school purchased an overhead projector. It was guarded as if it were the Hope Diamond. The school only had one, and each teacher had to request it in advance. If you planned to use it Friday at noon, you had better get in line.
The first time we saw it in action, we were in awe. The teacher would carefully plug it in, line it up for the best sightlines, and then her tiny cursive words were displayed on the big pull-down screen covering the chalkboard. In the 1970s, the overhead projector brought us into the space age.
Soon, the chalkboards came down, and were replaced with dry-erase white boards. We were no longer inhaling chalk dust. We traded that in for the chemical paint fumes of colorful markers.
More recently, many classrooms went upscale, using a Promethean board. This enables teachers to display whatever is on their computer device, and allows students to interact with it. Honestly, if someone had asked me what Prometheans were when I was in third grade, I would have told them it was the chapter that followed Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.
I also envy the art supplies students now use, like pottery wheels, Mac labs and digital tools. We only had crayons, but that’s not what we called them. That was too fancy a word. They were “colors.” As in, “She has more colors than I do.” Oh, and if a classmate happened to own the Crayola 64-crayon box with the built-in sharpener, he must have been wealthy. His mama scraped together $1.29 to get that. As for off-brand, non-Crayola “colors,” I guess owning those would compare to someone who doesn’t wear $500 sneakers today.
I think my K-12 years prepared me pretty well in basic math, essential grammar skills, history and some degree of scientific knowledge. I even had a good driving teacher in a much-needed program that is often overlooked today.
However, I left high school with little or no knowledge about banking, personal saving, budgeting, insurance, credit card debt, interest rates, how to buy and maintain an automobile, home repairs, mortgages, healthy eating, job interviews on how to pay for college.
Some would argue that teaching these skills is best left to parents, but we know that doesn’t always happen. Others say young people learn best by trying, and even failing in the real world. Maybe so, but I’m glad today’s schools do a better job covering these topics.
Finally, I miss the days when we didn’t stress out over annual standardized testing. We had something called the Iowa Basics, and I don’t recall the angst and turmoil we have today. Next time I meet someone from Iowa, I will thank them for that.