The Wasatch Behind: Back to school in old times
This week school starts for another year. It doesn't seem possible. Every year summer vacation gets shorter and the school year gets longer. But I guess it's okay. Kids have more to learn today than when I was a kid. The world is smaller and more complicated now.
When I was a kid, school let out in May and started again in September. It was that way so kids could help on the farm. Many of us lived on farms in those days. There was more open space, even here in Carbon County. As farm kids, we milked cows, raised gardens, irrigated the fields, and helped with the chores. Hay was hauled by hand in those days and many of us contracted to haul hay all summer to earn spending money for school. We actually learned to save our money and make it last for several months into the winter. And working on a farm was an education by itself. We learned the value of work, thrift, and precious water. We also learned where milk, meat, potatoes, and baby horses came from.
When I was a kid, everyone dressed special to go to school. Every kid had a set of "school clothes." School clothes fit somewhere between church clothes and the "regular" clothing we wore to do chores and play in. T-shirts with obscene pictures or slogans, shorts, halter-tops, and shower slippers were not allowed in school in those days. And no one had green hair, tattoos, body piercings, gothic makeup, or a belly button showing.
Teachers and school administrators, too, wore special clothing to school in the old days. There was a dress code for school faculty as well as students. Men wore suits, ties, and shoes that were shined. Women wore dresses, jewelry, and perfume. It gave the school a special "feel" when everyone dressed special to be there.
Teachers and principles had the right of corporal punishment in the old days. Everyone was polite and behaved at school because the principal kept a big wooden paddle by his desk - and he would use it. Teachers, too, were not above popping a kid on the knuckles with a ruler or lifting you out of your chair by your hair if you were rude or disrespectful. There was discipline in the classroom and parents reinforced the rules.
And when I was a kid, playing kissing tag wasn't considered sexual assault - thank goodness. It was an innocent game as kids became aware of the differences between boys and girls. But then of course, we were innocent. We didn't get to see rap stars "do it in the dirt" on TV every afternoon after school. We watched American Bandstand and Leave it to Beaver. And then too, mom was always there when we got home from school.
When I was a kid, we didn't get any "grief counselors" when the school parakeet died. We understood, even as kids, that things died and accidents happened. Our grief counselors were parents, teachers, and clergy at church. We might have a moment of silence, or even a prayer at school if we lost someone important. But we never had whole days or weeks of Mass grieving, weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. We learned that "stuff" happens and then you get on with life.
When I was a kid, we didn't watch the latest movies at school or go on bus trips to Lagoon. We did those things with our parents, on our own time. At school we learned to read, write, and do math. We didn't have calculators and computers, and most kids my age knew the multiplication tables and could actually spell and count change. In those days, school was closed for the opening of deer season and we honored Veteran's Day and Washington's Birthday.
When I was a kid, we proudly, and without reservations, pledged allegiance to "one nation under God" and had a school prayer in the mornings. There were American flags and pictures of Washington and Lincoln in our classrooms. We were taught that Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are national religious holidays, and Christopher Columbus was a hero. We learned civics, citizenship, and patriotism. School bullies got spanked by the principal, and high self-esteem was something you earned.
Like the length of summer vacation, things change, and not always for the better. I wish my grandchildren could experience school the way it was a long time ago.