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Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2007

School daze: It isn’t like it used to be

September 9, 2007

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I didn't walk miles to school through rain and snow - only a block and a half. Husband Ray, who lived a good three miles from his country school, didn't walk that far, either; he rode a horse. So I was surprised to learn that students who lived less than a block from granddaughter Zoe's Missouri elementary school are bused.

And that isn't all that's different about today's schools. It may have started when teachers began worrying about children's psyches. Not to say that teachers never considered children's feelings ... just not much. I think they wanted to toughen us for the real world in which we'd eventually live.

When I learned to read, our reading groups were ranked in order of ability: first, second and third. By the time my sons entered school, their reading groups were named bluebirds, cardinals and canaries. I'm guessing someone decided kids couldn't figure out who were the best readers if bird analogies were used.

Recess has changed, too. Oh, recess is still the favorite part of school for most kids, but it is now regulated with monitors who watch out for students' mental, as well as physical, well-being. When my classes played softball at recess, the teacher appointed captains who alternately selected their respective teams. Who do you think captains chose first? That's correct: the best athletes right on down to a fat boy who couldn't run ... and ME. Sure, it hurt our feelings, but did it ruin our lives? Maybe ... for all of two minutes.

What bothered me most was when my fifth-grade teacher - the same teacher who made me sit in the hall because I couldn't whistle - announced to the class, "I think Jean Elaine is better at arithmetic than Marsha is."

Well, yeah, Jean Elaine did become an aeronautical engineer (a huge relief to me when I learned that), but being in the second math group hurt my pride, and I worked long and hard until I gained entry to the first group. Still, math never came easy for me. I remember asking my algebra teacher how I was ever going to use it and he replied, "Well, when you get married and your husband and his friends are sitting around talking, you'll want to understand their conversation."

I hastily assured him that I would never consider marrying any man who thought algebra was a suitable topic of discussion. Geometry was a little more interesting to me because we got to draw those cute little triangles with protractors and use compasses to draw circles. My geometry teacher still ranks as my favorite living teacher even though he continues to deny that he said - as I walked to the board to work a problem - "Here goes geometry set back another 600 years."

Something about today's educational system that I think is absolutely ridiculous is the expulsion of very young children on "sexual harassment" charges. Remember the 6-year-old bespectacled kissing bandit who was expelled for smooching a female classmate? Someone needs to use a little common sense, and if not teachers and principals, then who?

I look back with great amusement on the actions of two "bad boys" in my elementary class. Neither became the Michelangelo of his day even though both had plenty of practice making naughty body parts out of modeling clay during art class. And I suppose if we go back to my grandmother's school days, a boy dipping a girl's braid in the inkwell could be considered sexual harassment. No long-drawn-out expulsion then, just a quick whack with a ruler delivered by a teacher who didn't have to worry about a lawsuit.

My sister Lesta might have been deemed guilty of sexual harassment in high school when she gave an oral report on the octopus and his eight tentacles ... except she didn't say tentacles. Fortunately for Lesta, her classmates and teacher were all caught in the grip of hysterical laughter, and no one thought about bringing charges against her. (Note to litigious Lesta: I hope this isn't one of those incidents you threatened a lawsuit about if I published it.)

Today, even young kids are taught about the danger of drugs. When I was an elementary student, we didn't know what illicit OR prescription drugs were. I don't like it that so many kids - especially boys - are presently taking drugs for attention deficit hyperactive disorder. I don't like it because, had it been the norm when I was a child, some school authority would have wanted to pump me full of Ritalin. As for my two bad-boy classmates, I'll bet their dosages would have put them in catatonic states. That would have been no fun at all for the rest of us ... including, I'm pretty sure, our teacher.

- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing mhgink@netscape.net.

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