It’s high school reunion season as evidenced by Facebook blurbs hitting my computer and newspaper stories unfolding on my breakfast table. Like most things, schools of the 1950s were light-years different than what they are today.
Some of the more surprising differences to me are changes in definitions of crime and punishment. I don’t mean through Dostoyevsky’s eyes but rather in what constituted in-school transgressions and what penalties were attached to them compared to the present.
One huge difference is that I grew up in the age of the paddle, sometimes called the “board” of education by cliché lovers. I was a terrible student by any measure and take misplaced pride remembering that I sampled just about every sanction the system had to offer short of expulsion.
Our school “crimes” were quite different from today’s definitions. Some routine things done back then would’ve brought SWAT teams and news trucks to campuses today.
For example, during hunting season, virtually every car in the Havelock High School parking lot contained guns. We were perpetually on the “hunt.”
I recall on our way to school Kelton and I jumping out of the car with guns in hand to chase down a rabbit we spotted in an open field. We ran and cut and pivoted and turned but these two humans were no match for the little critter.
Looking back I’m smiling, glad the bunny defeated us big lumbering monsters. Good job, rabbit.
During school days, trash cans were routinely set on fire simply because they contained trash and we contained matches. It got so pervasive, Moses and Calvin began emptying the cans all during the day. Today it would be labeled “attempted arson” on our warrants.
We were always roughhousing in school. Some of it was games, some just playfulness. Nothing was thought about it, but nowadays it’d be assault, pure and simple.
Bobby Thomas could walk on his hands effortlessly. Sometimes in the hall after the bell I’d spot two shoes in the air amid a sea of bobbing heads.
That was just Bobby changing classes. Today for such behavior, he’d likely be fed zombie Ritalin or relegated to counseling to “cure” his topsy-turvy tendencies.
With stuff like this going on you may wonder exactly what wasn’t tolerated. The big no-no was pretty simple: Our teachers didn’t brook material disruptions of their teaching processes.
If a student became an impediment to the class as a whole, teachers typically threw the offending student out. They’d not sacrifice the group so one or two malcontents wouldn’t have their self-esteem dented. Out!
Schools existed only to produce educated kids and did so with flying colors. Against my will and without my cooperation, I graduated high school with a spectacular education because of a wonderful system of empowered teachers.
When I headed to college, none of my course choices contained the qualifier “remedial.” So many things have improved over the past 50 years but clearly not public education.
Somewhere along the way I suspect education got smothered under the mass of politicians, unions and bureaucrats. It absolutely reeks.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.