Lessons from the Past

Image result for traditional classroom pictures

For this article, I want to share the positives of school during the time we were growing up, perhaps including those of my parents, uncles, and aunts.  I believe most of those reading these articles didn’t go to school during the same era, so I think sharing might give you some idea how things were different and what we can utilize today.

                School, as today, was a place of learning.   As today, some of us liked going to school, and others couldn’t wait for P.E. or the last bell.  That’s when we tore out of school, looked for our friends, and got into trouble on the way home, heading to friends’ homes or what else.  The ice cream truck?  You betcha.  The corner store?  Of course.  Homework?  When we eventually got home, but often we told our parents we already did it.  Hah….!  Of course, one of my siblings always got work completed, which put pressure on me.

                Early in the morning, we walked to school, busses at some schools, and looked for friends, certainly when we got to school.  There were all kinds of people, and there were bullies.  Sometimes, we had to face the bullies.  Sometimes, we knew how to talk out of confrontations.  Sometimes we learned how to avoid.  Or we got together with groups so we had our “in” group”.  To this day, I don’t ever remember a teacher helping us with bullies.  If someone beat up another kid, of course, they got in trouble, the parents called, the kid sent home.  If they continued, detention, after school detention, perhaps kitchen clean up, the parents involved.  Mr. and Mrs. So and So, this is what your child is doing.  He has to stop.  So, most bullies, waited until after school, after we were off the school grounds, then you used your street smarts.   The only time I ever heard a teacher comment was when I threw one bully across 6 tables in class.  She later confided in me that she was wondering when I was going to do that.  No one was sent to the principal’s office, because we took care of it.  Of course, with more serious fights, the office was filled.

                Usually, in the morning, we had our morning routines.  Math was math.  The teacher taught, sometimes writing on the chalkboard, and we learned.  We wrote down what was on the board.  Sometimes, we were called up to the board:  to demonstrate how to do the problem, which required us to listen.  When we were on independent work, we could ask questions, but we were to work with our desk mates.  If we asked too many questions, the teacher seemed not to hear us.  What did I gather from this?  That I had to listen and figure out the problems.  Sometimes, at home, I would spend a lot of time on one problem, but once I figured it out, the rest were easier.  That alone time, gutting through problems, was an education unto itself.  It taught me I could figure things out on my own.  With time, that was a very important lesson.  Of course, back then, if we didn’t get enough good grades, we had to repeat the same grade, and none of us wanted that.  We’d seen kids held back.  We wanted no part in that.  If we told our parents the teacher was giving too much homework, they suggested we get to work when we got home.  That was a good lesson we didn’t think about.  The adults teach and give us work.  We do it or take the consequences.  We wanted to pass.  And we never wanted our parents speaking with our teachers.   That would only lead us to more trouble.  And I wanted to go outside and play with my friends.  No, mom.  The teacher is great.  Yes, day.  I did my homework.

                Social studies and science were pretty much the same, with some teachers more interesting than others.  Of course, we liked any class projects or experiments.  We listened to the teacher, read the book, and answered the questions.  As above, we could ask questions, but too many questions and the teacher seemed too busy.  What I learned was I had to do the work.  Thankfully, I liked science but didn’t care for history.  Yet, because I did the work, some of that information slipped into memory.  With time, the information got my curiosity, so, as an adult, I researched.  Reading?  Read and answered the questions (looking in the text for the answers), the teacher discussing to some degree, the greater responsibility on our shoulders.  I liked doing book reports because I could fake like I read the whole book.  I guess, I could get most of the book by reading a few pages here and there.  What did I learn?  How to get the main ideas.  That got me C’s, but passing.  How did I know then that I was learning without knowing I was learning?  But I always tested several grades higher for reading and math. 

                Could school have been better?  Yes.  But we were number one in the world (I don’t think I helped those data points, except for a couple of years when I got serious, trying to prove I was smart.).  That shows the teachers knew what they were doing.  They taught.  We learned.  They organized.  We followed.  Sometimes, we disagreed with teachers, but never ever thought to say this in front of any teacher (always outside the class and behind their backs).  To this day, I remember rarely a teacher discussing anything personal.  We were the kids.  They were the adults.  Life was easy to understand.  And among our peers, we had codes.  Don’t tell the teachers anything.  Difficult at times?  Of course.  Life is always challenging.  But by our fending for ourselves, by having to solve our own problems, that prepared us for adulthood where the bullies still exist, but some are more creative than others.  Sometimes, we’ve learned, a bully is the one smiling.  Thankfully, we were too smart for that.

                There was something else we learned.  When we wanted to work (I used to mow lawns, but when I was 16, then I could work for a store or elsewhere.), we followed the rules.  Don’t do the work well, you’re let go.  Do well, you’re called for more hours.  Coworkers?  Whatever works.  But getting money for some freedom, some buying their first cars, was more important.  I loved buying my own things, not having to depend on my parents always.  That gave us some sense of growing up.  And among our friends, we complained from time to time, but mostly we were looking for ways to have fun, get our work done, and make money.  That last is an important lesson.  Of course, all of this is.  To grow up is to have chores, be responsible, get your work done, learn, then you’re on your own.  But being on your own was a rite of passage, something all of us wanted.  Complain at work?  Nobody listened.  You might get your hours cut or be let go altogether.  Do well and you get more hours and pay.

                As a teacher, I wanted to improve upon my growing up experience, but I knew the basic format would always be good.  How can you argue with number one?  Know the material.  Research to better understand and supplement where the texts are not sufficient.  Ensure the basics to mastery (We all knew our multiplications tables before leaving the third grade, could run numbers in our heads, and used math to build tree forts.), read lots of books (including library books and things we buy at the store), know cause and effect, write with fantastic grammar (stories, plays, whatever.), and include creative assignments when time avails (i.e. Maps of cities with stories following, dioramas, and whatever else creativity includes, including science projects using the scientific method which so many young people today haven’t the slightest idea.  In my, and my teacher friends’ classes, we do science projects.).  The onus of responsibility is on the students.  The habits they build today will influence their opportunities in the future.   Hard work today is tomorrow’s luck.   There’s an old saying:  luck is preparation meeting opportunity.  Success always has determination to back it up.  And that’s what I wanted my class to understand.  Not only that, but if you find something you like and do it well, you’ll work harder and with more joy, and have a huge impact on those around you.  While the friends and classmates, who didn’t care, wonder why “good” things don’t happen for them.  Hopefully, by watching you and your determination, eventually, they will learn.  That’s called life.  That’s how the world really works.  Independence, individuality, and determination.  Not waiting for life to happen. 

                Yes, we learn the social at school, but the main purpose of schools is an education:  learning academics and skills that will prepare the youth for adulthood. Young people must learn responsibility, how to handle social situations, but also the import of hard work and academics.  In this way, we all are better prepared for tomorrow.

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