Here we are in the twenty first century and we're still: reading books (well, a few), sitting in classrooms, dealing with homework, stopping for school buses on gravel roads, sharpening pencils, going to teachers' conferences (if we have time), respecting our elders (whoops!), obeying classroom rules (oh, oh!), just saying "NO!" (sometimes), and disciplining our children with tough love (when it's convenient).
Is there no middle ground! I became angry as I read the article in May's Reader's Digest entitled "That's Outrageous", by Michael Crowley. He writes, "In the name of ‘zero tolerance', our schools are treating innocent children like criminals." Can you imagine arresting a 12-year-old for wearing a coat to school with a pocketknife in the pocket from his last Boy Scout meeting?
This father took the incident to court after his son talked about suicide, due to his 45-day suspension and his forced enrollment in a school for juvenile offenders. Other incidents include a five-year-old cited for sexual harassment after pinching his classmate's bottom.
During my grade school years, at Lewiston's twelve grade school, from 1951 through 1957, teachers were allowed to issue punishment. Further retribution waited when you came home, if a sibling "told". Four out of six of my teachers were unmarried, and elderly for that matter. As I bring back the memories, I may not be 100% accurate on the spellings.
Miss Ida Medhaug manned the welcome wagon for new-coming first graders for many years. She had the grandmotherly persona with her fluffy, white hair, silver-rimmed glasses and glowing, starched dresses.
It was during my first year of school that a family joined our community from Yugoslavia. Three boys were brought to Miss Medhaug's room, not speaking a lick of English. Of course there was a whirlwind of commotion and gawking. Of the Simonic family, the oldest boy was Alfonso. The next was Zdrowko, who became my classmate and a friend throughout most of my school years.
Miss Cecelia Hagan added energy and pizzazz to her second grade classroom. She wore full circle skirts that swished as she sashayed between rows of invigorated children. Her deep voice often rumbled in laughter. She designed the coo-coo clock, with its front door, which was just right for a young person to stick his or her head through.
For the annual class picture, each student was expected to wear a pair of red slacks, a red bowtie, and a white shirt. Somehow, those who couldn't afford to buy the outfit always had one when the time came. We wore silver leis around our necks and ornamental paper hats.
I remember we had a program for our parents and played kazoos standing around that clock. It was Zdrowko whose head appeared through the clock's door on that picture.
Grades three and four are sketchy in my mind. It was near the end of Mrs. Brungardt's teaching career. There was another married instructor whose pregnancy was supposedly kept secret from us kids. We all knew it anyway.
Our time in the fifth grade soured the young at heart bunch that we were, with Miss Tuff, who lived up to her name. I don't remember her ever smiling. Assignments were so harsh that they took hours to complete. Mrs. Gibbs called my mother to say that Arnold was biting his fingernails to the bone. We came out unscathed, however.
Miss Engh oversaw her sixth grade classroom with dignity and a no-nonsense, yet kindly, presence. She opened the door to art for her students. I still have the paper plates (somewhere) that we painted colorful fish on and covered with lacquer. I believe that was Miss Engh's last year of teaching. We were nearing the closure of a principled era.
Were things better "back in the good old days?" Everyone of every era seems to think so. I guess there's plenty of room for improvement regardless. We're only human"¦how could it be any different? Let's brainstorm!
Janet Burns has lived in Lewiston all of her life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org