Until second grade, my family lived in Hebron, a one-stoplight town near Columbus, Ohio. My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Black. I recently ran across one of those teeny little school photos of her. She smiled sweetly at me from the photo just as she did all of those years ago.
That first day, I remember standing timidly behind my mom at the door to the classroom. Mrs. Black came over, took me by the hand, and said something like “We’re going to be just fine. I want you to sit at the “red” table right here next to Amy.” When I turned around, Mom was no longer at the door and I had a new best friend at the red table – Amy.
From the beginning, I loved almost everything about school. Even after being tied in my seat with a jump rope in second grade by Mrs. Grimwood (yes, that’s her real name) when I got up to sharpen my pencil. I was not a rule breaker and learned the rule “Do not get out of your seat unless you raise your hand and ask” really fast.
I’ve never really thought about why we had to go to school. But, I guess I’m glad someone did.
In the United States, kids go to school in large part because of a person named Horace Mann who lived in the 1800s. He was often called the Father of the Common School.
In his position with the newly-formed Massachusetts Board of Education, Mann spearheaded a movement beginning in 1837 for local taxes to pay for every child in that state to receive a basic education. By 1870, every state in the nation provided free elementary schooling.
Of course, there were schools before 1870 for those who could afford to go. Mann and his ideas put into place a way for all children to be able to go to school for free.
There have been changes in school over the years, mostly good in my book.
I grew up at the tail end of the baby boom era in a Louisville suburb. It used to be that the week after Labor Day we gathered up our binders and folders, loose-leaf paper, pencil pouch, markers and glue and headed off with our friends to the neighborhood school.
Today, it seems school starts in the middle of the summer but kids still go school supply shopping, organizing everything in their backpacks for the new year.
From satchels to backpacks
My parents talked about carrying their books to school in satchels or buckled together with leather straps.
Those of my generation were unlucky enough to carry everything in our arms. I remember carrying a blue cloth 3-ring binder, all my folders, and an armload of books every day. It’s just what everyone did. Whoever came up with the idea of backpacks for school was a genius!
The ‘copy’ thing
People from my parents’ generation talked about how the teacher would write an assignment on the chalkboard and they would copy it on paper. There were no such things as copiers, except the students.
My era had the wonderful smell of paper copied on mimeograph machines. I’m not quite sure how they worked except that the original and carbon were placed on a drum and you used a big handle to crank the drum around and around.
Each time the drum went around a new copy would spew out of the machine. When I asked my wise husband, Rob, to help me describe the smell, all he could tell me was, “The only good thing about taking a test was the smell of the mimeograph paper.”
These days schools have fancy copy machines called printers. I have experienced these daunting machines when I worked in a school. They can do incredible tasks, allowing teachers to print from their own computers, making double sided, collated and stapled copies.
Today, when you hand a student a stack of paper just off of the printer, it’s not unusual for them to put the papers up to their cheek and say, “Ooooh, they’re warm!” I’m willing to bet those students remember the warm copy papers like I remember the smell of mimeographs when sharing the little memories about school in days past.
The AV Club
In high school, we had an AV (Audio Visual) Club where members were called to run the filmstrip or 16mm projector for teachers. I don’t remember ever making it through a whole filmstrip without the telltale snap of the film breaking or melting in the projector. That probably didn’t happen every time but when it did it was pretty spectacular.
It was always a red-letter day in science when our teacher showed the Reddy Kilowatt “movie.” Reddy Kilowatt, originally created in the 1920s to help promote the use of electricity, was a cartoon character made of lightning bolts, sockets and light bulbs.
Somewhere along the way, they must have made an educational movie with his character, because Reddy would dance around on the projection screen explaining electricity in his special way.
The technology available to teachers and students today seems limitless in its possibilities. Multimedia projectors mounted in classrooms allow teachers to stream lessons and Internet content onto a large screen to teach.
There are SmartBoards and interactive systems where students respond to discussion questions through technology while the teacher is lecturing. Assignments can be emailed. Grades can be monitored daily via computer. The list goes on and on.
Schools have changed through technology and even teaching methods. A challenging academic curriculum, outstanding teachers, competitive sports teams, extracurricular clubs and activities — all of these are important to our personal development.
The fact still remains, based on my very unscientific research, that students look forward to going to school to see their friends.
Hopefully, students will also learn and gain invaluable knowledge in the process. To me, the main goal is to be a productive citizen in this world, and school is the key to that success.