“Up in the mornin’ and out to school”

Mary Jane Owen


Well, that’s Chuck Berry’s way of putting it. Did you hear a collective sigh of relief from parents throughout our county Monday? I have to admit that as a retired educator and even as a student, I always looked forward to the beginning of school. Even now I get nostalgic just thinking about my school days and the difference between schooling then and now.

Back then school did not start until after Labor Day. There was a reason. The cotton, corn fields and peach orchards, mainstays of our local economy, were ready for harvesting. Kids were needed to help bring in those crops. In early September, it was still hot. Our “air conditioning,” so to speak, was super big windows sans screens. Not so today, few windows adorn our bright new, architectural wonders. Just pray the AC works. I recall from my first year teaching in a nearby school district, being assigned to a classroom with two little bitty windows and a broken AC unit. The room was hot as you know what, and as a teacher, I was expected to “dress professionally” which meant wearing a girdle with hose attached thereto and high heels. It got fixed by November. (Note: if you don’t know what a girdle is, and you likely don’t, forget about it.)

My favorite thing from the past that I’d miss if I were a student today, is recess, a time when we could “free play.” I nearly had a conniption fit when, in the latter part of my career, the term was rolled out. It’s what we did that made school so much fun, It allowed us to blow off steam, learn to share, and not whine if we were the last to be chosen for “tug-o-war” or “pop the whip.” No equipment was available so we improvised. For example we used old lumber found on the playground for “jump board.” I think this is called “creativity” which we had in abundance. We had accidents, and there were no school nurses, but with real luck, we might be given a band aid. Don’t’ recall anybody getting sued.

I still miss those great old desks, which had over the years been heavily and often artistically carved with the use of a pocket knife, which every respectable boy carried. Such as this would be considered a weapon today and having one guarantees suspension. Sadly it’s true and certainly understandable.

And speaking of desks then and now. After I retired, I supervised (coached) “student teachers” for several nearby colleges. I’ll never forget the day when one of my interns ordered her students to work math problems ON THEIR DESKS! I nearly had a coronary! I felt really stupid when she explained to me that today’s school desk is designed as a “tablet” intended for note taking and problem solving. In other words a modern day version of the old slate.

What we learned during my school days was not determined by any outside agency. Our curriculum was what those old text books included, supplemented by whatever the teacher liked to teach. (I can still diagram a sentence in 60 seconds!) No standardized tests, certainly no computers, but some had a ruler and all of us had Blue Horse tablets or notebook paper. Just so you know, in math, we subtracted numbers by “borrowing,” now known as “re-grouping.”

A rite of passage came in the third grade when you got to learn “real writing.” This is no longer taught. I’m not sure why, but wiser folks than I make these decisions. What does it matter? Frankly my “real writing” has always been illegible.

There are other good things in our schools today: nice lunch rooms and sparkling rest rooms. We at McDonough Elementary had real bathrooms in contrast to the rural schools. Flippen, Ola and Pleasant Grove, among others, had outhouses and drinking water from a well. Everybody shared the “dipper.” Added to this list of improvements one must include all sorts of learning tools available on every desk providing for all students a window to the whole solar system from the beginning of time. A good thing, however, I’d miss going to the library where it was expected that research would take place. Our library, on the other hand was a gathering place for fun and to see who could be the first to get the librarian (aka media specialist) to shout, “OUT, OUT!” when our “learning” got too loud.

Space and time are limited but I invite all of you “of a certain age” to add to this list. It is unfair to conclude that schools of yesteryear were superior to today’s modern principles, practices and facilities. They were not. Our perception of schooling in those days is a fun thing to consider, but none among us would deny that children today have a chance to learn about a world we could not even imagine.

So bless you educator, secretary, custodian, bus driver, electrician, plumber, painter, all of you who make our schools safe, clean, and most of all fertile places for learning.

Now listen out for those big yellow buses as thy crank up early every morning. And for heaven’s sake, do NOT pass one with flashing lights.

Mary Jane Owen is a veteran educator. She has two children, one grandson and is a member of the McDonough Presbyterian church. She’ s an avid Braves fan, reads, writes, and gardens.