It reminded me that schools and teachers and classrooms have changed a great deal in the last 70 years. Sometimes for better. Sometimes not.
In this “antique” photo, 24 students are seated at their flip top desks which are lined up in four straight rows. The teacher’s desk was always in the front of the room facing the kids. It’s not shown in this photo. Every child but one (Frances, you rebel, you!) is sitting up straight, feet flat on the floor, hands folded on his/her desktop. Everybody is smiling and looking at the camera. The girls wear dresses or skirts. Two girls are in Brownie uniforms, so this photo was probably taken on a Thursday, when the Brownie troop met after school. The boys wear flannel shirts or collared shirts and corduroy pants (which, by the way, made a swoof swoof swoof sound as they walked.)
One boy wears a white strip across his chest, showing that he is a member of the safety patrol. One girl wears a round yellow metal badge signifying she’s a safety girl (that’s me.) Our teacher, Miss Schweitzer, is wearing a skirt, blouse and suit jacket. She's standing demurely with hands clasped at the back of the room. The bulletin boards display student work arranged in even, straight rows that seems to mirror the orderly dispensing of 1950s reading, writing and 'rithmetic,
Safety patrol boys were stationed on street corners before and after school and were supposed to help younger children cross safely. They got to strike that important authoritative pose -- arms extended at 45-degree angles right and left, to prevent little kids from running into traffic. I envied that job, that pose, that symbol of importance and of being in charge.
The safety girls were stationed in the halls of the school and expected to enforce the “keep to the right, no running, no screaming, no fighting in the halls” rules. If a child refused to obey, our response was: “YOU’RE REPORTED!” These words alone usually solved the problem.
Boys -- outside. Girls -- inside. Today’s safety patrol helpers are boys AND girls, although I’m not sure what their duties are these days.
Every morning of every day of my elementary school career, after the tardy bell rang, our teacher took attendance. Then we all stood beside our desks and faced the American flag at the front of the room. We placed our right hands over our hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance (without the “under God” phrase – it had not been added yet) -- followed by a wobbly chorus of The Star Spangled Banner.
Do kids still do this?
My fifth grade teacher was a man, a rare educational specimen in the 1950s. It was the first time I’d encountered a male teacher and his perspective was a welcome breath of fresh air. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Every morning of fifth grade, we said the Pledge and sang The Star Spangled Banner. Then he led us in a spirited verse or two of On Wisconsin performed at the top of our lungs.
I still remember the words.
Could a teacher get away with this today?
When I was in kindergarten, World War II had just ended and my family had to give up our rented home in Detroit because the owner had returned from serving in the war. We moved several times in 1945 while my parents built a new home in a rapidly expanding Detroit suburb. For a few months, my mother and I lived in Cincinnati with my grandmother. My father joined us every other weekend, traveling by train.
I was enrolled, then yanked out of, then re-enrolled in kindergarten three separate times. My first kindergarten class at Detroit’s Finney School (now demolished) numbered 99 5-year-olds. There were two teachers, Miss Story and Miss Jeffries, and one high school girl who served as a part-time aide.
Imagine! That’s 50 squirrely kindergarteners per teacher. I don’t remember anything we did in that class. Did we color? Did we learn letters and numbers? Did we play on the playground?
My next kindergarten was in Cincinnati. All I remember about this one is the dreaded cloak room. It was dark and scary, with coats hanging in configurations that, in the dim light, looked like witches and goblins and monsters. There were galoshes and boots and shoes scattered on the floor, begging to be tripped over. Why the cloak room was kept so dark and spooky is beyond me.
When kids misbehaved, they were sent to the cloak room to cool off and think about their sins. I never, never, ever misbehaved, probably because I dreaded that awful punishment.
Would teachers be allowed to banish delinquent children to a dark and scary cloak room today?
When we moved back to the Detroit area, I was plunked in another kindergarten for a month or so until the school year ended.
In September, at the beginning of the next school year, I decided I’d had all the schooling I needed and refused to attend first grade. My parents pleaded, reasoned, punished, tried everything. Finally, the principal of the school conferred with my mother.
From then on, if I didn’t show up at school in the morning, the principal got in her car, drove to my house, marched up to our front door, rang the doorbell, helped me put on my coat, took my hand, drove me to school and deposited me inside my first-grade classroom.
I was mortified. Scared. Embarrassed. I was so terrified of this principal and her position of high authority and her stern expression, I caved. I got in the car. I think she drove me to school every day for a month until I decided my most prudent decision would be to attend first grade.
Would a public school principal do this today? Would she/he be allowed to drive a student to school? To drive a student anywhere?
Changes. As I noted, some were for the better; some not so much better at all.