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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First Day Magic

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days.’

Remember that? What was the rest of it? ‘Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick—‘

It goes on, these words of an old song written by Gus Edwards and Will Cobb back in 1907.

As kids up in the Panhandle, we used to sing it, at least the first few lines. After ‘hickory stick’, it continued ‘you were my queen in calico. I was your bashful barefoot beau’. That’s as far as we ever went, but it was a favorite for us back in the forties.

Now, we knew about the reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but as third and fourth graders, we weren’t just real sure about ‘queen in calico’ or ‘bashful barefoot beau’ stuff.

Back then during the summer, if anyone had asked if we were ready to go back to school, we’d have grimaced and cried out ‘no’. Same way today. The truth is, then, as now, most of us were eager to get back to school, especially those who lived on farms and had daily chores.

It is easy to understand just how much more preferable it was sitting in an English class diagramming sentences rather than out in the hot sun chopping corn or pulling

And as an educator for forty-one years, I always felt the excitement of that first day back in class. There was a sort of magic about it, and although most of the magic had worn off by the second day, it continued to come back year after year.

And if there is a teacher reading this, he knows of what I write.

After my first year in a school district on the outskirts of Fort Worth, I landed a position as a Penney’s manager trainee, a job that almost half again the size of my paltry $3900.00 teacher’s salary.

I had thoughts of staying with Penney’s. One of my friends was a trainee also. His dad managed a store in Conroe at a princely income of around $25 thousand.

That folks, was good money back in 1959-60.

But a strange thing happened on the way to the forum—oops, sorry, on the way to financial security.

The first of September rolled around.

What an eerie feeling.

For some reason, about a month before the start of school, I started thinking about what we were going to do that year. Unconsciously, I began laying plans.

Now this was before curriculum guides and politicians’ big noses; before George Bush doubled educational testing with ‘No Child Left Behind’ just after his brother, Neil, got into the educational testing business. (What a strange coincidence, but then seems like politicians and coincidences follow one another. Isn’t that a strange coincidence also?)

I was scheduled for a senior English class, which at that time focused on British literature the first semester and grammar the second.

As appropriate, I gave Penney’s my two weeks notice, and being a compassionate business, they appropriately suggested I just take the two weeks off and rest up.

I protested that I needed the pay, and in their sympathetic manner replied, ‘tough.’
But, I was back in the school business.

Even after forty-one years and more changes than I like to think, the first day always remained magical, exciting.

I’ve witnessed the transition from a bucolic educational system to one loaded with stress for students to achieve higher test scores. And if they don’t, the teachers, the schools are blamed, not the kids, not the parents.

Today’s system is more concerned about helping a youngster build self-esteem than readying him to face the world beyond the comfortable confines of high school. What does your boss pay you for, producing for him or feeling good about yourself?

That’s what I’m talking about.

When my daughters were in high school, a teacher friend asked if they were going out for the drill team. He was surprised when I replied they were staying in the high school band.

“But,” he said. “Drill team will be the highlight of their lives.”

“If being on a drill team is the highlight of someone’s life, they don’t have much ambition or any goals,” I told him.

The importance of education is just that, education and skills that give each youngster a chance in a world that is changing by the day.

Every year, kids will return to school, and every year, that first day magic will be there.

I miss it.

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