Monday, August 9, 2010

School Days

As my grandchildren prepare for a new school year, I remember my own school days and the excitement surrounding that first day.

In 1952 those of us starting first grade were truly novices. We didn’t have the advantage of pre-school, Mothers-day-out, or even kindergarten. If we knew our alphabet (and most of us did), it was because our parents taught us – not because they wanted us to get a head start, but because parents were expected to teach us the basics. There were no readiness tests or entrance exams because there were no private schools in our working class town. No one considered holding a child back until he was “ready.” If you turned six before 1953, you started first grade in September of 1952.

No one sent home a list of school supplies. We showed up on the first day with the requisite pencil box, milk money tied in the corner of a hanky, and a sack lunch. There was no dress code. The girls wore dresses; boys wore shorts or pants with shirts tucked in. Everyone wore anklets and some sort of practical oxford. We were neat and clean, faces shining, clothes ironed, and hair combed in honor of the special occasion – the first day of school.

Parents didn’t have anxiety about which teacher we would be assigned. The school only had two first grade teachers and our parents didn’t think they had a choice. My best friend and I were assigned to Miss Korb, a spinster who seemed ancient to me, but was probably no more than forty-five. She was of German descent; I think she may have studied under Hitler. She was mean as a snake and put up with absolutely no nonsense. One day I got a bloody nose in her class but sat at my wooden desk and bled all over my saddle shoes rather than incur her wrath. But Miss Korb got the job done. We all learned to read about Dick, Jane, and Spot.

My grandchildren pose for their “first day” pictures – taken with a digital camera rather than a Brownie. They are weighed down with their monogrammed back-packs filled with 150 dollars’ worth of required supplies. Tennis shoes have replaced the saddle oxfords; designer duds have replaced the pinafores. One thing remains unchanged – the excitement of the children as they enter the hallowed halls of learning.