Some Are Missed. Some Are Thankfully Gone.

I miss seeing certain things in today’s schools. I know why these things have disappeared. Fear, allergies, a few injuries, technology.

Classroom pets. When I was in 5th grade in Littleton, Colorado at Ben Franklin Elementary School, we had pets. We had a bird that was not caged for part of each day. We had hamsters and fish. These animals were just part of our day. Their noises and daily habits were not a distraction. They were a comfort. The bird occasionally pooped on our work, the hamsters got out over winter break and chewed on our papers and some books. Nobody got upset. We didn’t get upset because those animals had a calming influence on all of us. We were all in it together. Those pets probably had more of a challenge tolerating us than we did tolerating them.

My husband still remembers his kindergarden class rabbit, Snowball, in Oak Park, IL.  Snowball was even in the class picture. Miss Iliff has him tucked under her arm in the back row.

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Another thing I miss is crayons. Actually, they are there, but rarely used because markers have taken their place. It’s a shame. Crayons provide very different sensory feedback than markers. And I maintain that feedback is important. Crayons don’t bleed through your work, making it much easier to use both sides of your paper. Crayons come in so many colors. They allow for more variety between students, for more unique creative expression. And the smell. Let’s not forget the smell of crayons. Crayons have it over markers any day.
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Freedom on the playground. That’s missing. There are more rules for playground recess than ever before. When I visit schools, I often ask to see their playground rule book. One was 3 pages long. These new age rules include all sorts of  conditions, and if this, then that, but not when it’s like this.  Most schools even have a section on outerwear and outdoor temperatures?  And not just when it’s brutally cold. For 50 degree days! Light jacket, no bare arms…. blah, blah, blah.  Why is all this necessary?  It’s not. Like my favorite grandmother used to say, “Get outside and let the stink blow off”.

Teeter totters and merry-go-rounds. We had great fun on those. And while a few of us unintentionally flew off of both, it was OK.  We got back on. We also jumped out of our swings. That free fall was a great way to let the stress fly far and away.

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Hot lunches made fresh by grumpy lunch ladies. Nothing processed. Lots of variety. Portion sizes that satisfy. Nobody goes hungry. The smells coming from the cafeteria all morning were amazing. And there was a little sweet treat at least 3 times a week. I have particularly fond memories of the from scratch homemade yeast rolls made fresh daily at Snider High School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I can still remember squirreling away quarters to spend on those rolls. A quarter each and a nickel for ice cold milk. Two pats of butter. Heaven.

Trinity Lutheran School cafeteria 02-13-1967

There are also things I don’t miss like separate facilities for kids with special needs. And that’s good. Kids with special needs are now present, participating and part of the school community. Maybe not as included as we want, but we are moving in that direction, making an effort.

Another thing I don’t miss is widespread and blatant racism and limits on girls. Maybe not everywhere, but it’s more the norm than not. What’s missing now is the assumption that others are inferior just because of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs and gender. Again, not as absent of these things as we want, but there is real effort to make these things better. I do have to admit though, that the last 5 years or so feel like real regression in certain ways.  While some schools are making real efforts to acknowledge white privilege and to close achievement gaps with more culturally responsive teaching, there is an overwhelming amount of work ahead. I fear that in today’s political climate we are not moving forward as a whole, but I take comfort in watching what some school districts are doing.

Girls only on the sidelines at sporting events is another thing I don’t miss. That has changed the trajectory of so many girls’ lives. It has empowered us all. Perceptions have changed in may areas just because girls are competing in school sports.

On a lighter note. Teachers smoking in the teacher’s lounge is missing. I can still remember being able to find the teacher’s lounge no matter what school I was in just by following the stench of cigarette smoke. Good ridance.

Oh, and the smell of the mimeograph chemicals. Nothing like a big inhale of that wonderful smell on a newly run worksheet. Teacher’s ink stained fingers, blue ink instead of black. Those, I do miss. That’s nostalgia, nothing more.

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Many schools are now better because of what is missing. Some schools are not. We each carry personal memories of school. The smells, the textures, the stresses and the joys. Some memories are warm and happy and comforting. Some are terrifying, painful and still affect us as adults.

Future schools will be missing things that are common in today’s schools. My hope is that whatever is missing in the future makes for a more inclusive, caring and engaging school experience for every single student.

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