It seems to me that being in public schools these days is sure a lot different from what we of the geriatric generation experienced. That conclusion is the result of a conversation I had with a group of my classmates as we recently celebrated our 70th high school graduation anniversary. The topic wasn’t on any kind of agenda – it started out with a couple of those, “Do you remember … ?” kind of reminiscences and then took on a life of its own. As the dialogue continued I realized the contrasts between school days about a three-quarters of a century ago and today were quite remarkable and so thought I might share some.
There are many examples, but let’s start with sports. School sponsored team sports began in the seventh grade with basketball and football – elementary school sports were limited to playground or possibly some YMCA activities. Cross country running, baseball, and track and field were added in high school. That was it – no golf, tennis, swimming, soccer, or volleyball. All equipment and uniforms were furnished by the school and no “participation” fees were required – the school footed the entire bill. Quite a difference from today, huh?
A much greater dissimilarity was that school-sponsored sports were limited to boys only. Yep, that’s right, we had no girls’ basketball, track, volleyball, or any other school athletic activity for girls except for the state-required “Phys. Ed.” classes. The closest endeavor to sports for girls was cheerleading – which could involve some pretty athletic moves. My, how times have changed.
The male teachers all wore coats and ties while the female teachers mostly wore dresses, hose and “sensible” shoes. Some women also wore combinations of sweaters, blouses, and skirts – but in all cases their hemlines were very modest and clothing was not tight-fitting. No teacher ever wore slacks. Girls also wore skirts, sweaters, and blouses with ankle socks and often what were known as “saddle” shoes that were a combination of white and either brown or black. Girls’ hemlines were also modest and clothing was loose, not tight fitting.
Girls were permitted to wear slacks only in very cold weather. Neither boys nor girls ever wore shorts or just a T-shirt as an outer garment to school. I don’t know if we ever had a formal dress code – that’s just the way it was.
I don’t recall that we ever had any security issues and the term “lock-down” was unknown. Almost every boy carried a pocket knife – not as a weapon but as a utility tool. The buildings weren’t air conditioned and cooling was accomplished by opening the windows and doors. Access to the schools was easy, but back then we didn’t have either internal threats from students or external ones from outsiders.
Only those students who lived in the country rode school buses. In our town we had about half a dozen neighborhood elementary schools so we walked to them. We also had three junior high schools that served the different areas of the town and a single high school. Regardless of the geography involved, however, getting youngsters to school was the primary responsibility of the parents not the schools.
None of our city schools had cafeterias. We were given an hour for lunch during which most students went home to eat – we figured twenty minutes to get home, another twenty to eat, and then the final twenty to get back to school. Some
students brought their lunches while others, particular those in high school, patronized the “short order” eating establishments close to the school. Yep, providing food for students was the responsibility of the parents, not the schools.
We uncovered a number of other contrasts between school days back in those dark ages seventy-some years ago and nowadays, but one thing we agreed must be a common thread between then and now – it’s the parents/teachers partnership. We had magnificent teachers, coaches, and administrators who dedicated themselves to providing the best possible learning experience for us regardless of the circumstances of the time and they worked with the parents to that end.
We have seen our children and grandchildren as they somehow – with the aid and guidance of their teachers and parents – navigated their way through the ever-changing educational conditions they faced. Now it’s our great- grandchildren who are involved in the same venture. Let’s hope the same alliance still exists. Well, one final observation came out of or impromptu analytical discussion. We all agreed that life was sure a lot simpler back then. At least that’s how it seems to me. (Bill Taylor is a regular Greene County Daily contributing columnist and local area resident.)