Down the hallway the kids walk, silent except for a hushed word or two to a friend. Eyes dart about, because standing in the doorways of their classrooms are the teachers, primed to step forward and motion the dreaded “come here” signal to anyone a bit too loud.
One, reputedly a former paratrooper, dangles an enormous keychain, ready for a “tap” on the side of an errant youth’s head.
If you want to make a date, wait until after school. This isn’t a lonely-hearts club. Want to fight? There’s an open field nearby.
Ah, September! Is there a better time to educate ourselves about a few things that no longer happen in a young person’s school day? Our old-time class is now in session, guys and girls.
Chapel: One morning a week, students would gather in the auditorium to pray, hear a Bible reading, sing hymns and listen to a motivational talk, often by a clergyman. Other mornings there’d be scripture and prayer in the classroom, led by the teacher. Hey, you never know when you’ll need to quote “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Desks that held books: Kids today still have home rooms, but mainly for attendance purposes. Books and coats are stored in lockers in the hallway. Desks with flip-top lids used to be the norm. You could keep anything you wanted there, as long as it didn’t smell too bad. The hallway was for one purpose — walking quietly (very quietly, remember that paratrooper) from one class to another.
Lunch at home: Urban grade schools sent the kids home for an hour at noon. With few moms holding jobs, this practice was eminently feasible. Even the high schools allowed many students to dine at home.
Perfect weather: Well, the weather wasn’t really perfect, but there was no such thing as a “snow day” or “weather delay.” In 12 years, I never experienced either one. If you lived in a rural area, of course, there were buses. Otherwise, it was the job of you and your parents to get you into that home room seat in the morning, and home again at end of the day.
No middle school: It was somewhere between common and universal for kids to move right into the high school after sixth grade. There was an intimidating experience — encountering the mighty seniors who’d soon be in colleges that gave varsity sweaters. They all looked 40 years old and peppered their speech with cultish words like “trig.”
World Series: With the series played entirely during the day, a portable radio would be brought into every classroom so the kids (and teachers) could listen to the exploits of Mantle, Mays, Campanella, et. al. When TV came in, I watched Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game while sitting on the framework of a house in the electric shop.
After-school dancing: The weekly dances in the gym weren’t enough for the kids. After school, many would stop at neighborhood clubs where they’d put money into a jukebox, buy a soda and dance until they remembered what happens when you’re late for dinner. An alternative was rushing right home to watch “American Bandstand,” the ultimate after-school dance club, on TV.
Were there important lessons of those times, lessons that are no longer taught?
I can think of one. When you’re in the hall and you want to talk to your buddy, keep an eye out for that D-Day vet with the grin and the six-pound keychain.