3646 – Wednesday, May 8, 2019

My childhood school years were from 1952 to 1964.  I left high school in May of 1964 at age 17 and joined the United States Air force in October of 1964 at age 18.  Back when I was in school, we did not have school shootings, we did not talk back to our teachers, bullying was not a school program and parents did not walk their kids to school or stand at the bus stop until it arrived.

If I had come home from school and told my father that a teacher had been mean to me or even hit me, my father would have asked what I did to deserve it.  Today, if a kid comes home and tells their parents “My teacher was unfair to me,” the parent is likely to call the school principal and request a sit-down meeting with the teacher and the principal.  The parent might even retain a lawyer to get the school to agree to be fairer to her/his little Johnnie or Jane.

Back when I was in school, after school we would go to the park or playground or some nearby field and depending on the season, play football or baseball.  We did not have our mom or dad driving us all over the state to games, tournaments and competitions with teams from other states.  We did not have parents worried that we would not have a high enough batting average to qualify for a state scholarship.  We did not have coaches telling us that we had to choose between attending practice or going to Mother’s day dinner with our mom and grandmother.

A few weeks ago, I was substitute teaching for four days in a Social Studies class.  The teacher had gone to a conference.  I was left written instructions by the regular teacher for each class but for the third period class I could come up with my own assignment.  The students in the third period were dealing with current political issues.  I winged it the first day, but I went home that night and developed an assignment that put two students together on a team to run for mayor and vice mayor of Casa Grande.   Each team of two had to develop a campaign poster and address what they would do for the city in terms of education and economics.  In addition, they had to address current political hot issues such as gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, building a border wall and a few others.  They got to choose from a slate of ten “hot” issues and they had to speak to how they would deal with these issues if they were elected.

On day three of my substitute class, a guy walked into my third period class with black jeans and a black t-shirt marked security.  He started going through my desk (borrowed of course from the regular teacher).  I asked him what he was looking for.  He said he wanted to see my lesson plans.  I showed him the plans and he asked who said I could teach this unit?  I told him the regular teacher had given me permission to develop my own lesson plan.  He then said “You can’t do that.  You are not the regular teacher.”  I politely asked him what he objected to and he said “Some of these topics are inappropriate.  A parent had called up to complain and we have a big problem on our hands.”  I said I would be happy to remove any subjects or topics that he disliked but I noted that most of them were from a “contemporary” issues folder that was on the regular teacher’s desk.  He said that did not matter since I was not the regular teacher. He struck out six of the ten issues and told me to replace them with some less controversial issues.

A few hours later, the head of the Social Studies department came in while I was having lunch and wanted to know what the heck was going on.  The regular teacher (at conference) was getting phone calls from parents and was confused and upset.  I explained my lesson plan again and discussed the changes made after my meeting with Security.  Somewhat satisfied the department head left, but not before telling me that my plans to have students vote for the winning teams could not take place as I had described to the students.  I had told the class that I was going to give the first-place team ten dollars and the second-place team five dollars.  The department head said this could disqualify any potential athletes from a scholarship.  I should find another award.  I suggested a box of chocolates and was told that this could be dangerous since some students were allergic to peanuts.  He left the issue with me.  After school, I discussed it with the principal’s administrative assistant, and we agreed to some gift certificates to McDonalds.  I purchased a ten dollar and five-dollar certificate on my way home from the school.  Later after my wife Karen heard the story, she remarked that these certificates could still be thought of as an in-kind contribution.  I was not moved by her concern.  😊

The students were perplexed at the changes which I described as due to political necessity, but they enjoyed the McDonald’s gift certificates.  The following week I visited the regular classroom teacher to find out what had happened.  She was somewhat confused.  She replied that no one had called her and that she had not received any calls from parents.  She said she had not heard a word from anyone until she arrived back at the school.  She did not understand what all the fuss was about, but she had received good reports from the students in regard to my classroom management and would be happy to have me sub for her again.

I don’t harp on or much believe in the “good old days.”  The good old days in the USA were not so good for Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Women, Disabled, Immigrants, Gays and others.  Perhaps if you were White, there was such a thing as the good old days.  However, I also do not believe that progress is always a straight line forward.  Some of the things I experienced as a child (sadly to me) seem to be lost to the current generation of children.  I think these things had value.  I am not sure why these things were lost or how we can ever find them again.  For me, there is a tragedy in the loss.  Maybe this generation will not miss what they never had or maybe values have changed so that what I might have thought was wonderful would be scorned today.  I guess I will never know the answer to this question:  Are kids better off today then they were yesterday?

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” 
― Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

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