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First Days of School

August 27, 2018

Certain times of the year are causes for nostalgic thoughts. Fall is one of those special times, when one thing ends and something else begins. No, not the augment of all things pumpkin. Not the first leaves that drop to the deck, to pile up on the driveway. Not the first hint of color when the days grow shorter and nights grow longer. No, fall brings memories of going back to school.

I loved the beginning of school each year. New dresses, all starched and pretty. Brightly polished Mary Janes. A tiny book bag with new supplies I received at school. Elementary schools in those days didn’t send out lists of things parents had to purchase. Oh, there were some, like new boxes of crayons and #2 pencils smelling so sweet when we sharpened them. I didn’t know they were made of cedar. I didn’t care. They were new, as were their erasers.

When my friends and I said good-bye to summer, to long days spent in the sun as free-range children, and settled indoors in classrooms, we had to relearn not to squirm in our seats or whisper that really great thing we just had to tell our best friend sitting next to us. We had to wait through 50-minute periods until we had a brief recess where we could run and shout and expend some of our pent-up energy. We learned that blackboards were really green, and that chalk was dusty. We learned to read and write cursive. We learned that things we took for granted might not be as welcome in a classroom as they were at home.

My grandmother read aloud to me beginning when I was a year old. By age three, I was reading along with her. I started kindergarten with a third-grade reading level. And that was something my teacher couldn’t tolerate. She tried to order my tiny grandmother to stop teaching me to read. That genii had left the lamp long before Miss Whatever-Her-Name-Was tried to intervene. My grandmother taught school for 45 years. She taught phonics. This new style of teaching sight reading was something she wouldn’t allow. And so I always read ahead of my classes. Tough.
Today, parents are sent lists of what to buy at the local office stores. Elementary school kids look forward to their first Chromebooks as early as first or second grade, depending on the school district. My grandsons will begin kindergarten and second grade this year. They spend a lot of time with screens already. I hope their teachers also cursive writing, use an erasable board, and help them use pencils. No matter what anyone says about pencils being old-school, out of date, whatever. They may be analog, but they can’t be hacked.
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