My little narcissistic suburb is going through some agonies at the moment — falling enrollment in the schools, which leads to less state aid for education, which means schools operating well under capacity, which means schools closing. This is a community that Values Education, which means these decisions are Fraught With Drama, with lots of Impassioned Speeches at the Podium, etc.
Last night they voted to close two elementary schools and reconfigure middle school into a 5-8 arrangement. OMG THE DRAMA TODAY. But it made me think about my own schoolin’, way back when, and how it compares to the educational trends of today.
My high school class was around…750. Whew. Peak of the baby boom, 1957 was. We only had three grades in the building, so we’re talking over 2,000 kids under one roof. Nowadays that would be considered a warehouse, an abuse factory, a place where kids can’t get Personalized Attention and a Supportive Environment, but man, I loved it.
Two thousand kids in one building means you can find 20 or 30 who want to take Russian, and hire a teacher to take them through four years of it. Two thousand kids means one-English-class-fits-all ends in ninth grade and for the rest of your time there, you take one-semester classes that can pick up everyone from the dummies (Reading for Pleasure and Profit) to the smarties (20th Century Novel/Poetry/Drama, plus about a dozen more high-level electives). There was World History, European History, U.S. History, Ancient History. Math and science were similarly diversified.
The other great thing about a big school is, you can get lost in it. With every classroom in use every period, there was no study hall — we had “free periods” in which you could go to the library, the open cafeteria in a non-lunch period or to the smoking area. If you were Nancy, you might also slip away to the trouper deck in the auditorium, various janitorial supply rooms or my favorite — the room under the pool, where the pumps and barrels of chlorine powder were kept. There was a window there that let you observe the swimmers underwater, digging their suits out of their crotches after a feet-first landing off the high board. The janitor was very cool and let us sit with him. My friend Jeff, a gay misfit, was a genius at finding these secret spaces. We spent a lot of time in them.
When I went to college, I found it no harder than senior year, and a lot more interesting.
I guess my point is, if your parents are on the job and your teachers aren’t total idiots, things tend to work out, no matter what your brick-and-mortar setup is. Also, schools in that period had not yet been defunded and charter-ized and otherwise manipulated by yokel legislators. Although they certainly were during Kate’s public-school years, and somehow she got through OK.
Might have been one of the lucky ones, I fully acknowledge. Probably was.
So, Wednesday dead ahead. I’d post links, but I’m tired and as we all know by now, anything I post today will be outdated in four hours. So enjoy your Wednesday, and let’s see each other going on Friday.