School Daze

posted by Bill Edwards - 

If you're under 45 you may have never heard an old song called, School Days. The lyrics went something like this: "School days, school days...dear old Golden Rule days. Reading and 'Riting and 'Rithmatic taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick.  You were my queen in calico....I was your bashful barefoot beau and you wrote on my slate 'I love you, Joe' when we were a couple of kids."  It was written in 1907 by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards (no relation that I know of).  Gee--"Golden Rule days," really?  They taught the Golden Rule in public school?  And in case you're baffled over the line, "taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick..." let me explain that one.  Once upon a time in the real America we believed that teachers ruled their classrooms like a general rules his troops.  Corporal punishment was not only condoned but expected.  If you were causing trouble in class or not paying attention you got whacked on the bottom by a hickory stick and when you got home mom or dad or both would whack you again.  

They prayed in those public schools,  read from the Holy Bible in those public schools, were taught patriotism in those public schools and sang patriotic songs in those public schools like God Bless America and Oh Coumbia, the Gem of the Ocean. They said the Pledge of Allegiance and no one complained, sued, protested or shot anybody.  There were very few fights and those were usually a couple of bullies out on the playground somewhere, never in class.  As a student at Groves High School in the early to mid-60s we had more rural "country" kids who came to school in their pickup trucks with a gun rack in the back.  And the rack was often full with a shotgun, .22 long rifle and perhaps another long gun of sorts.   Our Junior Army ROTC rifle team (at the time) was still using the World War I bolt-action single-shot .22 as their target rifle.  It was not unusual to see some of our cadets, including some from Savannah High and Benedictine get on city buses to go to an event with their rifles with them--usually cased.  Again, no one got shot or even threatened and no one batted an eye when we were riding the bus with them.  

And while we're walking down Memory Lane what were the things we did get in trouble about?  Talking out of turn in class, chewing gum in class and--God forbid--being caught outside the classroom without a hall pass!  And when a teacher left the room and the class got a bit noisy all that was needed was for the teacher in the next room or across the hall to walk in and in the blink of an eye you could hear the proverbial pin drop.  Talking back to a teacher was also a good way to get sent to the principal's office or suspended.  Interestingly enough there was also very little bullying.  I had friends I adored and there were sleepovers galore.  Some of those friends I am still in touch with today.  We were very good friends and if there was any part of my life I could live over it would be high school. What a wonderful time to have lived and grown up in.  Movies didn't need ratings nor did the music.  Most of our parents hated rock 'n' roll and if the song hinted about sex it was cloaked in metaphor.  For example a huge hit in the fall of 1965 was by artist Lou Christie called Lightening Strikes that was number one on the charts.  It was NOT about a thunderstorm.  

But an ill-wind was indeed blowing that we students were not aware of and it came about sometime around my sophomore or junior year when the Supreme Court expelled God.  We were told we could not pray anymore in public school because it was "unconstitutional."  We were told it violated the mythical "separation of church and state" clause in the Constitution.  Few of us bothered to look up because if we had we would still be looking for it because it's not there!  There is no such clause but most of us didn't argue unfortunately.  And as one of Aldolf Hitler's lieutenants used to say, "If you tell a lie long enough, people will start to believe it."  The so-called "progressives" (think Communists) were infiltrating our teaching ranks and the curriculum began to suffer.  It was incrementalism on a grand scale with their philosophy of "two steps forward and one step back."  They might have to give up some ground here and there but, like cancer, they would slowly take over.  Prayer in school was one of the first things to go but then there was what was being taught.  One of the first fatalities was Latin.  My mother was furious when Latin was dropped as a required course the year before I was scheduled to take it.  The progressives told us it was a dead language that no one spoke anymore so why waste time and money on it?  Problem was (and still is) Latin is one of the basic foundations of many languages where a lot of our vocabulary comes from.  

One of the next items on the chopping block was spelling.  I never had another spelling course past the seventh grade. Consequently I am not the speller I'd like to be.  Can't tell you how many times I've had to thumb through the dictionary writing these screeds.  It's embarrassing!  Other items on the list are penmanship and grammar.  Once upon a time we had to diagram sentences which meant drawing a kind of graph to  show sentence structure with subject first, then the verb(s) and then the direct object.  Diagramming is so out-of-date that when I did diagram a sentence on the board in the remedial English class I taught at Savannah Tech about 15 years ago my students were stunned.  They looked at it like I'd written and assignment in Chinese.  They looked at me and asked: "What's that?  What's it for? Why do that?"  

After only a week or two into the course I was teaching at Tech I came to the conclusion that these kids had ever right to sue the Savannah-Chatham County School System or whichever county they came from. I told them quite frankly that I could not teach them in twelve weeks what they should have learned in twelve years.  Their spelling was awful and their penmanship was atrocious and sentence structure was almost nonexistent. I had to insist they type their work because I couldn't read their printing.   That was when I also discovered to my shock and horror that cursive writing was also a casualty of the progressive movement.  Parenthetically, our grandchildren in Charlotte have let us know that we should not write them letters and cards because they can't read cursive writing.  And, oh by the way, their printing was awful as well.  My parents were in school when they actually graded penmanship.  Practically no child had a typewriter in those days and if the teacher couldn't read their papers they were docked a grade or more.  Those teachers were also allowed to fail their students--they might even give a zero! No lawsuits were filed and teachers were not threatened--kids actually learned stuff.

One of the reasons my grammar is so good is thanks to my mom who corrected me whenever I made an error.  Proper English and grammar was drilled into my parents generation. Mom never darkened the door of a college classroom but I can promise you she had a better education at Savannah High School in the late 1930s and early 40s than anyone graduating with a PhD today.  Her spelling was superb and handwriting was beautiful and quite easy to read...not once did I have to strain to wonder what a word was.  She was a whiz at math too and could often help me with my homework and if she couldn't my stepfather was a math genius. And speaking of math...another fatility of the progressive movement.  First came the "new" math which was an absolute disaster and then a few years ago the "even-newer" math was introduced. The education professionals tried to sell us that the new way to teach math in the 21 Century was to break the numbers down and have the kids show their work so they would "understand" how they got the answer.  So they now have to take seven or eight steps to do a problem that needs only two or three steps.  Our son is also a math whiz and when he tried to show his older daughter a short cut by plugging in a math formula.  She informed him that she couldn't use it.  He had the normal reaction, "Why not?  It's a mathmatical law! It works every time...you plug it in and you get the right answer, always!"  Nope...she can't use it has to show more steps so she could "understand" how she got the answer!  

As for teaching patriotism and the Constitution and the greatness of America--forget that!  I'll never forget how stunned I was when I substituted at Windsor Forest High School and when the morning announcements came on in the Home Room period the announcer said, "Now stand for the Pledge of Allegiance." Not many stood and few said it and I got the most puzzled looks when I read 'em the riot act for not standing and reciting the Pledge. It seems the only thing we teach about America anymore is what a rotten country we have that we stole from the Indians--OOPS--Native Americans.  PUH-LEEZE!  They weren't native either, they were just hear a lot longer after coming in and taking over while running around and killing each other.  God forbid we mention that in a classroom.  All they seem to know about the Founding Fathers is that they were evil old white men who owned slaves.  World War II vets have told me that when they talk to high school students they get asked things like, "Was World War II before or after Viet Nam?" When Gary Powers, Junior was here at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum a few years back told me that when he goes into schools to talk about his dad and the U-2 Spy Plane incident they think he's coming in to talk about band U2!    

Okay--if my 15-year-old granddaughter doesn't know Avagadro's Number fine...but if she doesn't about and why we developed a tri-cameral government, what each branch does and has read and understands the Constitution and Bill of Rights I have a big problem with that!   If you ask her about the Pathagorean Theorem and get the "deer in the headlights" look, I have a problem with that.  If she is not getting at least 30 minutes of recess, I have a problem with that too.  If she is not taught what a great country this is and how unique we are in the history of mankind, I have a major problem with that.  

In a relatively brief 150 years or so this country became the most powerful and richest country in the world while saving the world twice in the 20th Century. We went whizzing by hundreds of civilizations that had been around for centuries.  How?  Why?  It's our freedom and the great experiment of saying the people have authority over the government, not the other way around.  Not teaching that and giving kids a love and understanding for their country we ignore at our own peril. Let's get back to basics!

Bill Edwards

Bill Edwards

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