“The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round….” ,
“School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days….”
“A B C D E F G……”
Those well-known tunes remind us that it’s nearly time for classes to begin again in NYS. In some places, public school kids are already slamming locker doors, treading the long halls, and taking in the aroma of tomato soup wafting up from the cafeteria. Children live on either side of our house, so we will hear the bus coming to a grinding halt every morning. It’s a nice sound---- as I lie in bed----- contemplating getting up. The kids on one side are out there, ready for the bus; on the other side, I hear the bus driver honk the horn; as those kids gather their backpacks and jackets before spilling out the door. I was usually ready for the bus; I didn’t like running for an almost closed bus door and hearing Mr. Simond’s deep sigh (“we’re running late…”) as he reopened it.
My granddaughters have been home-schooling, though they were in public school and riding the bus earlier in their lives. Currently they don’t have to rush for an early bus; they can clear breakfast dishes from the table and replace them with books and computer. Our boys seldom rode a bus either; we were close enough to two schools for walking. Seven decades ago, I rode a bus for nearly an hour. It picked me up at 7:10 AM and we got to school around 8 AM. In the interim, that bus covered a lot of back roads in the Victor- Farmington (Pun’kin Hook) area. There was little misbehavior; we talked, did homework that should have been done the night before, or ---- occasionally ---- sang. But that was then! Now there is more mayhem and bus drivers often need an aide on the bus to make it to school safely.
Naturally, kids view school with varying attitudes. For the home-schooled, I would guess that public school sometimes has the appeal of the grass being greener than that at home. Certainly, in school, there is more socialization and more potential friends, but definitely less individual freedom. Our granddughters can run down to check on the goats between math and science or find a cozy place outside to study. In school, a student generally can’t just rise up and go to the bathroom, or stop mid-class for a little snack. And socialization can be good or not-so-good. In spite of working to stem the tide, there is still too much bullying; the “mean-girls syndrome” is alive and well. For public school children who were “stuck” at home during the past year, though, the classroom may look a whole lot better than it did before COVID. A niece and nephew in Los Angeles looked (photo on FB) delighted to be back in real school instead of home watching a screen. Most kids go through some teenage angst, which tends to cause discontent and desire for change ---- any change. Some of that angst, unfortunately, still lurks in me and pops out on occasion.
Teachers have had a rough time for the past year and a half. I am awed at all the creative ways they have stayed in touch with their students. Back when, in the three school districts our boys attended, they had some really fine teachers ---- and a few inept ones. A first-grade teacher for our eldest made the kids put their heads down on their desks while she watched “Good Morning America” for 20 minutes. One high school teacher neglected to notify us when our son hadn’t turned in homework for several weeks. He finally mentioned it at the first parent-teacher conference as an “Oh by the way….” comment ----- five weeks into the year. Another rather snobbish-about-curriculum teacher objected to our son’s choice of book for a book report, and the teacher and I had a conversation about that. Actually, I thought the book was quite appropriate but even if it hadn’t been, I figure enthusiasm for reading something is better than apathy over a more illuminating choice.
For the most part, teachers in the small rural schools our kids attended were caring, well-educated and hard-working people. They were sincerely trying to prepare students to live in a challenging adult world. One particular teacher was so very creative that I wished I could recycle our boys back through elementary school so they could be in her class. Having been a substitute teacher for a few years, I have empathy for those who prepare lessons and face those charming and not-so-charming, often very needy, youngsters every day.
Our culture would be in a better place if only everyone would realize that good education comes from many sources; it doesn’t stop with one’s last diploma whether high school, college or advanced degrees. Isaac Asimov* said: “Education isn’t something you can finish.” We should meet every day with curiosity and the desire to learn. Neglecting to learn about our history, about research and discoveries, being interested in why people think as they do, considering one’s own emotional and spiritual depths------ neglecting those things imprisons one’s mind as surely as the brass bars of a bird cage. Formal school simply gives one the basics; the embroidery comes by our own efforts.
This same idea is also found in The Proving Trail, by Louis L’Amour**: “School can give you the barest outline of an education. You have to fill it in yourself. Read ---- Listen ----- Taste. An ignorant man has such limits on his possibilities of enjoyment. He is denying himself all of the richness in life. Just as in food, your taste in all things needs the experience of flavor. Education is, in part, just learning to discriminate between ideas, tastes, flavors, sounds, colors or whatever you wish to mention………..If evil and hardship come upon you, at least you will be aware of what is happening and you will have some understanding of why.”
I have never quite understood the people who habitually vote down school budgets ---- other than it is one of the few opportunities where people can vote it down if they choose. Taxes are undeniably unpopular and often difficult but I would think that turning out kids who are well-educated would be a priority for any community; it is an indication of how much we care or do not care, about the future. There is almost a distrust of education and a grim belief that if computers, field trips, music and art, etc. weren’t in my schooling, there is no reason for it to be in present-day schooling. And why should teachers be paid any better; they only work ten months of the year and how hard can it be to teach a bunch of kids? Those erroneous, limiting attitudes only turn out more grim, petty, often-limited people. As Henry Adams*** said: “A teacher affects eternity; he/she can never tell where his influence stops.” Schools are not baby-sitters; they are avenues to the future.
It is true that formal education doesn’t always equate wisdom, and we need to be careful to keep education from being too philosophical for daily life. Horace Porter**** said: “A mugwump is a person educated beyond his intellect.” I believe that was a derogatory political statement of the times but if people do not have common sense and practical experience as well as in-class knowledge, they are of limited use in this world. In fact, they can be a bad influence as they expound their theories without understanding the whole. There are people with little formal education who look at the world with curiosity, who read, and who think well; who are educating themselves and achieving wisdom. Learning needs to be applicable to life as well as leading us to the wonders of our world.
One of the wonders in my personal world right now is the humble tomato ---- that basic garden staple that serves so many culinary purposes. We no longer preserve the many fruits and vegetables we once did. But tomatoes are, for us, an annual necessity of life. We make about 60 quarts of juice and nearly as many quarts of whole tomatoes. In the past I’ve turned them into spaghetti sauce, chili sauce and once – ketchup (we didn’t think it was all that great although probably healthier) but now don’t fuss with those. Most green tomatoes at the end of the season go into “mincemeat”. Of course, real mincemeat includes meat and suet, as in my mother’s recipe requiring: 1 bowl of chopped up apples, 1 bowl of finely- chopped beef or venison, 1 bowl….. etc. But my fruity green tomato mincemeat is just fine for filling cookies or tarts or, better yet, giving to a friend who creates incredibly-yummy mincemeat pastries. But now, the canning must begin!
We are coming to the end of summer, although by the calendar, we have until September 22nd. In reality, when school begins, the long golden days of summer seem over. And yet, there are some lovely – if busier -- days to come. Now is when I used to prowl the swamp and woods, making huge bouquets of Joe Pye weed, golden rod, boneset and purple asters. My mother and I would put my finds into large earthen crocks to decorate the porch steps. Now, too, is when the hanging clusters of elderberries are ready to pick. They are a treat for some of us but totally unknown to most people. A few individuals, who do not like them, have described them as seedy little BBs with a wild taste. But for those of us who covet them, we appreciate delicious pies or crisps. And they have now been discovered to boost one’s immune system and are sold as elixirs and gummies.
August ---- still lingering with its warm days and cooler nights. September ---- nearly here with its leisurely turn into fall. Slow down to enjoy and do be alert for those fast-moving school kids on bikes and/or running for the bus.
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Isaac Asimov ---American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. Known for his popular science fiction. 1920-1992.
**Louis L’Amour ----American novelist, short story writer and poet. 1908-1988.
***Henry Adams --- American historian who was also a member of the political Adams family. 1838-1918
****Horace Porter --- American soldier and diplomat who served with the Union army during the Civil War as Lt. Colonel and ordinance officer. 1837-1921