How Did We Survive? Part III

How Did We Survive? Part III

Ah, I’m back. A quick hit of fumes from some old ditto fluid that I had saved for many years - now I feel much better. Don’t be surprised; after all I did grow up in the sixties, and old habits die hard. (Kidding, of course)

Returning to the elementary school years….

Back in the day we played games on those unsupervised playgrounds that would make today’s school officials cringe. Do you remember, “Release the Belgian?” How about “Reliveo” (to the best of my knowledge, only a local game) and “Red Rover?” They caused more bloody noses, chipped teeth and broken bones than any contact sport ever did. But we made it.

The playgrounds had no grass, sand or mulch. There were no recycled tire chips, fine stone or sawdust play areas. Instead they were made of black top. But we survived.

Believe it or not, we had no provisions for water outside either. And the fountains inside did not provide cold water, only water at room temperature. But again, we made it. We survived.

During the winter, we would run full speed, suddenly lock up, and skate on our shoes (I don’t ever remember wearing boots to school) over and over again in the same spot. When 50 or 60 kids did this repeatedly for a half hour or so, our path became a smooth sheet of pure ice. As we reached the end of the icy path, totally out of control, we usually wiped out on the macadam. Torn pants and raw flesh were common. But we got by.

School insurance policies in case of an injury? Forget it – if you didn’t have coverage at home, there was little chance your parents could afford an additional policy at school.

I can’t recall ever going home and telling mom or dad that a teacher was picking on me, or that I had gotten into trouble during the day. Instead, I prayed that my parents never learned of any mischief in which I became involved. And I survived.

During my six years of elementary school, I can only remember of one father of a student coming in to school to speak with a teacher. And although that student tried to convince us that his dad was coming in to argue with, or fight with the teacher, we had trouble believing him. In my home, and most others, the teacher was always right. There simply was no permission granted for speaking your mind – it was futile.

As a student, I never saw a parent wait for the bus with the kids and I never saw students sitting in a car, with mom or dad, while waiting for a bus. It was the same on our way home. I can’t remember parents picking up their kids at a bus stop. It just didn’t happen. Unfortunately, in today’s society that practice has become a necessity more so than a luxury. But, back in the day, we got by.

When school ended for the summer, it did just that – it ended. We had no summer sessions, no parks and recreational activities and no school-sponsored sports teams during the summer months.

No one I knew was gifted, learning disabled or in need of any social services. Not that those students didn’t exist, they were either not identified or not educationally labeled as such. But they somehow got by.

Just how did we get through this archaic institutional setting with all its shortcomings and flaws? Somehow we did. And we not only managed to get through, but we flourished, learned and graduated too.

Some members of our class later became doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, researchers and professors. Others contributed to society as nurses, civil service employees, technicians, and trained mechanics, all without the individualized special programs so common in today’s schools. Our school system provided a valuable work force made of members similar to those in most any other class, in most any other school, in any other area, in America. And as difficult as it is to comprehend, one member of our graduating class attained the incomprehensible status of a middle school science teacher and coach.

Yes, somehow we did make it. We made it in spite of what we didn't have. We made it with what we did have.

Our founding fathers could never have predicted all the provisions that modern schools offer. After all, today’s schools are based on the needs of today’s society and its ever-changing values and ideals. Many old customs, mores and traditions have disappeared along with the ditto fluid. We may get a whiff of them now and then, but we’ll never put our hands on something in education that concrete again. But today’s students will also make it.

In some academic circles it has been noted that today’s schools may possibly be trying to do too much. The extra time and money might be better spent on the old reading, writing and arithmetic skills. I doubt (no matter how superior we feel about the good old days) we will ever see a return to an all-academic school system. But the kids today and in the future will get by. And they will learn – they will succeed.

Obsolete air raid drills are now replaced by storm and tornado drills. Students now experience “lock-downs.” And bomb threats make the news regularly. All visitors must report to the office via one unlocked door in schools today and any bullying incidents or student-made threats are taken very seriously. Teachers today are made aware of possible abductions and are asked to watch closely to see who may come into contact with a child on school grounds. And according to child welfare agencies most of these potential abductions take place because of one of the parents.

In spite of the demise of many families today, we pray kids will survive and flourish. And somehow, like us, they will.

You see, before policies mandated that educational institutions must replace everything the family once provided, schools had one function. And that was to teach children the basic subjects. Before society felt the need to blame its woes on the school system, some of the responsibility was placed in the home. And before any of us were granted the many options and perks commonly found in education today, we managed to get by, survive and succeed with what we did have.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA