2012-08-08 / Columns

Jim Hite


It’s difficult to comprehend, but school is back in session. We’ve come a long way from starting on the Tuesday after Labor Day and ending the first week of June, for better or worse.

Usually, the start of the school year provides an opportunity to encourage and praise those in the front lines — the classroom teachers, who must succeed in providing learning opportunities to students of all abilities, those who want to learn and those who do not, many of whom have the “Sesame Street” idea that all learning must be fun. All the while those teachers must strive mightily to make sure they do not damage a single child’s selfesteem, whatever the age.

Not this year. An article by David Benjamin in August, 2012, issue of U.S. Catholic, subtitled: At St. Mary’s School, you check your self-esteem at the door, caught my parochial-school-trained eye.

His experience brought forth a flood of memories of St. Charles School.

Oh, I know. Students are always told how tough their parents had it. And in conversation, that touches on education. How many elders regale sons/daughters and grandsons/granddaughters with tales of how tough it was when they were in school.

Hey, let’s face it. If you were in school say from the late 1960s on, when this self-esteem thing got started and PC took over, it was not that tough on the student. Being tough wasn’t allowed.

I know. I taught from the 1970s into the 1990s and know the constraints teachers were under!

Benjamin describes St. Mary’s thusly: “A school whose sacred mission was to keep us all constantly aware of our slobbering stupidity, to hold us in a perpetual state of self-loathing for our own miserable sakes, and to crush ruthlessly any sign of impertinence.”

I can relate. I was provided with an excellent education from first grade (1940) on, but one based not only on knowledge but also on a discipline that made learning not only possible but imperative.

Self-esteem? From second grade on, we learned spelling by lining up, being asked a word which, if misspelled, made us sit down. Same for arithmetic (remember that word?) Flash cards were shown with a problem. Incorrect answer and down you went.

With eight teachers for eight grades, classroom discipline was absolutely necessary. The eighth grade teacher was principal. There was no office, no secretary, no teacher aides, no lunchroom (students went home for lunch or ate at their desks).

There was no limit on class size. If a child in the parish wanted to go to St. Charles, he/she went to St. Charles. In fifth grade, my class exploded to 54 due to the closing of rural one-room schools at the end of World War II and the township providing transportation. I graduated eighth grade in a class of 47.

Discipline was enforced by the teacher’s voice, the total support of the teacher by the home, and a hard wooden “clicker” that directed every movement from arrival to dismissal, telling us when to sit, when to stand, when to move, when to stop, etc. It did wonders to improve the conduct of any recalcitrant young boy (girls were out of the realm of the clicker’s influence) when applied to said recalcitrant’s knuckles!

“Self-esteem,” “gifted,” “tracking” had yet to enter the educational lexicon.

That was over 65 years ago! St. Charles School is closed. Education is a different world.

Teachers: Have a wonderful year. You are so important, important beyond words. God bless you, each one.

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