Monday, August 17, 2009

Back-to-school memories

It's back-to-school week in our household, and that got me thinking about my own school days. They were very different from my daughter's. She goes to a pretty typical suburban school, where her grade is split into several classes. Several hundred students attend her school. It's just small enough that she can usually put a name with each face, but not always.

From Kindergarten through 8th grade, I attended a one-room rural school. My daughter has more people in her classroom than I had in my entire school.

It was a very different experience. We all went to recess at the same time, ate lunch at the same time (brought from home, there was no hot lunch program), did most of the same extracurricular activities, and we all went on the same field trips at the same time. While the teacher gave lessons to one grade, the others worked on their own assignments or did group projects. Some grades had a single person (one of my brothers was his entire class through most of grade school), other grades simply didn't have anyone. I had two classmates most years. My daughter has a hard time imagining this. So do a lot of adults I meet. Little House on the Prairie only goes so far as a frame of reference. Here's some visual help:

This was my school house:


And this was the entire student body when I was in Kindergarten, plus the teacher and teacher's aide.

Mary kindergarten
(That's me in front, in the green sweater vest)

By 8th grade, there weren't even this many students. Sadly, the school is now closed.

A strange thing I just noticed (I don't know why I never did before): I'm the only student who isn't related to any other student in this picture. Everyone else has at least one sibling, and some have cousins. In fact, half the students all had the same last name.

One of my most vivid memories is from the beginning of the day when everyone stood up to say the Pledge of Allegiance and I had no idea what they were doing. I don't even remember there being a reassuring "We're going to do this now, but don't worry, we'll teach it to you later today." It just happened. I didn't know where to look, or anything. I think the rest of the day must have gone pretty well: My only other memory was not being ready to go home at noon, since Kindergartners only went half a day.

I still get a bit awed at the different experiences my daughter is having in school. Every child in her classroom is at roughly the same level. They're all getting the same instruction at the same time. They don't overhear the older kids' lessons, don't necessarily see the older kids' books (which seem magical when you're little and there's a little disappointment when you reach that grade and find they're just regular schoolbooks like the ones you've had before). They don't get the passive review of the younger kids' lessons, either, and maybe don't have the same little chances for mentoring.

At the same time, she has resources at her fingertips that I could only have dreamed of, and I'm not just referring to computers - she has an entire library complete with a librarian, a school counselor, and actual gym equipment (I remember our "home base" was always a round piece of metal, roughly the size of a Frisbee, which had long ago come off some piece of farm equipment). I didn't feel deprived at the time, and still don't think I was, but sometimes I wonder if my daughter will ever understand just how good she's got it.