Sunday, April 24, 2016

When the World Was Round

At what age did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? I've grown old without ever growing up and have shuffled along for the most part occasionally standing up when someone said sit down. Like every kid growing up, I was convinced no one understood what I was going through and that I was the first person in the world to feel whatever particular emotion I was experiencing that day. We all were like that. 

We all lived in neighborhoods where everyone knew everyone else. Where every house had a mother and a father and sometimes they fought (real shouting matches, people screaming at each other, stuff thrown on the lawn and late at night lots of noise as car and house doors slammed) and no one thought twice about it because it always happened. 

You walked to the school with the same kids everyday until someone said you had to ride school buses and then you walked to the bus stop together and rode the same buses to the same school and rode them home in the afternoon, changed into your play clothes (remember Mom's tone when she lectured about the sneakers? 'You're not going outside with your school shoes on, young man and that's final.' And it was.) and went outside to play with the same kids in the neighborhood you knew your whole life. 

I grew up with Robert F. and when his dad's company moved him to a job in Ohio, the whole family packed up and moved and the day they left, the whole neighborhood, kids and adults, lined the street as the moving van pulled away and following it, the F's Ford Country Squire station wagon and we all waved very solemnly because we knew we'd never see them again in our whole life and we watched as the car went up Bloomfield Ave headed towards Easton, growing smaller by the moment until it was just a speck on the horizon and then it was gone. And on the way home, I stopped at Bobby A's house and we grabbed our mitts and headed to the ball field. 

Those were the days when companies relocated people to other offices and factories in other states, not their jobs in other countries. Moms stayed home and Dads got dressed for work. In some houses, the rich ones (we kids always thought), the dads drove themselves to the train station and got on the train to The City to work and in others, Mom got up with Dad so they could ride together in the car to the train station and Dad would put it in park and get out while Mom slid over to get behind the wheel and roll down the window and kiss him goodbye and he'd go into the train station and off on his adventure. Mom needed the car for grocery shopping and maybe to take all of us to the dentist after school and then later in the evening, she'd drive to the train station and pick up Dad and they'd come home and have warmed over leftovers while we got ready for bed. 

And now I've read where sociologists and historians and behaviorists shake their heads in wonder when they read those accounts of everyday life 'back then' and are amazed that we survived. And yet here we are, in this world we created in spite and despite our parents and ourselves. Many of us have children who attend schools that are so tough, they have their own morgues (sorry, Lenny; it was a great line then and a great line now) and when you look at the children of today, how often do you see yourself? 

When ours were small and came home in the afternoons and told me about their days, more and more there was less and less of it I could understand. My children and their friends worried about clothes, shoes, video games, cell phones (why does a fourth-grade child need a cell phone and what would Maslow say about such a need?) and their lives resembled mine at their age in almost no way. 

How many kids were in your fifth-grade class? I had fifty-two and learned enough to get to sixth grade (and a bit beyond) and today we have classroom ratios that sound like something out of Little House on the Prairie and standardized test scores that suggest McGuffy Readers could make a comeback. It's not, I think, that the kids are failing in school it's that we have developed a school process, an education factory, if you will, that fails our children. 

"Johnny Can't Read" and instead of enrolling him in a remedial class we have a school psychologist he visits every other day to be asked 'and how does that make you feel?'. I don't know what it's like to be fourteen years old in school these days, but I know I wouldn't want to be that age again on a bet. But what happened and how did it happen? What were we doing, as the parents of these empty children, that allowed the monsters that were under their beds to escape and to dominate their lives and color their dreams? And now what?
-bill kenny

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