As the kids returned to school this fall, I was reminded of my own years in elementary school, eons ago. In light of political correctness, I think I might have been subjected to what might be called abuse.
In gym class, for example, we’d play outside in the heat for an hour. When we came back into the gym, we had to line up in squads of eight, sitting on the floor, cross-legged. I don’t know why. I only know the teacher then watched us like a drill sergeant. If anyone moved or talked in the line, the whole squad wasn’t allowed to go out in the hall for a drink of water before going back to class. So we sat up straight and prayed others would not betray us. I can’t imagine any teacher treating children this way today.
Still in that same hated gym, another thing I’d rather forget is dance class. The boys would be lined up on one side of the room, the girls on the other. When the music began, the boys were supposed to come over and choose a girl to dance with. Standing against the opposite wall, I felt like I was facing a firing squad as the boys approached. I was never chosen, probably due to my scrawny build, ugly round glasses and straight hair. The same was true when choosing teams. A captain was designated, and then picked her players in turn. I was left standing last, again. Same reasons. And dodge ball petrified me. I could get hit in the face and break those round glasses.
You’d think music class would be safe after that. Not for me. At the beginning of the first class, our teacher, Mrs. White, would bring each of us up to the front by the piano. She would then play notes on the keys and we were to match them with our voices. I’d inherited my mother’s tone-deaf nature, so I blew it. Then, in front of everyone, I and others who couldn’t match the notes were assigned to the front-row seats. Any time Mrs. White wanted our class to sound perfect when we sang, the front row was told to keep silent.
My not exactly PC experiences would never happen in today’s schools. Egos aren’t damaged by singling out – either inferior or superior behavior. Children are encouraged and often rewarded no matter how they perform. And many times no score is kept in competitive games, so nobody loses. Kids get a gold star, I’m told, whether they do well or not. It’s called fostering self-esteem, and in many ways I can see its justification. Children have enough to handle these days.
But I believe there is a fine balance between encouraging self-worth and still presenting the real world of win and lose, fair and unfair, and skills to cope with what awaits us in real life. Demeaning children is always wrong, but false praise for something not earned, I think, is equally misdirected.
So, what happened to me when I grew up? I learned, however painfully, that life isn’t fair all the time, so I wasn’t surprised when sometimes I was ignored, put down, passed over or even persecuted. I got over it. I found what I could do well and honed it. I’d learned when I was very young – perhaps the best time to learn – that there are times in life when there are just no good guys.
I mastered more than reading, writing and arithmetic. And I believe I’ve handled life with some degree of dignity and courage - most of the time. So, thank you, Mrs. White and those insensitive gym teachers. You taught me well.