Monday, June 20, 2011

HOMEROOM: The Board of Education

                Back in ‘61, we got to school he old-fashioned way – – – I, for example,  walked 1.8 miles from 22nd and Poplar.  And, no, it wasn't uphill both ways. That lasted until our senior year when we got wheels, in my case a 1941 Plymouth. Perfect!
                When we got to school, we put our coats in our lockers and chatted with some friends before heading to our gender- segregated homerooms. In my all boys homeroom, the first event of the day usually revolved around Norwood “Goody" Goodwin, the best basketball player on our team. You see, Goody had a penchant for being late. And when he was late, which was a couple of times a week, our homeroom teacher, Mr. Scott, would grab the paddle in preparation for giving Goody a whack.
                That's right; our teachers were armed and dangerous. When a new teacher reported to the front office for duty, he was issued three items: a grade book, a plan book and the paddle. These paddles were worthy of being collectors’ items. Holes were often drilled through them so there would be less air resistance on the swing. Some had written on them "Board of Education". Others had other designs. Some were plain. All threatened posterior doom.
                There is a reason why I'm so familiar with these weapons of mass destruction: I was a deserved victim many times over. There was a ritual to the whole procedure. It centered around our budding manhood. When singled out by the executioner, you would walk calmly to the front of the room, take your wallet out of your back pocket, lean over the front desk and prepare to show no grimace nor make any sound when board met butt and the pain was felt.   The sound of that whack filled the quiet classroom. You then stood up, grabbed your wallet, gave a faint smile to your classmates, returned to your seat and sat ever so gently down. Manhood proved!
                So when Goody would walk in late in the midst of the morning announcements, he went through this ritual. Now lucky for Goody, Mr. Scott was a gentle soul and applied the paddle lightly and half in jest. And why not? After all, Goody had scored 20 points in last night's game.
                Next came the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance. This was not the same Pledge of Allegiance we had said during our early elementary school years. About the time we were in fifth grade, Congress, fearing that "godless communism" might infiltrate our society, added the words "under God" to the Pledge. We never gave such things a second thought. We ritually and by rote mumbled daily such words as "one nation indivisible," then went off to study the Civil War.
                But first, there were those morning announcements over the PA system.  In 1961 those announcements began with the reading of the passage from the Bible. That's right, we graduated before the famous Supreme Court decision banning the practice of any one religion in the schools. People mistakenly believe that that decision banned prayer from the schools. It did not. Any student is free to pray in a public school as long as the prayer ritual does not disturb classroom instruction. What is forbidden is the professional staff from leading prayers or Scripture readings from any one religion.
                The part of those announcements that is forever engraved in my mind is when Principal Hamilton Gillespie gave the weather report by announcing, "Red sunrise in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sunset at night, sailors’ delight."
                And so, with the ringing of the bell, we're off to another day of learning, never knowing what new adventure might be forever engraved in our minds.

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