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The good old days?


In the sixth grade, a classmate stole away after the dismissal bell, ensconced himself in his locker and remained there until the cavernous brick building fell silent. He spent the night in the school, a fact the janitor discovered when he found him curled up on a mat on the gymnasium floor at around 6 o’clock the next morning. The student was a legend by noontime. We were sure he’d get the paddle (it was rumored to have three big holes in it that added sting when applied, though no one I knew had actually seen this mythical instrument or corporal punishment). He got a “troublemaker” label he never escaped.

It didn’t occur to any of us to ask at the time, but all these years later, I still wonder if anyone asked what he was running away from. Kids don’t hide away overnight for no good reason. Whatever was waiting for him at home was probably scarier than the prospect of spending the night in a creaky old schoolhouse whose boiler made clanking and hissing sounds in the night.

In junior high, a 16-year-old eighth-grader beat up a teacher who looked to be about 10 years past retirement age after she intervened in a squabble over bubble gum. He was labeled a troublemaker, too. No one questioned whether his aggression stemmed from frustration over not being able to comprehend the texts, but looking back on it today, it seems the fact that he was 16 and still in junior high should have suggested to someone that the school wasn’t meeting his educational needs.

In high school, a group of us girls went to the guidance counselor and asked what we could do to stop the ruffians who walked down the hall and grabbed our breasts, saying “boink, boink” as they did so. The counselor advised us to view it as a form of flattery and a sign of popularity, but if the advances were unwanted, we should cross our arms. No one ever said these were abusive acts of sexual harassment.

Most people from my generation have similar stories, but you can’t fling a chalkboard eraser without hitting someone who thinks that K-12 education would be better if schools today were more like they were a few decades ago, back in the good old days.

The truth is, the good old days weren’t that good.

Today, the Department of Human Services likely would be asked to intervene and find out what was going on at home that would cause a student to hide in the school overnight. Special-education teachers would be assigned early so a student wouldn’t reach his 16th birthday in junior high without being able to read or write. And, most certainly, there would be consequences for any student who “flattered” a female student in the same manner as those miscreants who roamed the halls of my high school.

There’s still room for improvement in education and always will be if the goal is continuous improvement. If citizens want a school system that educates all of its students, they shouldn’t complain about the cost of special-education and English-as-a-second-language teachers. And they certainly must insist that their legislators pass an anti-bullying bill that targets the specific reasons students are harassed.

Beth Dalbey, editorial director for Business Publications Corp., can be reached by e-mail at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com, or by phone at 288-3336, Ext. 233.

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