Traverse City Record-Eagle


The snowball in the locker

By Gloria VeltmanThe names have been changed to protect the innocent and those who may have  erred in their response.

A snowball in a school locker. A little girl’s attempt to preserve a bit of winter for more play at the next recess. The school was not amused. Little “Lisa’s” punishment for her chilly misdemeanor? Her next opportunity for the freedom of outdoor recess was canceled.

Perhaps, this is a reflection of today’s educational philosophy. Cookie cutter kids all cut from the same dough by the same cookie cutter. And that, perhaps, would help explain why we have so few people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Albert Einstein to enrich all of us.

Of course, we can’t gloss over a glob of melting snow in a school locker. Think of the jacket and other winter gear hanging in the compartment. Think of the school books and first grade home work papers  that might be damaged. To say nothing of the eventual puddle on the floor that would have to be cleaned up so no one could slip and fall.

My parents were both school teachers but I think it was a blessing that I didn’t follow in their career paths.  Why?  Because, if I had been the ”Lisa’s”  teacher,  I would have had a hard time keeping a straight face as I counseled her  about why storing a fresh  snowball  in her locker wasn’t the best of ideas and she should not repeat the deed. We might even get a mini science lesson out of the incident.   And then having ascertained that she understood why she shouldn’t repeat this action, and maybe having her clean up any melted snow, I would have sent her on out for recess.  I am thinking that the teacher was probably new and felt she had to  strictly adhere to “The Rules.”

In contrast, let me tell you about a story that Pastor Joel Osteen recently told on a TV broadcast.  A junior high school student  hadn’t read a book he had been assigned to read for an assignment.  Undeterred, the lad wrote a full, glowing report.  His teacher gave him a very good grade on the report; an A minus as I recall the story.  However, she added a note telling the student that she had read the assigned book  and this report was not on that book.  However, the teacher’s note added that the student had shown great imagination and creativity and in the future he should use those talents more responsibly.

Maybe the second teacher was more experienced, although, it could have been an insightful newer teacher.  I use to cover two school boards for downstate news outlets and saw a lot of older, experienced teachers  bought out and sent into premature retirement in money saving moves.  As a result, there has been a hidden cost in the loss  of wisdom  garnered through experience.

Even though my parents were both teachers doesn’t mean I think all teachers are perfect people and teachers.  I had some average and mediocre teachers and I certainly observed some really poor ones.  But I also had some outstanding, life changing teachers.  Beth Matthews, my third grade teacher, who inspired a love of reading, writing and story telling.  Donald “Doc” Ward, who taught American History and got away with telling his 8th grade students some profound truths in the 1950s only because he was retiring at the end of the year.  And Roger Kirk-some of you might know him from when he lived in the Grand Traverse area.  He taught government and economics which I still use to sweep away the web of misinformation (and worse) that passes for political discourse in our present society.  Oh, yes, and on a practical basis my bookkeeping teacher, Howard Jessup, and Miss Becker, my Latin teacher.  Yes, Latin use to be taught in high school and I still use what I learned in that class on an almost daily basis.

Many children now start school as early as six WEEKS of age.  It is called day care.  By the time children arrive in first grade, they have already spent as much as five years in organized, institutional learning settings.  In addition, there are all kinds of enrichment activities such as dance and music lessons, summer camps and organized sports activities and field trips.  As a volunteer instructor  with the Inland Seas Schoolship program, I am certainly not against these activities.  Each and every one of these are worthy pursuits.  Add some TV watching and video games to the scheduled events, some family time and sleep, and that leaves precious little time for just being a child.

When my son was young he was lucky  enough to be cared for by Grandma Schuur, not his biological grandparent, but a neighbor who became family.  As my father once said, “he learned a lot from her and it was all good.”  My son learned practical things like tying his own shoes (this was before Velcro closures) and to tell time and that chores come before play.  But he also learned about nature and the great outdoors and was exposed to people of different backgrounds and ages.  After he started school, Adam knew that when he got home from school he was required to go in and change out of his school clothes.  He then went next door to Grandma’s for a snack before going outside to play until I got home unless the weather was really bad.

Now where is the time for a child to watch an ant cross the patio?  Lie on her back and study the castles and dinosaurs in the cloud formations on a summer day?  Build a snowman in the back yard?  Hop scotch through puddles on a spring day?  Swing in a hammock?  Play in a pickup ball game with neighborhood children?  In the Inland Seas schoolship programs we take about three minutes out of our science work after the sails are raised  to be quiet and  just listen to the sound of the waves,  the wind in the rigging and appreciate the waters and land and weather.

Historically, childhood is probably a fairly recent development more commonly found in more affluent societies and already it seems to becoming obsolete.  I hope that by the time “Lisa” has children, children will once again have the opportunity  to experience the wonder and learning experience that childhood can be.

  • Greta898

    Thanks Gloria, you said a mouthful!!

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