Back to School | by Linda Brendle
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 24, 2021:
Back-to-school week made me feel older than usual this year. Maybe it’s because my grandson is a senior, and my granddaughter is entering 7th grade. To emphasize their maturity, their first-day picture was taken in front of his car as he prepared to drive his younger sister to school. His own car? He just learned how to walk!
All of the returning student pictures on Facebook didn’t help matters. Many of them were of children I worked with in AWANA at church, and some of them were moving into their first college dorm room. I couldn’t help but remember those heart-rending moments when I cut those final apron strings myself – and my “student” will hit the half-century mark on his next birthday.
Aside of reminding me of my age, back to school has reminded me of how very much school has changed since I was a student. One picture showed a new fourth grader pulling a wagon full of supplies toward the school. I checked the supply list for Kindergarten in Rains ISD, and there were 29 items on the list if you include the extra items for boys and girls. The list included, among other things, 4 boxes of crayons. Not the generic 8-count box, but 4 of the 24-count boxes of the big-name crayons. Are they planning to color the entire building before the end of the year? It’s no wonder there are drives to help families who might otherwise have to choose between buying supplies or shoes.
The classrooms are amazing, too. Gone are the days when classes were held in institutional rooms with institutional desks, a blackboard or two, and a corkboard edged with institutional metal. Now, teachers begin weeks ahead of time planning the décor for the year which includes designer bulletin boards based on a theme that is carried throughout the room. The walls are decorated with inspirational posters, rolling carts with color-coded plastic drawers line the walls, and homey touches like reading corners with sofas and a rug are not uncommon. I can’t help but wonder how many students appreciate, or even notice, all the preparation that was made for them.
College dorms/apartments are very different than what I experienced, too. Of course, the only year I lived in a dorm was my freshman year, and I was assigned to the oldest dorm on campus. The floors were painted concrete, and there was no air conditioning. The rooms were built for two, and the communal bathrooms were built for about twenty. No cooking was allowed in the rooms, although my roommate and I got away with a popcorn popper as long as we shared with the upperclassman who supervised our floor. By contrast, the rooms I’ve seen on facebook are carpeted and have private baths. Most students have set up a kitchenette area complete with microwave, mini-refrigerator, and coffeemaker. It’s almost enough to lure a person back to college.
I met with my mentee last Thursday for the first time since her return to school. She was incensed by the increased restrictions on dress and behavior this year. Stressed jeans that sport a hole above the knee now have to be worn with something underneath, and phones cannot be used in class for any reason, even to check the time.
“What if my parents need to text me?” she wailed.
I refrained from telling her that I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans or pants of any kind except on pep rally days. But I couldn’t resist reminding her that I went through my entire day without access to a phone, and I survived. She smiled indulgently when I told her that if I absolutely had to contact my parents, I had to go to the office and use the phone there.
Of course, every generation is surprised and even shocked about how things have changed “since I was in school.” I’m sure most of us heard stories about how our parents had to get up before dawn to milk the cows and slop the pigs. And then they had to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. But they studied basic subjects that gave them a foundation for succeeding in a world where rules and guidelines were clearly defined – and they passed those guidelines on to us. Today’s students are often set afloat with too many choices and too little guidance.
I am grateful that we have teachers who are dedicated to giving their students a good education in a pleasant environment, and I am thankful for administrators who set limits in a society that encourages life without rules. And I appreciate parents and grandparents who take an active interest in the education of the children in their lives. These precious students will need all the wisdom we can give them to live in a world that becomes stranger every day. And if you’re not sure how to guide them, simply rely on the source of all wisdom for advice.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6