Our View: A view of school from every generation
The bell rings and school begins.
It’s a scene we’ve all experienced, or will. Bursting through the doors of your school, finding your desk on the first day. The pencils are freshly sharpened. The teacher stands attentively up front.
He or she might hold a piece of chalk or an iPad. Either way it’s the same thing.
Last week the bell rang for the first time this school year in Nevada County. Whether it was Nevada Union High School or Union Hill Elementary School, the feeling is the same.
School’s here again.
Everyone’s journey from kindergarten to 12th grade is different, yet everyone, for the most part, walked the same steps. We took the tests, played in the band and conspired underneath the bleachers.
That phony, Ward Stradlater, sneered nearby. There’s one of him for every generation, just as there’s a Jane Gallagher for every decade.
Think of the early morning drive to school to find good parking along the street. You slide the Studebaker coup into the spot in time to make the service club meeting. Mastery of the parallel parking maneuver showcases the driver’s ability to handle a gear shift.
In 1959 the school campus is wide open, though you’re supposed to stay on the property for lunch. The popular girls might skip — the ones who drink beer and bleach their hair. You prefer student government and prepping for college. You’ll find the friends you make in high school stay with you throughout your life.
A few years later and the scene changes. There’s a house about five miles from a Wisconsin school. The student body reaches about 600, and there’s an after-school activity for everyone.
Swim 100 yards, get a driver’s license and type 45 words a minute. Figure it out in four years and you get to graduate.
Five years later and it’s 1969. Here, at Nevada Union, a Volkswagen bug sits outside the school. The art teacher appreciates the new Crosby, Stills & Nash record. The music appreciation teacher, not so much.
You slog through four years to graduate, then fear the future and the threat of the draft.
In another town there’s a student who grows cold when the lone “B” is seen on a report card. It’s a rare occurrence in a high school with no fences and little fear. The school is safe. Maybe the worst thing that could happen is sitting alone at lunch. That’s a good reason to work in the student store, an excuse to avoid the quad.
About the same time there’s an all-boys Catholic school with a strict dress code. Coming from public school, the conformity required is odd. Dating is infrequent, leading to schoolwork, athletics and community service.
In the mid-1970s you have friends in several social circles. There’s the jocks, the smart kids, the misfits, the popular crowd. Years later they’ll be further categorized on the big screen: the basket case, the princess, the criminal.
Your parents are thankful you didn’t become the criminal. High school didn’t assist the maturing process. College and fighting fires did that.
Almost a generation later and there’s a school with no windows. Students must develop keen survival skills to navigate crowded hallways in a poorly conceived building. Depending on the period you’ve got five to seven minutes to reach your next class.
The metal detectors are installed the year after you leave.
Push forward to this decade. The baritone you carry is about as big as you, a weapon to protect you from the world.
Various groups hammer this message: Never drink and drive. The hammer works. Students live in fear of the Grim Reaper. He lurks in the backseats of cars, liquor bottle in hand.
He also sets up camp in the heads of students after a school shooting. Kids are scared to go to class. They fear for their younger siblings. They wonder, “what if?”
The high school parking lot now holds Kias and Camrys. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Studebaker.
The schools have changed, but the kids are the same. They’re still looking for purpose and hunting for a lunch mate they can sit with.
You should give that Ward Stradlater kid a chance. You might find he’s not that much of a phony after all.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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