The kids were at it again. Things were really tough. Some teacher had suggested something that sounded hard and I had tried to console the kids with the usual 5 miles to school in the snow story. "Yeah, we know. (In unison with string accompaniment.) Uphill both ways." The teacher had explained that it was hard because she was trying to prepare them for college.
Maybe it's time they knew the truth. It was only 41/2 miles and the snow was only 4 feet 11 inches deep. Besides that we had to wear galoshes. Kids these days have it easy with no galoshes. There is nothing like an iced-over galosh buckle. (Parents - please describe these to your kids so this important part of our heritage won't be lost.) The primitive boots leaked anyway, especially when worn unbuckled because of the icing problem. Besides leaking, the two boots would hook together at the undone buckles and trip kids into puddles. There has never been a child in the history of the world to arrive at school on a snowy day with dry feet having worn galoshes. Of course, today's chauffeured kids can wear their Birkenstocks all winter.If kids should get their feet wet on their arduous journey from the parking lot to the school, there is no problem with tangled wet laces. Hook and loop closings have eliminated the need for shoe laces and the need to teach "wrap the string around the bunny ear." As evidence that shoe tying is a lost skill, notice that kids with lace-up shoes don't.
I know kids think that it is tough these days, but consider digital watches. What challenge is there in learning to tell time when all you have to do is read the numbers? Some watches sing and beep the time when class and church run overtime. Because of these new watches, kids don't even know what Dial meant by "round the clock protection."
Add to this the convenience of calculators. In our days the true gnuerds (correct spelling of nerds) had to carry around a yardlong thing that looked like a ruler. Kids carrying these slide rulers were given P.E. credit for just carrying them around because it was in addition to the obligatory arsenal of pens and pencils in the plastic pocket protector.
And we needed those pens and pencils. We had to practice the Palmer method of penmanship by making line after line of concentric circles with a green UISSCO pencil with no eraser. Pencils with erasers only promoted sloppy work. This is an important point.
The reason we know so much today is because we didn't have erasers back then. We were taught not to make misteakes and we still don't.
I will admit to having access to the greatest invention of all time while in school: the thermos. Even though it always leaked in the 50-pound lunch pail that I had to carry, it did keep hot things hot and cold things cold. Its greatness was in the fact that it could tell which was which. It also helped to have a pail to gather horse chestnuts in the fall.
The part that should amaze kids is that even with all this adversity, we still wore decent hair cuts. Just check out the old yearbooks. We also listened to decent music.
And speaking of music, we had to actually play our musical instruments. Computerized synthesizers didn't make music laser shows for us as we watched. Now printouts of the music the computer has written are sent via fax, modem, or photocopy to any place in the galaxy, instantly. Just think of the advantage for the student who has to write 5,000,000,001 times "I will not write sarcastic essays in class."
At this point the kids of Utah should be convinced and recognize that their problems are really quite minor. All they have to do is try get into a college in Utah and try to take the course of their choice. This course should prepare them for some unknown career that hasn't been invented yet but will come along with the thousands of new ones that come along each year. Fortunately they can try to find help in the university libraries.
I suppose I don't begrudge the fact that they have it so much easier these days. We all want our kids to have the best. My hope is that their kids will have it even better than our kids.
- Roger G. Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to Dr. Roger Baker, English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84627.