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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Senior Momentum - September 2011

Colburn Days

It doesn’t make sense to judge elementary school today by memories of sixty-five years ago, because the worlds of then and now are vastly different.  And, unless one’s education expectations are adjusted to fit new education environments – and paradigms – the present educational circumstances could drive you mad.

I’m probably safe in speculating that very few of us want to return to eras of corporal punishment, blatant humiliation, leveraged favoritism and other unacceptable behavior remedies of the “old school” approach.  (Remember writing your transgression 100 times on the blackboard for all to see, lest you forget?)
However, many of us would like to see the return of common sense -- tough love, less deference to children’s “I wants” and more concern for their practical needs -- in the classroom, in after-school hours, and in their personal recreational choices as determined by informed adults. 
What was so bad about starting each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance?  The chain of command was crystal clear:  parents, elder siblings, teachers, police, clergy, family doctor, and love of country based on knowledge – taught year after year; a linked sense of order.
Are there schools today with the means to meet the needs of their enrollees for a productive future?  Of course there are.  Are those environments and their superior accoutrements available to all children equally and fairly through our Public School system?  Of course not!  Can any of us be content with the status quo?  I hope not …..
The (public) Colburn School in 1940’s Westwood, Massachusetts, was typical of the times:  stern rules, emphasis on the 3-R’s, The Principal was in charge, your teachers and your parents were co-conspirators.  The rules were real, which was a good thing when those Air Raid sirens went off and you were told exactly what to do, and you did it! (We didn’t know it was practice; we thought it was real. Children didn’t have to be in on everything!
Respect for one’s elders implied they usually knew more than you did; respect was shown through deference!   We got lessons in concentration, focus, and self-discipline by default; and we came to school with a clear understanding that we had work to do!  Wow.  What a concept. 
The idea that young children are so powerful today that a teacher can be intimidated all the way to resignation is appalling.
Colburn teachers were adamant concerning paying attention.  With few exceptions, elementary school (1-6) didn’t have “homework” because we actually did the work at school, in classes that were an hour or more, and where the teacher taught hands-on -- a voice, a piece of chalk, a personal plan and style.  At recess, we went out “to play” – an activity that was creative, without everything provided, eliminating the need to think!
There is absolutely no reason why the simple concepts of discipline, respect, focus and balance cannot co-exist with “progress!”  The tools have changed – yes.  But I have yet to see in the manuals of any of the electronic mini-miracles the built-in assumption that they include the privileges of rudeness, inappropriate use, distraction, preoccupation, replacement of listening, reading, writing and thinking. 
Isn’t it patently ridiculous that kids can enter high school without the basic skills of the 3-R’s mastered, and parents believe it doesn’t matter because they have a laptop and a “smart” phone, where they can Google their way through life?
And why do youngsters have unlimited possession – and use – of these new tools?
I am the last person to suggest we go backwards -- except for the value of learning some of the disciplines we have forfeited for expediency.  As in all mistakes that we make concerning our children:  it is the children who will suffer the consequencesWe need to get with the program and fix education in our beloved country.

Zoë Tummillo is a Business & Marketing Consultant/Trainer/Commercial Writer, dba COMMUNICATION CONCEPTS, in private practice since 1974.   In addition to Commercial work, she writes “Senior Momentum:  A Series of Situations”ã; and essay memoirs of growing up first generation Italian American:  “Pieces of My Path”ã.  To contact her -- email: