Mott Elementary School
A Comparison Between When I Went to School and Today.
   With the risk of sounding like a grandfather reflecting on his younger years, I write this article. I attended elementary school at Evergreen School in Plainfield, NJ between 1963 and 1968 (No dinosaurs then).  Every morning we would line up by the entrance door before being marched in.  All the girls would have been wearing dresses. We did not sit in groups but in individual rows of single desks.  In fact, I visited my 4th grade classroom last year and was disappointed to see the desks in groups.  Somehow I thought that the place would stand still in time for about 50 years. 

   There were no computers in the class back then (Personal sized computers did not exist before the late 1970s).  In fact, both students and teachers probably never heard of the word computer. Not only that, the teachers would not have even owned a calculator.  There weren't even copy machines in schools in those days.  Many teachers had blue fingers from battles with the predecessor of the copy machine, that dreaded Mimeograph machine   We still had our fingers to count, but that was discouraged.  You had better memorize that multiplication table.

   By third grade, most students would have walked to school.  We also walked home for lunch and then back again.  Homemade lunch was definitely better than the cafeteria food of today.  Most families had stay at home mothers.  By fifth grade (Which was in a new school called an intermediate school) we no longer went home for lunch.  It was the waning days of the superhero or fairy princess metal lunch boxes.  Brown bags were starting to take over.  The plastic supermarket type bags hadn't arrived yet. Lunch was tastier for kids then since the healthy eating movement hadn't taken hold yet.  We had a wide selection of desserts including cookies and chocolate fudge cakes. 

   We would have had three reading groups with each one having their own text and workbook.  When the teacher was working with one group, the other groups worked in their workbooks.  We still had to memorize spelling words and cram on Thursday nights for the test.   Math was taught as a class and then we practiced in our workbooks. Math was based much more on computation.  We spent the majority of the elementary years in math class wearing down pencils with endless addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division calculations.  Today's math is much more based on understanding the concepts behind the calculations and being able to apply it to real world situations.  However, I'm still not convinced today's teaching methods are better than our days (I believe that without that solid computation base, the concepts and applications will not be developed.)

   Without computers to type, handwriting was more important in those days.  Handwriting was like dancing.  Either you were born with the ability to draw eloquent letters or you were awkward and struggled like me to earn a respectable grade.  Like dancing, it was usually the girls who excelled at this subject.  The boys were more concerned with the score of the last kickball game in gym.  We did not have Google to find information quickly in the old times.  We used an encyclopedia, a group of books covering many topics.  Most families owned a set of encyclopedias at home which we used for doing research.  On rainy or cold days, I enjoyed browsing through them for articles on far away places and biographies. 

   There were a lot more assemblies in those day.  Each class would have put on an assembly program each year. I guess my acting skills weren't too polished in second grade because I was a tree (I did have one line to recite.)  I remember singing many more traditional and patriotic songs in those days.  We all knew and sang songs like the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Cowboys and Indians of the wild west held much more of an interest back then.  Most boys split up and battled each other on the playground with fake bow and arrows made from tree branches.

   The boys and girls would have been separated for gym.  We played a lot of dodge ball.  Today's students don't get to experience a playground ball flush to the face launched by a future pitching star. 

   Like today, we worked hard, had homework, and took standardized tests (by filling in dots.)  However, I don't believe elementary school was as intense as it is today.  We were not expected to compete against students from the rest of the world (Many of these countries we would have expected to find in National Geographic magazine with their people wearing exotic costumes.)  It was thought that most of the boys would enter business or the sciences and the girls would become nurses, homemakers, teachers, or secretaries.  We though that we would have jobs with the same employer for life.   This was before the first man landed on the moon and airplanes were about 60 years old.  In fact many of our parents still remembered the days of horses pulling wagons in the streets and plowing fields. 

   Almost all of us had fathers or relatives who fought in World War II.  The Vietnam War was raging in the background and some of us had older brothers who were nervous about being drafted to fight. The civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements were changing society.  

   Today, the digital age has transformed the world and schools have adapted to this new time.  I believe present day students are much more in touch with the world and popular culture (Most kids didn't even own radios in the sixties) than we were.  We weren't connected to the outside world like today.   However, most of us grew up in an era where we felt safe to roam the neighborhood and play outside.  We believed in the American dream and weren't afraid of terrorists (There were a few hijackings but that was about it.)  We had far less TV channels and no video games, but we spent time playing board games with each other.  We got wet and muddy in streams and climbed trees.  The neighborhood kids gathered in the park for pickup baseball and basketball games.  It was a different world.
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