Education on the Rebound

     An issue of an alumni magazine I received this year provides some interesting contrasts between generations as a two-page spread devoted to current basketball players precedes an article about four elderly graduates reflecting on their experiences teaching in one-room schoolhouses.

The three student-athletes, garbed in school sweats, are photographed lounging on sofas in a cozy setting resembling a living room more than a locker room. Behind them is a team theater area, a “perfect place for the team to review footage from past games and analyze their opponents.” My hunch is that such videos will yield remarks like “Here’s where I start my dunk from the free throw line” and “You clown! You should’ve passed it there instead of dribbling it off your knee into the third row.”

The comments of the three players are instructive. A forward claims “You have to have the mindset that you have to take advantages of the privileges we have” before stating that he gets psyched up for a game by listening to Lil Wayne, which is probably where he gets inspiration for his repetitive speech pattern. A shooting guard chimes in with “There is not a lot of down time which is good, because we don’t like a lot of down time.” Yes, opening books and studying for tests can be a real downer after a double OT win. A junior point guard who has been playing basketball since he was five years old spends the majority of his day in the locker room, a place he finds to be “a kind of home outside of home.” That home is no doubt where he contemplates his nebulous major, university studies, which could one day lead, not to a B.A., but rather to a 10-day contract in the NBA Development League.

The reminiscences of the four alumni who graduated in the 1930s suggest that the emphasis of their academic training prepared them well for the challenges of teaching multiple grades. “I felt very much able to teach,” said one. “All of my teachers had been excellent motivators and kind, compassionate persons. I was determined to be like them.” Another long-retired educator stressed that, beyond teaching the core subjects, she made certain her students learned Latin and Greek origins of English words and the importance of nature study as it related to local agriculture. She also taught them interpersonal skills like how to introduce oneself to others and how to answer the telephone properly. “Lessons covered such topics as good character, industry, obedience, punctuality, good manners, frugality, courtesy, and truthfulness.” One centenarian recalled how children would compete “for the chance to clean erasers.”

In those days students fought for the privilege of cleaning blackboards. Now they fight for the joy of crashing backboards.







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