Saturday, September 10, 2011

Some Things Were Better.

Last week I headed north on Thursday afternoon. The family was gathering at Lake Webster in Kosciousko County, where our extended family has a cottage, and then at Koontz Lake in Marshall County (where Sharon's folks live).

It was a fiercely hot day. I drove with the top up on the Miata and the AC running into I got to Carmel/Fishers. Then, I stopped to pick up some fast food, put the top down, cranked up the stereo to play some favorite 1950's and 1960's "doo wop."

The fields were full of corn and soybeans. The sun dropped low. I drove through small towns whose names weren't all that familiar. You see I have never really done much driving up the east side of Indiana on highways like 13 and 37.

A couple of things happened to me as I drove north. The one thing I want to mention in this blog entry is the awareness that in some ways -some ways- life was better 25 and 50 years ago.

I thought of that as I drove through the small town of Point Isabel. Like many small towns I suspect it had more life before big box stores showed up in the county seat and pulled business out of those small, independent stores. Then, I noticed just north of town an abandoned, three story brick schoolhouse. There was fencing around it to keep troublemakers out. But the building was still standing...the closing evidence of the wave of school consolidations across the midwest back in the 1960's and 1970's. People said children would get a better education if they went to a school of 600 instead of a high school of 150 or 200. People said students would have better curriculum, advanced placement classes, and so on. In many ways that is true. No doubt about it.

But something has been lost. All across the midwest students were going to small schools where the teachers knew them and they knew the teachers. Out of those small schools came business leaders and astronauts and physicians and successful farmers and teachers. They may not have had the opportunity to take advanced placement calculus or beginning Chinese but those small schools, in those small communities, were often places where students were known, given a place to grow up, and allowed to be. You didn't need to be an athletic superstar to play varsity basketball or volleyball the way you need to be to play at a school of 1-2,000. You didn't need to have a extraordinary voice to sing a solo in the high school's annual musical or the Spring concert.

It is ironic, now, to hear people talking about the ideal size of schools. It is ironic to hear educators talking about reducing the size of schools so that students don't get lost and the staff know them well enough to coach them...in life.

So the music on stereo is up loud. Some group whose name I can't recall is singing "Since I Don't Have You." The sun is hiding behind the rows of corn to my left as I head north. The brick schoolhouse is left behind. And I realize that in some ways things were better in the past. Does that mean I have been overcome by nostalgia or am a dinosaur? Or is it possible we've left some good things behind as we keep trying to catch the next "new thing?"

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How true about small schools. The lack of connection between students and teachers is a real drawback of large consolidated schools.

I read an article by one of those new urbanist's who called that concept, not only in schools but also in communities and neighborhoods, "the grace of being known".

I grew up in a small Texas town and had the advantage of that kind of grace.

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