21st Century School List

What a difference 59 years can make. It was 59 years ago that I stepped over the threshold to my first grade classroom. I didn’t hesitate to enter that crowded room of more than 30 students. I wanted to go to school and learn to read and write like my older siblings. This was going to be good.

The teacher was a tall, substantial woman. She was quite the picture of a nun in her black and white habit. Her oversized rosary beads at her waist clinked as she walked between the rows of desks. She had very deep pockets that managed to carry enough tissues for an entire classroom of runny noses.

The first day of school also meant a neatly pressed uniform jumper with a white blouse. A rite of passage happened when the girls received the blue beanie caps with SMS in gold letters. We were to guard our caps as essential pieces of our wardrobes. Females were required to wear a head covering to church, located next door to the school.

I was giddy with excitement when the teacher handed out the new workbooks and the used first grade reading books. I can still smell the crisp pages of those new books that held the promise of an education. A ruler, glue stick, No. 2 pencils and a box of eight brand new Crayola crayons were tucked neatly in my desk next to the lined writing tablets that we would soon use to print the alphabet. Cursive writing would come another year.

I can’t say every memory of my education was as good as that first year, but I learned nonetheless. We had no fears of students shooting up the school. Our greatest concerns dealt with passing tests, finishing term papers and who would take us to the school dance.

Not so much today. What I saw in a news report this week stopped me in my tracks. It was a story about bulletproof backpacks being sold this year as the most sought-after school supply. Forget the laptops, fancy calculators and whiteboards. Our kids now are learning — via bullet proof backpacks — how to defend themselves in the event of a school shooting. Whether they wear them on their backs or hold them in front of their bodies, students are learning about warfare in grade school.

I don’t know whether to cry or be glad someone came up with this idea. The whole concept, does however, sicken me. This is the reality of my grandchildren’s world and it scares the hell out of me. The innocence of our little ones has been stolen and I want to run and hold them forever in a cocoon of a grandmother’s arms.

How can our youth experience the excitement of new books and crayons when they first must learn about fear? This is our new reality and it scares me more than any fear I had as first grader wanting nothing more than to be one of the big kids who could read and write.

Bullet proof backpacks! What’s next — Kevlar prom dresses? God help us all.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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