Air conditioning would have made our grammar school a paradise

The air over our heads continues to boil each day and drip down onto our sweaty heads, but summer has met its early demise. We know that because the kids are back in class.


This old scholar remembers when class didn’t convene until well into September and then broke for summer in early June. I’m not sure when or how the school term got out of whack, but somebody cut one end off the educational blanket and sewed it to the other end in some Government Spoken Here experiment.

My guess is that it started with the advent of air conditioning. At dear old Naomi Elementary, each classroom had its entire outer wall composed of windows that unlatched and pulled open, and being unaccustomed to artificially cooled air, we thought the breeze that came in those windows made life livable.

White blinds shielded the sun’s rays at certain times of day, and once a year the teacher supervised our unpaid union of Teeny-Tiny Cleaners in taking down the blinds and washing them on the sidewalk. Today, OSHA would stumble at the thought of fourth-graders hanging off the wall while removing and replacing blinds, but to us it was great adventure.

We always learned too much, so the blackboards turned pale yellow from months of chalk abuse. The teacher let us wash the board and take the dusty erasers outside to beat against red brick walls. We felt pride in keeping the classroom ready for anything and never gave chalk-lung disease a thought.

After all, we were used to more dangerous activities at our school. The boys had pocketknives for playing mumblety-peg on the playground, or for cutting lengths of sorghum cane that some classmates brought to school to share (for a penny) a section of stringy cane that boosted our sugar levels.

At least once a year, the sagebrush field east of the school would mysteriously catch fire, and our principal had no qualms of keying the intercom system to order all able-bodied pupils to stomp it out. We relished such extracurricular activities, especially the kid who might have set the fire on his way to school that morning.

There was a lot to like about school in those days. Teachers would allow students with good grades to supervise younger pupils who needed help, or even kids in our own class who were behind. It was pulling everyone up by the bootstraps, something we need more of today.

In the fourth grade we brought a wooden cabinet into the classroom and wrote to all 159 counties in the state for a sample of their specialty rock or mineral. The top boy and girl posed with the case for the county newspaper. Pretty Mary Jo was the blonde in the picture, and the boy was – nearly me. Instead, my friend Mickey made the cut. Mary Jo didn’t come between us, for Mick is still my friend today.

School was good.