"I've never let my schooling interfere with my education."
— Mark Twain
Like many people who have been around long enough to experience the joys of being a grandparent, I often find myself in a time warp. You know, like Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future," who, as Marty McFly, was accidentally sent back home in 1955. Of course, in my case, the return trip is voluntary, and it's focused entirely on my exposure to a specific occurrence at a time and place long ago when cellphones, personal computers, 500 television channels, flat screens and GPS were the stuff of science fiction.
My most recent time warp experience occurred while visiting my grandson's third-grade classroom one evening last week in Clovis. While I had visited every one of Nico's school rooms going all the way back to pre-school, none of them affected me like this one.
Perhaps it was because on my way over to his school, I had been listening to music from the 1940s and '50s on my satellite radio and was thereby vulnerable for a journey back to my own third-grade room in L.A. during the school year 1949-50. Listening to the unruffled sounds of Glenn Miller certainly has a way of putting me "In the Mood," so to speak.
The first thing that struck me was the name given to the evening event at the school, "Academic Showcase." Back in my day, it was called "Open House."
Then there were the desks. During my elementary school years they were lined up like soldiers in a platoon, four or five rows of desks and chairs, all of them in straight lines attached to wooden rails nailed to the floor. In Nico's room, there are several clusters of four desks, each adjacent to one another with two children seated on each side. The clusters are staggered throughout the room, and, according to my grandson, the students are moved around to different clusters at various times throughout the year.
I glanced at the blackboard, which is now a white board, and the chalk has been replaced by markers. I grew up with blackboards and I don't care whether they're white, green or pink, they will always be blackboards to me.
The highlight of the evening, however, was viewing the bulletin boards, which cover all walls that don't have windows or the area covered by the — uh hum — blackboard. There is a bulletin board featuring math facts and times tables, another one emphasizing the elements of punctuation, another displaying creative writing by the students and still another one showcasing our solar system.
I do not recall any bulletin boards in the classrooms during the first three or four years I attended elementary school. There may have been one or two, but nothing memorable, nothing like the display in our primary-grade classrooms today. Today's bulletin boards are actually teaching tools.
Finally, the last bulletin board I observed focused on the ethnic and cultural diversity of the young students. The project was based on "Molly's Pilgrim," a book about an immigrant family celebrating their first Thanksgiving.
The teacher had her pupils talk to their parents about their families coming to America, and then write a report about it. This was followed up by each student using a wooden clothes pin to design and make a doll dressed as it would be in their respective countries of origin. Among the countries represented were Germany, The Netherlands, Ukraine, Russia, the Philippines, Italy, Cambodia, Mexico, Peru, England and Sweden.
Nico celebrated his Italian heritage on my wife's side of the family by creating a doll of a dark-haired man carrying a miniature Italian flag, with the Roman Coliseum in the background. Next to the doll were two photos, one of his great-grandparents and one of the original family after they arrived in America during the first decade of the last century.
It was amazing. After studying the display, I looked around the room and noticed the variety of cultures reflected by the appearance of the students and their family members present. For a moment I thought I was at the United Nations.
What a fabulous environment for encouraging our young children to get excited about learning.
If Einstein was right when he said, "it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education," then some of our local educators are working hard to change the paradigm. Perhaps yesterday's miracle is becoming today's reality.