374. The Olden Days

My friend Molly, who is five years old, occasionally refers to “the olden days.” She heard about them recently, and I think she’s referring to a more specific time period than “olden” denotes. I think she means a time when there were railroads, steam engines, and telegraph wires, but no televisions, cars, or electric lights. I wonder when the “olden days” will be the days when there were computers, but no modems. Shopping malls, but no video games.
Yesterday, I had a chance to see several sixth graders portraying a class from somewhere around the turn of the century (the beginning of the twentieth century), or perhaps some time in the nineteenth century. It was part of Amherst Living History Day. They took turns being the teacher, and they took the whole project quite seriously, smiling, but only in character. They were dressed in clothes that were reminiscent of that time period, and they spoke the way they and I imagined that children and teachers would have spoken back then.
One of the things that impressed me about this presentation was the stillness and silence. One person spoke at a time, and children moved very little. I’m glad that’s not the way school is nowadays, but it was charming. After each child had a chance to be teacher, there was a short time for children to “socialize.” Most of the children whispered (or pretended to whisper), but one at
a time spoke loud enough for the audience to hear. This “socializing” time probably wouldn’t have happened as often in the classroom they were portraying, but it allowed a natural transition during which the next “teacher” could take charge.
People who went to school back then still ended up being real people. Sam Clemens did. So did Laura Ingalls Wilder. But as I said, I’m glad school isn’t like that any more. Children have more things to say than can be said in such a quiet classroom, and they need to move more than they were allowed to move back then. But I can’t help it. I was charmed.
There are parents and teachers who long for the “good old days,” and my experience yesterday brought me a little closer to understanding them. Sometimes I visit the Hancock Shaker Village, and the peaceful atmosphere charms me. But I’m glad I wasn’t a Shaker. And I’m glad I went to school in the 1950’s rather than the 1890’s. In fact, I wish I’d gone to school in the 1990’s. As we learn more and more about children and learning, we do get better at teaching and parenting.
So let’s try to think of these as good old days, when most people had to hand- type their messages before they e-mailed them, and when most people had telephones with no video component, so you had to imagine the face of the person you were talking to. And back in the early part of the twenty-first century, children had pencils, and had to form letters and words by actually writing them. Isn’t that quaint?

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