Back to School Brings Back Memories Of Early Years in Catholic Schools

A Boomer’s Journal

By Tom Anselm

This latest cooler weather, even in August, has an early-morning taste of “back to school” to it that trips the memory cells. My mind goes to the days of crisp powder-blue button down oxfords, navy blue tie and pants, and of course, new shoes. Dress shoes, at that. The girls had their navy jumpers and white Peter Pan-collared shirts, the Precious Blood sisters decked out with rosary’s wrapped around their waists, sporting voluminous black habits with starched white bibs and headpieces such that nary a hair could be seen. (The boys always speculated that they all shaved their heads.)

We never knew who was in our class until the day we showed up, and that was always a great anticipation.  The teachers were mostly nuns, representingvery cheap labor and sometimes minimal qualifications, and not always suited to the profession. Although some of them were among the sweetest beings I’d ever met. But we learned to read and write and cipher in spite of it.

No one started this process until after Labor Day, which was good, because no school was blessed with air conditioning, the best being ceiling fans and open windows to ward off a warm afternoon. The screenless windows yielded an occasional wasp or two, a welcome distraction from Arithmetic class along about 2:30. In our schoolrooms at St. Jerome during the mid-1950’s till early ‘60’s, it was wall-to-wall kids. My 7th grade class had 70 of us heathens in one room. And it was matched at almost every grade level.

It was truly a wonder we did as well as we did, but I remember a few kids who struggled fiercely. I mean, who knew from ‘learning disability’ in those days? There was no such thing as individualized instruction. Teacher said “open your speller to page 14, Lesson 5”, and we dutifully took our best shot. We were taught the Zaner-Blosser method of handwriting, and I can replicate it to this day, although my kids laugh when trying to decipher what I write in my current scribble-scrabble.

One of our most famous alum’s handwriting drove Sister Rose Marie up the wall, it was so small. It looked like eight point font. Drove the poor “S’ter” nuts, I’m sayin’. Yet again. For therein lies our future.

The world of education has changed a great deal since those halcyon days, but it has remained the same as well. Classes are much smaller, public and private school. Expenses are way up, since both private and public school teachers are more qualified. I say on this one, you get what you pay for.

The opportunity for a student who has a true disability to get an appropriate education may be one of the greatest upgrades. And there are many more enrichment classes for those who are blessed with brightness.

Technology, unexpected even ten years ago is available to all, although I am not sure if it always is such a good thing. I mean, does anyone under the age of 21 know what a dictionary is? And much to many teachers’ dismay, we start earlier and earlier each year.

We still follow the same model of classroom, teacher, kid. We continue to rely on testing as a marker of achievement. We still find wonderful teachers, and stinkers. Top-tier administrators, and incompetents. Kids who grow, and kids who fail, in spite of everyone’s best efforts. Our grandkids are moving up the ladder, the oldest ones into 4th grade, and two youngers starting Kindergarten.

Say a short prayer for them all, and their instructors, as they kick it in gear.





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