We Went To School
“Up in the mornin' and off to school.
The teacher is teachin' the golden rule,
American history, and practical math.
You studyin' hard and hopin' to pass...."
Chuck Berry, "School Day", Chess Records, 1957
We learned to read before we ever got into school. We read comic books. They were often more sophisticated than “Fun With Dick and Jane” and though sometimes the dialogue was in comic dialect, spelling and grammar were always correct. Most kids I knew could read by the time we first saw “Dick and Jane”. Later on we read Life, Look, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and Mad magazines. If you had the right friends, when you spent the night at their house they might sneak a “True Detective” or “True Crime” or “Man’s Magazine” or (gasp) "Playboy" out of their parent’s room. And we made it through book reports with Classics Comics or Classics Illustrated. Today’s preschoolers don’t read; they watch TV. Sesame Street notwithstanding, atrocious spelling and grammar are epidemic.
English classes today aren't the same as ours, because our language has changed over the years. You can see some of the changes HERE.
Most teachers dressed for work like they would for church, except the coaches who wore starched white shirts and trousers.
One of the most serious crimes at school was smoking outside the smoking area. Smoking in the bathrooms could get you a three-day suspension. Girls weren’t allowed to smoke, period. Girls could get expelled for smoking.
We weren't allowed to leave the school grounds during school hours, and doing so without a pass could get you expelled. However, during the lunch hour you could sneak off to the far end of the football field and there was a path there that led to the railroad tracks which you could follow to a grocery store in Mabelvale where you could buy a pack of cigarettes and a "French Pastry" and get back in time to smoke a cigarette in the smoking area before the next class bell rang. Did it many times, mostly to get a-w-a-y for a few precious minutes of freedom.
If we didn’t follow the rules we got sent to the principal’s office. When you got home, nobody mentioned the word “lawsuit”. The only word you heard was “switch”, and it was used on your butt. As you got older, the word “switching” and all its synonyms changed to one even more ominous: “grounding.” As you got even older, The word "grounding" changed to the most ominous phrase of all, "No, you can't use the car."
Two letters you never hear any more: P.E. Two words you hear a lot: fat kids.
Ever use a Hy-Grade Premium Composition Notebook with Ben Franklin on the cover? Of course you did. That's one on the right.
The weapon of choice at school was a rubber band. The only bomb was a popper. When the end of class bell rang, you lifted up one leg of your desk and put a popper under it. When the next person (hopefully a girl) came in for the next class and sat down, the popper exploded. Well, it didn't exactly explode--it just popped. No matter, whoever just sat down jumped. You weren’t there to see it because you were already safely in your next class, but you knew it happened and you smiled. Study hall was always the war ground because desks were not assigned, but it didn't matter. In regular classes you always armed your own desk because the blame would go to somebody else. Mr. Bandy reasoned that nobody on his watch was so stupid as to booby-trap his own desk.
Miss Suzie West gave daily tests for a while. The same ten questions in every class. Weasel (Charles Wilson, class of '60) ran around and got the answers before class. Once I gave him all wrong answers and he got a zero on the test. In retrospect I might have felt bad about that, but he told me, “I knew some of those answers were wrong.” I figured that if Weasel knew some of those answers were wrong and put them down anyway, then weasel needed to make a zero.
We had an unofficial beatnik day at Mabelvale and everybody went to school dressed like beatniks, which violated the official dress code. Some people went overboard and Mr. Taylor was livid. He sent them home to change clothes. Check the picture HERE.
Green peas served in the cafeteria at Mabelvale were only good for one thing. You put your fork flat on the table, you put a pea on the end of the handle, and WHAM! you hit the tines of the fork as hard as you could. If you did it right, the pea would stick to the ceiling. After a week or so, the pea would turn black and after another week it might or might not fall. You had to be careful where you sat for lunch because a moldy black pea might fall in your mashed potatoes. When we had our 33rd class reunion in 1993 it was held in the cafeteria, and the first thing I did when I walked in the door was check the ceiling out. It was clean. Today's kids have no imagination.
Fresh hot rolls at the Hall High cafeteria were to die for. When I transferred to Mabelvale, that was the thing I missed. The food at Mabelvale was just plain bad. I say "plain bad" because we predated the word "sucked".
Speaking of Hall High School, Dumas Milner Pontiac was the local Pontiac Automobile Dealership (on Capitol Avenue). When Hall High opened its doors for the first time for the 1957/58 school year, the student body voted "The Warriors" as the school mascot. Dumas Milner had a life-sized statue of Chief Pontiac standing in the showroom floor, and the dealership management donated it to Hall High for display in the foyer at the entrance to the new school. Incredibly, when the first annual, the 1958 "Warrior", was produced, there was only one lousy picture of Chief Pontiac and no mention of Dumas Milner Pontiac's contribution. Dumas Milner even purchased an ad in the annual. That's Chief Pontiac on the right, with Kathy Thomas.
We had fire drills, blackout drills, and "atom bomb" (or "duck and cover") drills. Think you can still fit under your desk? If you can get under it, can you get back up?
We had hall monitors. The wimpiest people in school were suddenly transformed into authoritarian figures when they pulled hall monitor duty. Why hall monitors? Well, you needed a hall pass to be in the halls during class, so we needed hall monitors to check hall passes.
You had to be in class before the tardy bell rang. If you didn’t make it, it was off to the office for a visit with Mr. Taylor. Bad for you. Baaaaaaaad for you.
There was no formal sex education at school. No condoms were distributed. In fact, you couldn’t even buy condoms unless you had a friend who worked at a service station. Since we predated political correctness, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were known as venereal diseases (VD). Apparently, you are scum if you get something venereal but it's the other person's fault if you get something sexually transmitted, and the term STD is much more euphemistic than VD so everybody feels better about having one. Only two STDs were ever discussed: syphilis (syph) and gonorrhea (the clap). You could also get pubic lice (crabs), though technically crabs are not a VD but they are an STD. Go figure. I never heard of anybody getting any of them until I went into the Navy. We predated Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, HIV/AIDS, HPV, Trichomoniasis, Chancroid, GI, NGU, and PID, or they were unknown to us. Although we are told that statistically the teen birth rate was higher (per 1,000 girls) in the late 1950s that it is today, that could not have held true in Little Rock. Pregnancy was rare and when it happened it couldn't be kept quiet. A piece of information like that spread like wildfire, was discussed at all the hangouts, crossed school boundaries--even the river, and was all over the city in a matter of days. In fact, we all knew it long before the girl's parents.
A back pack was something soldiers and boy scouts wore. We carried our books. Girls carried their books cradled in their arms across their chest. Guys carried their books with one side balanced on their hip. It was never done any other way, or guys would have appeared effeminate and girls would have appeared masculine. Both were no-nos.
We did arithmetic the old way. We learned tables. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. And money. And measurements. The only calculator in school was the “adding machine” in business machines class and it weighed about 62 pounds. Years later the “new math” came along. Years after that, calculators. Once I went to a mall in Oklahoma City. I stopped by the peanut stand and asked the little high-schooler behind the counter for four ounces of cashews. She said, “We can’t sell them that way, we can only sell parts of a pound.” I said, “I see. Well, then give me a fourth of a pound.” She sold me my peanuts and I went on my way. So much for new math and calculators.
College wasn't for everybody. You could make a very good living in a trade. Or you could attend Draughon's School Of Business on West Sixth, or Capital City Business College on West Eighth, and find a well-paying white-collar job. There was also a Comptometer school downtown in the Rector building. The Comptometer was also known as a "business machine" and was an early predecessor to the computer.
Maybe you wanted to be a barber or a "beauty operator". If so, you could attend Charles' House of Beauty or Fern-Eaton Beauty College on Main, or Arkansas Beauty College at 314 West Capitol. If you wanted a cheap haircut or updo, you could walk into one of these schools and let a student do your hair. It was hit or miss. If you got an "A" student, you might go back, but if you got an "F" one, you might decide to fork over the extra cash and go to a pro next time.
The daily flag ceremony. The Pledge of Allegiance. Remember when congress added the words “Under God” in 1954? In our lifetime we may see those words come and go.
paper, and in the same breath, . The was the laser printer of our generation and was our backspace key.
Our ninth grade algebra teacher at Forest Heights Junior High wore big, heavy, Coke-bottle-bottom glasses, and she didn't have one of those head straps to hold them on. Maybe they hadn't been invented yet. Her glasses constantly slipped down on her nose. When we walked into class we all put a dime in the pot and guessed how many times she would push her glasses back up onto the bridge of her nose during class. It could go as many as a hundred. The winner might pick up two bucks, which was a lot of money for a ninth grader in 1956.
We had to have a smallpox vaccination to get into school. We took polio vaccine at school. On little sugar cubes.
We took hearing tests at school. “Raise your finger when you hear the tone. Put your finger down until I turn the machine on. Don't get smart with me.” And we took eye tests to see if we needed glasses. Had to read the chart on the wall. "Okay, read the third line." "Can't. There's a fly on one of the letters. And he's got two toes missing." "Don't get smart with me." I always wondered, since I was in school, why I wasn't supposed to get smart.
Flutophone (AKA tonette, AKA recorder, and the teacher was called a tooter tutor.). Before you learned any other instrument, even strings, you had to learn to play a flutophone. Got your feet wet in music reading and allowed the teacher to assess your ability. The flutophone turned more kids away from learning an instrument than any other factor. Or sometimes it was the other way around. After a few weeks with the flutaphone the teacher might advise your parents to not bother purchasing an expensive instrument for you. We preceded real plastic so ours were made of bakelite. Drop it and it smashed to pieces. I knew of several that were "accidentally" dropped.
Here are the Ten Commandments of Twerp Week:
1. Girls must carry their boy's books.
2. Girls must walk their boy to class.
3. Girls must always open their boy's locker.
4. Girls must help their boy with his jacket.
5. Girls must carry their boy's lunch tray.
6. Girls must hold their boy's chair.
7. Girls must drive their boy's car. If he will let her. If she can drive.
8. Girls must save their boy a seat on the bus, and give up her seat to him.
9. Girls must sharpen their boy's pencils.
10. Girls must give their full attention to their boy.
Mr. and Mrs. Coleman drove to Mabelvale from Malvern every day. That was a considerable accomplishment because they preceded I-30. Drove it on the two lane. They could have taught in Malvern and not made that drive, and I never understood the attraction of Mabelvale to them. We all liked them both, so whatever their motivation, we're glad they did it.
Mr. Taylor used to say:
Don't you see? You thought you saw, son,
But, you didn't see, don't you see?
Therefore, see, you don't.
I never saw it, and I still don't see it, see? RIP, Benjamin.
The class of 1960 senior trip was to Rockaway Beach, Missouri. It's still there, but is dominated by its big brother, Branson.
In the summer of 1959 there was a cheerleaders' convention at the Marion Hotel (which stood where the Peabody does now). Some of us guys went to try to get a glimpse of state champion Scarlett Cornwell, a raven-haired beauty from Dardanelle who was also a Junior Miss contestant the following year. The Marion's rooms were not air-conditioned and all the windows were open and hundreds of girls were hanging out of the windows and dropping notes to guys below. But we couldn't get near the lobby because there were probably two chaperons for every cheerleader. Never saw Scarlett, either.
Girls had to learn Home Economics. How to be a good wife. How to cook. Take care of kids. Make their own dresses. Sew zippers on them. They were prepped to stay at home like our moms did. Moms didn’t work. Mom was home when we got in from school. Mom was home when we got in from anywhere. Today that’s rare and they call them “soccer moms”.
Guys had to have a vocation declared by their senior year, since they were expected to be the breadwinners for all the stay-at-home moms. Mr. Coleman was Vocational Counselor. He did his best, but not many of us cooperated. He asked what I wanted to be when I graduated and I said, “Boxer.” I was six feet tall and weighed 138 pounds. He gave me a goofy look and wrote something on my record. When he got distracted later, I glanced at the form. He had written “Boxee”.