Our city’s schools had two snow days last week but there were no red cheeked children outside building snowmen, no peals of laughter as sleds raced downhill and no snowballs hurtling through the air. Why not? Well, there was no snow – or nothing more than a dusting on bushes and roofs.
I’m not criticizing the decision to close. Many of the classroom teachers come from a distance, and the areas around us truly were snowed in and roads were treacherous. The school board had no choice but to act as it did. But I couldn’t help recalling a passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, These Happy Golden Years, in which she describes a dilemma she faced as a young teacher. When two half-frozen students came three minutes (!!!) late to class after laboriously breaking a path through newly fallen snow, Miss Wilder could see how they had struggled on their mile long hike. But, after all; that didn’t change the fact that they were late! Should she or should she not mark them as tardy?
The very fact that such a question could be asked rings alien to modern ears. Yet that teacher from over a century ago not only asked the question, but answered it by seeing no choice but to truthfully mark the record, while at the same time inviting them to sit close to the stove.
As a mother and grandmother I have no desire to return to the days when a difficult trek to school was not unusual or when classroom heating in the winter was insufficient. But it is a human characteristic to not appreciate what we too easily obtain. And when education was not easily or universally available and sacrifices were demanded of families and children in order to access that education, learning was valued in a way that simply isn’t often found today. In all the (in my opinion) ridiculous discussions of how little we spend on education perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone. Let’s dismiss all custodial staff and have the students mop the floors, clean the bathrooms and take out the trash. We can save dollars and instill appreciation at the same time.
The fact that no one – even I- thinks that this proposal stands a chance of being considered is one piece in a complicated puzzle that explain why most eighth grade graduates of Laura Ingalls Wilders’ days had greater knowledge of history and civics and more developed English and math skills, not to mention greater moral development, than too many college students of today.