My oldest son, Will, just started the first grade. And the first thing you'll say when your kids start school is, "Holy crap, things have changed!"
Don't get me wrong -- this isn't going to be one of those "things were so much better in my day" posts. Well, maybe a little. But while I fully realize many of the changes are positive and have been made for good reason, I can't help but get a little nostalgic and, if we're being honest, kind of sad my sons won't have some of the same experiences I did.
Here are the top six.
6. The Oregon Trail.
I never want to see harm come to my kids, unless it's in the form of virtual dysentery via this classic Apple II game from the 1980s.
My kids will grow up with computers as the norm, but for me in grade school, computer class was UNBELIEVABLE! Unlike my 14-month-old who already knows his way around my smart phone, kids back then were just as amazed as adults as we all stumbled into the technological age together. But while businesses were using computers to work more efficiently, we were making our way along a 2,200-mile trail of incessant hardship to gain riches out West. Would we drown trying to ford the river? Would our oxen die? Could we hunt enough food to survive? The only way to find out was to insert that massive floppy disk and give it a whirl.
When I was 6, this game and computers in general were an otherworldly experience. My 6-year-old, however, has had a Kindle for more than a year and complains when the TV isn't on an HD station.
5. Report cards that make sense.
I figured a lot had changed since I was in school, but getting my son's first report card threw me for the biggest loop.
I was expecting what most people my age had -- the old A, B, C, D, F system. Simple and reliable. An A meant I was getting $5, a B would earn me a buck and a "why couldn't you get an A?" and a C meant I was grounded for a month. I assume D and F meant "find another place to live." But when Will brought home his report card, it was some indecipherable chart with a color-coded bar graph that ultimately told me very little about my son's progress. There was an ideal range to be in, but it was OK if he wasn't in the range in the first part of the year as long as he got into the purple section by the end of the year... frankly, I still don't get it.
I'm sure it's a much better system and I'm the problem, but in the end I had to keep asking the teacher, "So... is that like an A? Or a B+?"
4. Peanut butter.
I tried really hard to remember any kids in my class with peanut butter allergies so severe they were life-threatening. I came up with nothing. But today, bringing peanut butter into a school can get kids into trouble.
Look, I get it. Kids have allergies, allergies can be deadly, and precautions must be taken. I don't want to see any harm come to innocent students. But at the same time, it boggles my mind that peanut butter is pretty much considered a Class D substance, considering how prevalent it was in the lunchtime repertoire of my classmates growing up. I'd eat that stuff by the spoonful! Now it's not just straight peanut butter that's problematic, but any food that might not even contain peanuts but was made on an assembly line that might've been subject to peanut products at some point dating back to the Industrial Revolution.
So while I understand the need for these rules, it's too bad bringing peanut butter into school is right up there with bringing in a weapon.
3. Trading lunches.
This goes hand-in-hand with the peanut butter complaint.
Do you remember what would happen when the lunch bell rang and you got into the cafeteria? At my school it was like the opening bell on Wall Street had just sounded and the trading was fast and furious. On my best day I traded a PB&J sandwich, an orange, and a Yodel for three Fruit Roll-ups, a snack pack, and two Devil Dogs. But because of allergies, kids can now actually get in trouble for trading lunches.
I was reading a survey that showed 41 percent of workers didn't negotiate salary for the job they currently hold. I think this lack of lunchtime bartering means our nation's youth is ill prepared to haggle later in life.
2. Gifted programs.
In the third grade, I was picked to go into the "Academically Talented Program." I had no idea what this meant at the time, but I remember it was nice not being bored in class anymore and being challenged in a variety of ways. I wasn't the smartest kid by a long shot, but I was an early reader and well ahead of the normal curriculum.
Now some schools either can't afford such programs, or reject them so no one is offended.
I'm all for inclusion, but not if it means holding stellar students back. In my own personal, non-expert opinion, I think we've stopped nurturing excellence in favor of promoting mediocrity. I get that money is tight and gifted programs might be first on the chopping block, but if kids excel, it's a shame they won't have that avenue to pursue.
Nothing brings up more controversy and emotions than this fantastic, oft-banned game.
Depending on where you landed on the dodgeball ladder, you either loved this game or dreaded it like the plague. I loved it despite not being great at it. Sure, I took a bunch of balls to the head (giggity) and ended up with a red, swollen face and had to go sit on the sidelines in shame with those dreaded parquet markings implanted on my forehead. But on a few select occasions, I fended off three people by myself and basked in the glow of playground glory.
My son won't have that opportunity because dodgeball has been banned in favor of youth sports that don't keep score and hand everyone a trophy. I guess I'll have to keep pelting him with red rubber balls on the weekends, as part of a dodgeball homeschooling program.
I'm sure I've missed something, so leave a comment and let me know what things you experienced during school that you wish your kids could have, too.