Posted tagged ‘geography’

“Education is the movement from darkness to light. “

April 10, 2015

This morning I noticed webbing between my toes. It appears I am beginning to adapt to a wet world where it rains every day. The sun is supposed to return, but I have become a skeptic worn down by snow and cold and rain.

In elementary school my day was chock full of subjects, some every day and some once a week. Many of them have since disappeared.

Back then no school room was complete without those green writing alphabet cards running atop the blackboards. On each was a single letter in both small and capital cursive forms. I always liked the capital Z and the capital Q. They were odd-looking and uncommon to use. We had penmanship a couple of times a week when we practiced the Palmer method. I remember the circles and the lines. I also remember mine were usually messy and didn’t resemble the examples we were following. The nun always stopped at my desk to show me how my hand should be moving up and down as I practiced. Many schools don’t teach writing any more. Cursive is disappearing.

Geography was always one of my favorite subjects. I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about knowing that Columbia produced coffee or that Costa Rica led the world in bananas, but I loved the pictures and the articles. I used to dream about visiting some of the countries in my book, but I never really believed I would see so many of them. When I was sixteen, we went to Niagara Falls and saw the falls from the Canadian side. I was visiting my first foreign country, and I was thrilled. They don’t teach stand alone geography any more either.

We had music a couple of times a week. We learned the fundamentals. I still remember every good boy does fine and face: the mnemonics for the names of the scale’s lines and spaces. We sang songs. I remember every nun had a mouth tuner like a round harmonica. She’d blow the note, and we were supposed to start singing the song on that note. I doubt we ever did. I was in the rhythm band in the first and second grades. I remember first year I did sticks and second year I did triangle. I always wanted tambourine.

Reading was a subject unto its self. We had reading books with stories then questions and new vocabulary at the end of each story. I always liked those books. Each year the stories shared a theme. My favorite was American folk heroes. I loved Pecos Bill and his riding the tornado. It was the only time he was “throwed” in his whole career as a cowboy. I learned about Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, John Henry and Sally Ann Thunder who helped Davy Crockett and wore a real beehive as a hat and wrestled alligators in her spare time. There was even a sketch of her and the alligator. I got my love of reading from those books and those stories.

I was never bored in school. We went from one lesson to another quickly enough to stave off ennui. I looked forward to most of them but only tolerated the rest. I still don’t like arithmetic no matter what you call it.

“Education is wonderful – it helps you worry about things all over the world.”

September 2, 2013

Today is damp and cloudy. Maybe rain, even a v, is in the forecast. The whole weekend has been the same. I don’t think we had as many tourists for the weekend as usual. The forecast was spot on.

In kids’ parlance today is not Labor Day. It is the day before school starts. The buses roll tomorrow morning. My neighborhood has kids now, little kids, and four of them are headed to elementary school together: two to kindergarten, one to first grade and the oldest to second grade. They’re outside riding bikes now. I suspect their heads are not filled with images of new clothes, buses and the first day of school. They still have the look of summer about them.

The red spawn of Satan got the hose treatment again this morning. A short time later it was back but ran as soon as I walked on the deck. It didn’t take long for the hose and me to have an impact.

If I were to go back in time, to my elementary school days, I’d choose the fifth grade. We got bused for a while to the next town while the new school was finished. It was an adventure which also shortened the school day. We had the same hours as the rest of the school so we were on the bus for a part of the morning and a part of the afternoon. We always got back just as school was letting out for the day. In the spring we moved into the new school. My room was on the first floor. The nun I had that year was a jovial sort. She used to hand out pieces of candy as prizes. Seldom did she leave her desk chair to walk around the room so she’d toss the candy to the prize winner. She periodically had contests like who could list the most homonyms, now called homophones. I remember that contest because I won, and this was before computers. My prize was a miniature book with Bible verses. I was intrigued by the size of the book and not so much by the verses. I don’t remember what I learned that year, but I figure it was pretty the same as all the other years. Nouns and the other parts of speech never seemed to disappear and once we hit decimals and fractions they followed us everywhere. Columbia and coffee are forever linked. There was only so much geography. As for history, I have no idea what we studied in the fifth unless it was the Pilgrims, but in those days history sort of hopscotched all over the place.

We were still young in the fifth grade. We jumped rope during recess and giggled about boys. Fifth grade was when I punched the boy who constantly teased my friend and wouldn’t stop when asked, even nicely asked. That is probably my favorite memory of that year. I learned to stand up for friends and I learned I had a strong right.

“Mathematics was hard, dull work. Geography pleased me more. For dancing I was quite enthusiastic.”

February 26, 2012

Today is winter. The dump was freezing and the wind felt Arctic. I swear the people in the car beside me were speaking Russian. If records were being kept, the fastest dump runs in history would be today’s.

Last night the wind howled and the house shook. I was glad the new palm tree was nailed in places to the deck or it would have gone flying, a bit like the cow and the rowboat in The Wizard of Oz cyclone. All I did was snuggle even more under my down comforter and go back to sleep.

Monday was the worst day of the week and the worst of all Monday’s was the one after a vacation. That would be tomorrow around here.

We all knew school was inevitable. Hating to go only made it worse so abiding it as a necessary evil made it a bit more tolerable for those for whom school was anathema. I liked school or at least I never minded going. I liked most subjects except arithmetic because it was the only one which ever gave me any trouble. I used to hide my fingers under my desk so I wouldn’t get caught using them. I was a great carrier of numbers though. It was always the smaller ones which tripped me up, never those with three digits. I remember writing the 1 over the number the way I had been taught while in my head, I’d be saying, “And carry the one.” It was almost like a prayer, something we all learned by heart. My favorite subject was reading. We had a book series which we used from year to year. The books were filled with stories and poems with questions at the end. Lots of times we’d have to read aloud. I always felt bad for the kid who had trouble with words and for whom reading aloud was torture. “Sound out the letters,” was always the nun’s directive as if that easily solved the problem. What I thought was strange was our report cards graded us on silent reading, never reading aloud so I didn’t understand why we did it. I suppose to prove we could read.

I’m sorry geography as a separate subject has disappeared from most schools. It was always a favorite of mine. Only one part, learning the exports of all the countries, was never all that important to me. I liked the pictures and mostly I liked the stories of the way people lived. The tulips and the windmills, the snow on the mountains and the goats and sheep were far more fun than bananas and coffee beans.

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.”

November 14, 2011

The day is cloudy and windy but quite warm, 61°. Those leaves I mentioned that were hanging on the oak tree are now on my deck. Every time I look out the window, I see more of them fall, victims of the wind. If I hadn’t been outside earlier, I would have thought it was cold. The day has that look about it.

When I was in elementary school, I loved geography class. Our books were filled with all sorts of information about each country and had the most wonderful pictures of faraway places. I still remember the picture of Christ the Redeemer standing with arms stretched on top of what I thought was a giant mountain. I probably didn’t know the word magnificent then, but that’s how it looked to me. Another picture was so beautiful I’ve never forgotten it. The picture was of a windmill in Holland surrounded by tulips. The windmill was in the background, and the front of the picture was filled with the colorful tulips, a flower I didn’t know and had never seen in real life. I lived in a region of  gardens filled with pansies. I remember reading about coffee growing in South America and how rice grew in paddies. We memorized the capitals of most countries and had to find them on the giant map in the front of the room. The nun would give us a long wooden pointer, and we’d find the country and then place the tip of the pointer on it. I learned all about the world because of those classes, and I learned we were just a small part of that world. The big map taught me that.

My last geography class was in the eight grade. High school was too crowded with other classes to include it. I missed geography. Algebra just didn’t have the same allure as those faraway places and amazing pictures.