Robert's column

Different worlds; Today’s school experience versus 40 years ago

Opinion: I’m always pleasantly surprised when I go to schools these days

This used to be my least favourite time of the year.

I remember when I was a kid, I would count the days to the first day of school after Labour Day like a condemned man waiting for his death sentence to be carried out.

The long and lazy days of summer would fade fast, and I knew the end was on the horizon when my mother would suggest that it was time to buy new clothes and supplies for school.

I dreaded those shopping missions and I would never even look at, much less wear, those new clothes until I absolutely had to when school started.

Kids these days, at least the ones I’ve talked to, don’t seem to feel that way at all.

Most of them tell me they are excited to go back to school, see their friends they haven’t seen in months, and settle into the school routines again.

I tend to look at them like they’ve gone crazy.

But the school experience of these students isn’t the same as I had more than 40 years ago.

I went to all-boys schools right up until the end of high school, and missed out entirely on those budding relationships between the sexes in the school hallways and classrooms that so many movies and sitcoms feed on.

I always felt we were deprived of that vital human contact and connection between boys and girls at a crucial point in our development as human beings, and have paid for it ever since.

It was easy during my first year of university, the first time I was exposed to having women in my classes, to spot the guys I went to school with because they were entirely distracted by members of the fairer sex surrounding them in an educational setting for the first time.

I was envious of my friends who went to mixed schools because it was easy for them to speak to and socialize with girls, while I tended to be tongue-tied and shy around them at that point in my life.

All-boy schools at the time were also generally not known to be happy and comfortable institutions of learning.

I always tended to get good grades, but that resulted more from fear of the teachers and administrators than from any actual desire to learn.

Corporal punishment was the rule of the day and any student who found themselves in a teacher’s bad book could expect to be severely struck on the hands by a one-foot long and an inch thick piece of heavy leather called a strap, or even worse.

To be fair, I did have some good teachers that made a difference, but school was typically not a very pleasant environment for us students.

That’s why I’m always pleasantly surprised when I go to schools these days to cover some event and find happy and smiling students in the classrooms and hallways.

They don’t appear to be afraid, and many of them seem to get along with their teachers as if they were old friends.

I also find it astounding that a lot of the students stay after school ends for the day to take part in sports and other extracurricular pursuits.

You couldn’t get me out of school fast enough after 3 p.m. each day.

Raised as I was in that “old school” way of teaching, I couldn’t understand how teachers maintain discipline in this more laid-back approach to the profession.

But, as that old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”, so modern teaching methods seem to work to develop more relaxed and happy students who are willing and ready to learn.

It looks a lot better than my school days.

I hope I never see a strap again.

Robert Barron is a news reporter for the Cowichan Valley Citizen.

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