|Mary Bauer Smith|
There were no kindergartens in the suburban town of Tewksbury, Massachusetts where I grew up. We went right into first grade when we were six. We rode a bus that picked up kids each morning and dropped them off in the afternoon. Usually there was a mother looking out the window as her child skipped from the bus to the house. I still remember those children and where they lived. One, Mary Bauer Smith, asked to be my “friend” on Facebook recently.
|St. William's School|
So, I “messaged” her: “Are you the Mary Bauer who lived on Whipple Road and went to St. William’s School?” Our parish opened St. William’s School when we were in second grade and our parents sent us both there.
“Yes,” she wrote back. “I wanted to tell you something. When we were at St. William's one Lent, one of the teachers asked what each of us were doing for Lent. You said that after school your family had crackers and peanut butter for a snack and that you were giving it up for Lent. You were so sweet and probably a little embarrassed to admit that. It moved me very much. Today, as I assembled my Ritz cracker/peanut butter snack I thought again of your Lenten fast, as I have many times over the years.”
“Hmm,” I thought, and remembered eating that snack after school, but not “giving it up,” so to speak, although she clearly did. We exchanged messages for half an hour, and attached to one of hers was a group shot of our third grade class. “I’m in white, long-sleeved shirt,” she wrote. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the cub scout uniform in the back,” I replied. I could remember the faces of all thirty-eight kids in that picture and the names of thirty-three. I was eight years old again — transported right back to that time and place of fifty-six years ago. I recalled the drawing of an ice skater taped to the wall and envying the talent of Gerard Connelly the boy with a bow tie and big ears standing second from the right. Then I felt a connection to the students I’m teaching now.
|My homeschool students|
Every Tuesday morning for the past twenty-five weeks I’ve been teaching a group of ten home-schooled, high-school-aged boys and girls. Eight are Catholic and two Baptist. Working with them transports me back also because they remind me of the students in the picture. I taught about thirty-five hundred public school kids over thirty-six years but the home school kids I’m teaching now are different. Or, perhaps I should say the thirty-five hundred others I taught are the different ones. They’re different because our culture is different from what it was fifty years ago, and they’re immersed in it while my home-schooled kids are not. I can’t say they’re unaffected, but they’re relatively untarnished by what our culture has become. They still have something we all used to have but is almost lost now — not entirely yet, but if present trends continue it will be.
What is that something? Hard to describe. A sense of inner good perhaps? Confidence that we’re good because God created us that way? It’s also a confidence that there is a general “Good,” which we can all share if we acknowledge it. There was little doubt in our minds back then that Good was a real force, and it would ultimately prevail. Our country was good, and it fought evil. Nearly all our fathers were WWII veterans who watched “World At War” and “Victory At Sea,” on Saturdays — those half-hour, black-and-white episodes depicting real battles between good and evil. Even the old atheist and Chicago lefty Studs Terkel knew that when he wrote: “The Good War.”
“Oh my god!” was the most ubiquitous exclamation for students in public school during my career. But “god” didn’t mean “Supreme Being” to them. They didn’t use the word as the kids in the picture did, as my homeschoolers do, as I do. Our God wasn’t in their thoughts when they invoked His name — not consciously. When my homeschoolers say, “God,” it’s with reverence, and confidence that He exists. Teachers in public school are afraid to say the word today. Students are allowed unless they really mean God the Creator. Invoking Him is actively discouraged unless it’s in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that’s periodically challenged.
Christmas is gone. History texts don’t measure time using BC as in “Before Christ.” That’s out too. Now it’s BCE for “Before Common Era,” but no one can explain what “Common Era” means. Dictionary.com says it means “Christian Era” but you’re not supposed to say that. Christianity is actively discouraged. They never say AD for the Latin “Anno Domini” anymore either because it means “Year of our Lord.” Can’t have that. It’s CE for “Common Era” which nobody understands.