Guest Column: Remembering the ’50s & ’60s

By Philip J. Wilson

Let’s take a step back in time when the school teachers had full authority in their classrooms. The year was 1957. One day (and many more) when I was in first grade, I was very shy, and a girl would scratch me in the face whenever I tried to talk to her. I told my teacher, Mrs. Vocard, what had happened. But she scolded me and told me, “Just don’t turn around.” I never did understand why that first grader was so cruel.

When the school year at William Dennis was finally over, I was glad to get the heck out of there. But I couldn’t understand my report card. So I had asked a (so-called) friend of mine to look at my grades. And then he started to laugh at me. I asked him, “What’s so funny?” Then he explained to me that getting straight E’s meant that I’d have to repeat first grade all over again!

I also remember a talkative girl. Her name was Peggy, and she was very disruptive in school. My teacher said, “If you don’t stop talking too much, I’ll tie a handkerchief around your mouth.” But this warning had gone unheeded, so the teacher did as she had threatened to do! Peggy was gagged and sternly warned not to remove it. But on another occasion, that same girl started to be disruptive again! And this time, the teacher, my teacher, once again gagged her. Then, she had pushed Peggy into the classroom’s closet, and the little girl (about 6 years old) was warned “not to come out all day”!

But nowadays, any teacher wouldn’t get away with this scot free as my teacher did. Because the teacher would have been in a lot of trouble for taking a hostage (Peggy). And why? She would be charged with three counts of assault and battery (pushing, gagging and confining).

The year was 1961; I was at the same school (Ellen Stiles), and I had to repeat third grade all over again. Then, in 1962, I had to repeat third grade all over again! But once again, another boy had laughed at me, and he said, guess what? “You’ll have to repeat this year [third grade] with Mrs. Wear again.”

But when I was in sixth grade (once again at Ellen Stiles), I was the oldest student in the classroom. I had flunked both first and third grades! And that teacher had a habit of slapping us boys in our faces. Whenever one of us boys would crumple up a piece of paper and toss it into the wastepaper basket, she would slap us hard in our faces. We called her “Crabby Appleton” among ourselves.

But one day, I had forgotten about her rule, and I had inadvertently tossed a crumpled piece of paper. After she had assaulted me in the face, I started to cry. Then, I was glad because the teacher said, “At the end of the year, I’m quitting.” (Hooray, no more teacher/bully!)

And things happen! But a school superintendent (Dr. Sheffield) nowadays who refuses to do the correct thing isn’t worthy of her pay. So, Dr. Sheffield, now is the time to quit or be fired!

Philip J. Wilson is a resident of Rockford.

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