Yesterday when I met Esther for lunch, I started out with good intentions. My notebook was in my pocketbook, and my aim was to just chat with Esther about this and that. But when Esther started talking about her school days in rural Maine in the 1940s, I grabbed my bag and fumbled for my notebook and pen. Esther is a treasure trove of stories, and how silly of me to forget that I am her Boswell.
We had been talking about the delightful documentary On the Way to School, available through Netflix. The movie follows children in various countries—including India and Kenya—as they make their long trek to school, which takes the children hours. Jackson, from Kenya, was particularly proud he had been chosen to raise the school’s flag, and he and his sister hurried to school so that he would be there in time for the opening ceremony.
Esther said, “It was the same way for us with washing the chalk boards at the end of the day. It was quite an honor to be chosen, and we all wanted to do it.” I could picture children wriggling in their seats, waiting to be picked for this special task.
Esther continued, “But then one year, the teachers decided to make washing the chalkboard a punishment, and suddenly, nobody wanted to do it anymore.”
“Interesting psychology,” I said, thinking about how this might be applied to other aspects of our society. “When washing the chalkboard was an honor, the children wanted to do it. As soon as it became a punishment, they didn’t.”
Esther shrugged philosophically. “Well, the teachers had to come up with something, I suppose, when they weren’t allowed to hit the children anymore.”
“And children are impudent,” I put in, knowing I wouldn’t last one hour in a classroom. “How big were the classrooms?”
“There were about twenty-five pupils per class, but there were only three teachers, and one was also the principal, so the classes were mixed grades. The teacher would spend time with one group, give them their lessons and move on the next group. It worked out very well.”
“It must have been hard on the teachers.”
“It didn’t seem to be,” Esther replied. “The classes always ran smoothly.”
“How many buses ran for so few children?”
“Three, but only one real school bus. The other two were panelled trucks with benches along each side. You didn’t get to choose who you were going to sit by, and some of the children didn’t smell that good.” I made a face. “Oh, they couldn’t help it,” she added quickly. “Most of them didn’t have running water, and they had outhouses.”
“What about you?”
“We didn’t have running water or a bathroom either. But we had a pump, and that made things easier. ”
We then moved on to the topic of unpaved roads, but that will be a post for another day. Oh, the things I learn when I get together with Esther.
Note: Neither of the buses shown are exactly as Esther described, but they are so funky and charming that I had to include them in this post.