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Old school: Blackboard and chalk

In case you thought the columns in this space lack research, informed opinion and credibility, you should know that the observations presented today are based on interviews with an eighth-grader, an 11th-grader, a paraprofessional, a retired elementary teacher, and of course, my own memories of being a student years ago. School Board members, superintendents and principals were not consulted.

As our children return to school next month or late this month, they will enter a world totally unknown by their parents and grandparents. To state the most conspicuous difference, old fashioned slate blackboards and chalk have been gone for years. They've been replaced by electronic "smartboards" — digital devices controlled by computers. As a result, students being punished for disciplinary offenses can no longer be forced to clean erasers because erasers don't exist.

Textbooks still exist, but more and more they're being replaced by iPad and Chromebook (like laptop computers). Many assignments, but not all, are being sent to students by email. Report cards still exist, but are mostly transmitted online.

Most tests, especially standard tests, are taken online. Students are no longer using No. 2 lead pencils. So, you have to imagine, there is no such things as a pencil sharpener anymore. Some school libraries are now being replaced in part by computer labs. Even in elementary grades, cellphones are mostly allowed in class. In one high school class, one student noticed some cheating going on during a test. So, she alerted the teacher by text; the cheating was stopped and the cheater was punished.

Back in my day, teachers wore skirts and dresses or suits, jackets and ties. Believe me, that has changed. Today, teacher attire is much more casual. Shirts and ties are still seen, but so are jeans, sweatshirts, running shorts and almost anything in the closet — or laundry pile. There were teacher lounges years ago where teachers could go to smoke if they wished. One high school years ago even had a smoking lounge for students. Seriously. Today, all schools are smoke free.

Student fashions have changed, too. At one time, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses, but occasionally were allowed a "jeans day" or "shorts day." Now every day is a jeans day or shorts day, but the jeans must be pulled up high enough and blouses are not allowed to be too revealing.

Yes, the kids in elementary and middle school still recite the pledge of allegiance. Blackboard and chalk veterans may remember that the words "under God" were not added to the pledge until Flag Day, 1954. And school kids, even the kindergarteners, don't pay for lunch anymore with lunch tickets, they have lunch cards that are scanned. They need to know their ID number, and they can't pay with cash.

The little kids don't sit in rows of desks anymore, they sit in pods of tables. And as they advance as students, chewing gum is no longer the big bugaboo, except while doing science experiments where safety requires no chewing.

Because of budget squeezes, arts and music have been chopped down. The debate on those cuts goes on. But sports are still emphasized. Title IX requiring equal opportunity for girls has been terrific. Weight rooms are big and summer sports camps (not school activities) are teaching the finer points of sports all summer long.

At one time, a kid misbehaving might occasionally get slammed up against a locker by a teacher. A few teachers were well known for their "hands on" enforcement of the rules. Not anymore. Teachers even have to be cautious now about their comments on social media.

In an earlier time, paraprofessionals were unknown and special education was limited or nonexistent. Great strides have now been made in special education. The schools with the best programs have students with special needs transferring in through open enrollment.

We didn't consider security to be a need at one time, but we do now. As a result of crazy people with guns or non-custodial parents inclined to kidnap their own children, school security is a big issue. Now we have security officers, police, security cameras and locked doors to keep the children safe.

One more change: Storm day procedures have been simplified. When school is going to be delayed for a few hours or canceled for a day, an automatic phone call and email message will alert all parents and children at the earliest possible hour. That will avoid a situation where one student from the local high school class of 1950 called a Fargo radio station one (not very) stormy day, claiming to be the superintendent, and cancelled school for the day. It worked.

When the students arrive this year, the kids will be meeting some of the most valuable and caring citizens we have: our teachers. God bless our teachers.

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