Friday, June 24, 2011

Bulman Farewell

Though our time on Earth doesn't always fall into neat categories, our lives do have discernible chapters.  Some of them are pleasant; others we'd just as soon forget. But for most of us, the events of our childhood have special significance, since what we learn and live through as kids colors everything that comes afterwards.

I spent seven years at Bulman Elementary School in Redford, Michigan.  Looking back, it was the longest chunk of time I spent anywhere, outside of my parents' house, until I began my 30-year career at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Many of those days dragged on interminably --- especially in Sixth Grade, where I confronted Unreasoning Adults for the first time in the person of my sixth grade teacher (who, may she rest in peace, shall remain nameless). But for the most part, my gradeschool days were filled with adventure and fun, of the sort that many kids today miss, owing to the Unreasoning Adults that seem to dominate much of modern-day America.

Learning came between the more important interludes of school:  recess, gym, and lunch, where lessons learned on the playgrounds stayed with us for the rest of our lives.

Parents took a healthy interest in what was happening at school --- with the Mothers Club filled with concerned, caring parents who did what they could to supplement our education with events, field trips, and baked goods.

Year by year, our growth and developing sense of self passed unnoticed --- except by the caring grownups around us, who were gently guiding us along life's early pathways, taking pride in every step of progress we made along the way.

Today, much has changed, and many of those changes are not for the better:

Recess, so necessary for young boys to discharge energy otherwise spent fidgiting and making mischief, is often looked at as wasted time that could be better spent sitting still and listening.

I was fortunate enough to be in an "accelerated" program for the smarter kids in our grade school. This gave the teachers more freedom to experiment, and to move through the basics to a more challenging course of study.  Today, this kind of "tracking" is often frowned up...and even by the time I left Bulman it had been abandoned, due to the protests of parents whose felt their kids were suffering by not being part of the program.

Dodgeball --- a source of playground fun for countless kids through the years --- seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, as grownups seem intent on eradicating anything with a hint of risk from childhood.

Even the free-range childhood I remember growing up --- leaving the house after breakfast for a day of unstructured play and adventure in the woods and fields near home, free from the over-protective eyes of adults --- is on the verge of extinction, sacrificed to the anxieties of the age. Back in the Middle Ages when I was a kid, free play was how we learned about the world, about friendship, and about how to settle our own problems; today, parents who let their kids walk about unsupervised are often called names and viewed as neglectful parents.

Perhaps some of this is simply a reflection of the times. But I think it mostly reflects our own fears and doubts.  In that, we are probably shortchanging the children of today, structuring their lives in ways that prevent them from confronting the small challenges and risks that will help them confront larger ones later in life. Those adult-sized challenges are there, and growing larger by the day; the world they will face will be a daunting one, filled with many problems left them by the grownups of today.  And I don't think we help our kids and grandkids prepare for the future by teaching them that there are no losers on the playing field, or that Mommy and Daddy will always take care of everything.

Bulman School will soon be only a memory. But walking the hallways for one last time brought back memories that were lingering there, in the footsteps of countless children who roamed the hallways over the past sixty-five years. We all have small corners of our lives where the man or woman we grew to be first took root; sometimes, it's nice to return there, even if only in our minds, to see ourselves as we once were:  filled with promise, and eager to experience the adventure that is life.  In this modern world that is changing under our feet and before our eyes, it's often helpful to know where we came from.  And if we can, it's nice to pay our past one last visit, before it disappears forever.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel Clouds of Darkness, the compelling third volume in the Guardians of Peace series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.