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.


Charles said...

A lovely and hard-truth commentary about real and good things lost. My elementary school, Franklin School in North Bergen, NJ, was torn down and I don't choose to go back and look at what, if anything now fills that hole in the neighborhood. I like the comments about free play. Heavens, did we learn a lot about life while risking life and limb. I don't remember myself or a friend getting hurt. And when leather-lunged Moms wanted us home, we could hear them two blocks away!

June said...

Sad old Bulman School.....I walked past it every day walking home from junior high, and soon Roosevelt School where I went will be a rubble heap. I went back there in '87 to do an observation, and when the "Roosevelt School Smell" hit me as I entered, I almost went back in time for real. Your comments about free play are so true......and the parts about "everyone is a winner" are true as well. I taught during the onslaught of the "middle school concept" and we are now working with these people......some without a sense of real responsibility, sadly. May change happen for the better.

ronawoo said...

Jeff, As part of your childhood, I remember the fun your dad and I had participating with ours and other baseball kids in our neighborhood.

Fond memories indeed!

Beth & Jerry Hutchison said...

I was in town this week for a family funeral and decided to drive past my childhood home on Gaylord in Redford Township. As I was remember who lived in each house, I drove down to the end of Gaylord and Midland to look at my elementary school, Bulman. I was shocked to see the building was totally gone! I thought it was a bad dream. When and why did this happen to Bulman. I see the playground is still up. Wow, I remember walking home in 1968 when the Tigers had just won the pennant! So many other memories feel shortened now that the school isn't there anymore. Where do the neighborhood children go for elementary now? I drove around the block and saw that the Middle/Jr. High school is still operational and it was so much older than Bulman. I'm perplexed to say the least. Any new on this would be helpful. Thanks!

Beth & Jerry Hutchison said...

I went home for a family funeral this week and drove down Gaylord Street in Redford Township to see my childhood home. Memories flooded past as I drove by each house on the street. Continuing down Memory Lane, I drove down to the corner of Gaylord and Midland to see Bulman Elementary School. I could now believe my eyes that the school was totally gone! What and when and why did this happen? Anyone know the answers please let me know. I thought about calling the Redford Union School District to see if they know. I Googled it and this blog popped up. Any other information out there?

Jeff Caminsky said...

Beth and Jerry: they started tearing down the school shortly after I posted this article, in the summer of 2011. As I recall, it took nearly a year for them to complete the job and hall the debris away. My parents even retrieved a brick to give my brother and me before everything was cleared away. It was painful to see so much of your childhood memories being torn down, but at least the grounds are still being used as a park...even if it isn't the way this old athlete would have designed it.

My brother and I were able to take a quick tour of the building before they started demolition, visiting all our old classrooms. And we got to talk to the Principal, who told us a bit about the district's plans. Declining enrollments throughout the district meant that they needed to consolidate their operations; and since poor old Bulman needed some renovations anyway, and the district didn't want to spend the upkeep money, it was deemed expendable. (I understand that some other grade schools in the district have met a similar fate...including Roosevelt, which was demolished in 2012.) If enrollment increases, we were told they may rebuild it, but I seriously doubt that will come to pass any time soon.

Most kids in the area now go to MacGowan Elementary, which I believe is the only elementary school left in the district.

Unknown said...

I attended Bulman grades K-5 (all the grades the school offered at the time) from 1998–2003.

I guess I never really considered how many thousands of people went there before me.

Kind of a bummer I'll never be able to see those halls again.