News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 23, 2011

LIZ CIANCONE: Lesson 1: School is not a drag

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Not long ago I ran across an old letter I had written to Dad when I was five years old. He had saved it!

It reminded me of how I longed to be old enough to go to school. I wanted to learn to read and I wanted to learn to write.

Today kids are bombarded with negative messages about school: “It’s boring!”, “It’s not fun!”, “Teachers are dumb!”, “It’s a waste of time!” The most exciting thing about going back to school in the fall these days seems to be the chance to get a new wardrobe to amaze friends they haven’t seen all summer. All those new clothes will soon be old clothes and then what do you have? The reading and writing stick around.

I remember by name and grade every teacher I’ve ever had. With the sole exception of Miss Bauer in second grade, I remember them all fondly. They all encouraged me when I did well and helped me when I needed help.

Miss Meeker taught me to read in first grade. Miss Montgomery singled me out for praise on my mastery of spelling in second grade — I attended three different schools in second grade and Miss Bauer is the only one I remember with a shudder.

Of course, she seemed older than dirt and seemed to have only two dresses: The navy blue number was worn every day except the two days of parent/teacher conferences when she broke out the dark green frock. It was exactly like the navy one, except for color.

By seventh grade I bogged down in cursive writing. If I understand correctly, cursive writing is now an optional feature of classroom education.

I couldn’t master the “push-pulls” or “spirals” of the Palmer method and it was frowned on to erase what you slipped and got below the line.

I also heard a rumor which I hope is false, that civics will be eliminated from the secondary curriculum. If we don’t teach government and how it is supposed to work, what will prevent us from repeatedly electing noodle-heads to run our local, state and federal government?

But, I digress.

I found my letter to Dad and still remember the glow I felt when he puddled up and filed away my juvenile effort. From then on I wanted to write.

My Best Friend still laughs about his two weeks of active duty with his reserve unit every summer. He would arrive at camp and there would be a letter waiting for him.

I needed school. I wanted school. I feel sorry for kids who are encouraged to believe that it is just a drag.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star education reporter. Her personal columns have appeared on this page for more than 20 years. Send e-mail to