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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Readin and 'Ritin' and 'Rithmetic

That old song starts out with “School days, school days, good old fashioned rule days, readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic, all to the tune of a hickory stick. You were my queen in calico. I was your bashful barefoot beau. I wrote on your slate, I love you so, when we were a couple of kids.”

The words hark back to times even before my times. One room school houses, one teacher for the first eight years, a blackboard, chalk, erasers, and slates. Desks set all in straight rows. Windows along the side walls. The alphabet marching around the top of the walls in both lower and upper case. The flag up front. A picture of George Washington and another of the current president. A wall clock, of course. A bucket of fresh well water on a stand with a dipper hanging above it. A pot-bellied wood burning stove for winter days. And, yes, somewhere near the teacher's desk up front would be the hickory stick when needed. Worse would be the shame of causing the use of it on one’s bottom! Or being made to sit on a stool up in front of the room for everyone to see you and sympathize or scorn.

Those days are a far cry from today’s school rooms. You can argue whether better or worse but in a way they describe a method of learning that lingers in our everyday adult lives. Reading is a must and even though its done with computers, Kindles and Nooks, I-pads and the like, we still have to read to get along.

Writing is another thing. Nowadays I’ve heard that cursive is, or will be, a thing of the past. I think that is sad and yet practical I suppose. Handwriting can be unclear and signatures? Most of the time they might as well be X’s. A printed version of one’s name under them is absolutely necessary. The kind of writing most of us do is on e-mails or Facebook or cell phones. When I think of my old typewriter days and the hardship of having to make corrections or revisions I’m deeply grateful for the computer!

Arithmetic without a calculator is nearly a thing of the past. I’m not sure how much of times tables and long division or even addition and subtraction without it is required in today’s schools. It is my weak subject so I can hardly even discuss it. Still, I’m in awe of those who are most advanced in mathematics.

In everyday life a lot of things are getting better as we grow older, especially if we can avoid the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, junk food, immorality, recreational drugs and gambling. I’d add swearing to that list too. Foul language, to me, is crude, impolite, indecent and self-demeaning. But I’m either old-fashioned or prudish to say so in today’s world. 

As for art? I studied the old masters in school and they’re still highly honored. Modern nonrepresentational art? I can appreciate some but some other leaves me cold. Like a painting I once saw in a museum I visited. It took up a whole wall and was entirely black with no visible variations. The title? “Black on black.” I just didn’t get it and can’t help wondering how someone gets paid for art that seems equally ridiculous to me, but I suppose I’m showing my ignorance here.

My daughter, Robin, is a watercolorist and her work pleases a lot of people because it exudes happiness. Without art the world of thought and vision would be drab and dull, so there’s room for a wide range of tastes.

What more can I say about all this? Keeping up with the times takes flexibility. It’s a quality that oldsters struggle with and it shows in our walk and talk, and in our writing. I’m glad to be giving up some of my former rigidity. I’m still working on giving up self-righteousness. As for politics? Reading, writing and arithmetic all play their part in that. I haven’t mentioned religion or the denial of it. Much is spoken, written, read and argued about religion these days. If we could all agree that love is the answer and then practice it I think the freedom of reading and writing, combined with the science of arithmetic will help us to make a better world. Then the old “hickory stick” of penalties and prisons can become relics of the past!

That song I started out with today didn’t stop with the three R’s. Remember the message on the slate? Love walks into our daily lives and eclipses all else. To live to love, now that’s the happy solution to life, and we see many signs of love in today’s world. Love is changing us and our world in a quiet, powerful, sometimes invisible evolution, and things are getting better. Even for the elderly like myself, if we can just keep learnin' and lovin'! 


  1. Ah the joy and love of learning and putting learning into productive practice! If that would only carry the day during our formative years. And it does for most. But what of the few, the disruptors, the unloving and unloved? That's the challenge, and I don't think it can be met wholly with discipline (the tune of the hickory stick) at school. That kind of discipline, training and love is learned when practiced at home by parents who lead by example.