Yesterday’s Thoughts

June 21, 2005


I have lived longer in my current home than any other place, 8 years.

We moved quite a few times when I was a child. I changed schools twice in third grade then went to a different school for fifth grade. We also moved during fourth grade, but it was just up the street, so I was in the same neighborhood and school. All together I had lived in 9 houses by the time I began fifth grade.

Moving in elementary school was hard. It was hard socially, I’ve known that forever, but it was also hard mentally and physically. I’m just realizing that now, almost 40 years later.

The examples that have come to me over the past few days have to do with music and sports.

When we moved in the middle of third grade, I moved to a school with a very active music program. Every student had the opportunity to play an instrument, and I think that that included private, or at least small group, lessons. I say I think because I didn’t get to take any lessons. I came in in the middle of the year when there weren’t many available instruments, and because I wanted to play drums, the band leader didn’t try very hard to get me started.

In addition to the instrumental music (maybe there was a chorus, too?) there was weekly or biweekly music class. Thinking back on it, it must have been a model program. Each student had a flutaphone (more or less a recorder with a bell, maybe with simplified fingering) and had learned to read music and play by third grade. They also used the Koladany (sp? – Google yields nothing) rhythmic instruction method where each song was broken down into syllables (tee tee ta, tee tee ta = Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells).

As I recall, the class was already fairly expert in these methods when I arrived. They must have been doing this work since first grade. The instruction that I received was from my classmate Eleanor (her aunt was later my orthodontist, so Eleanor if you’re out there, you know who you are) who took me aside for perhaps five minutes and told me how to play the flutaphone. There may have been a fingering diagram in the book which Eleanor pointed out to me.

Needless to say I did not learn to play the flutaphone in that brief period. I am not a musical genius, and I was caught up in trying to handle the playground scene, so I wasn’t that focused either. When the time rolled around for the Christmas performance, I got to stand in the back without flutaphone.

I missed the possibility for music at this school because of moving. The train had left the station years before I arrived. I had one five-minute lesson to attempt to catch up, and I didn’t.

For other subject, the case was the reverse. For the first half of third grade I had a very good math class. After the move the new school had somewhat different program. They were behind where I had been in my previous school covering material that was familiar to me and they were teaching from standardized math workbooks with tear out pages, instead of text books. Once each page was completed, you tore it out and turned it in to the teacher. Neither of these was so bad by itself, but the teacher insisted that I complete the entire workbook from the beginning. I did my work with the class starting from the middle of the book, and then on top of that I worked independently from the front of the book. I don’t recall where the time came from for me to work on this extra work.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about both of these problems, certainly not within the space of a few paragraphs. The music teachers gave me no opportunity to catch up; the math teacher gave me opportunities that I didn’t need.

As I said above, I’m not feeling particularly bitter about either of these. I wish I had had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument and read music at the time. I wish I hadn’t been forced to jump through an arbitrary hoop of completing the whole math book. Since then I haven’t really grasped certain experiential facts of music, and I have learned plenty of math on my own by working through the problems in a book, so maybe some it was a wash.

Mostly though I want to recognize the effect of the dislocation. Both math and music were made harder than they ought to have been because I transferred from one system to another. Moving from one school to another is very difficult, and there will be missing pieces, unless the destination school is truly exceptional.

Queenie and I are making some big sacrifices to ensure that the Little Man and the Wee One will have a more constant school environment than either of us had.

I regret that I couldn’t provide the same for E and A. But that’s another story.

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