As students and educators go back to school and many parents breathe a sigh of relief that routine has resumed for their children, we thought we would take a look back over the years at traditions in the American classroom. Some of these you may nostalgically remember, and some may realize that these traditions disappeared from or weren’t in the classroom while you were still in school. Either way, let’s take a look at the American school traditions…
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of The United States of America. And to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Who remembers standing in your classroom with your teacher and classmates, hands over your hearts and facing the American flag, while listening to your principal, another student or someone from front office leading The Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day? In 1942, the Pledge was recognized by the U.S. Government and in 1954, President Eisenhower asked to have the words, “under God” added, after which Congress included those two words. At that time, classrooms across America began their days reciting the pledge. As early as 1943, however, the protests began, citing it was against religious freedom to require the recitation of the Pledge; in 2002, the first court ruled that reciting it in public schools was an “unconstitutional endorsement of religion,” after which many have complained in court, and many Circuit Courts have ruled that students are not required to recite it. So, do all classrooms still recite the Pledge? No, but many still do, though they don’t require all students to stand and recite it. Encouragingly though, in 2014, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the Pledge’s words, “under God,” indicate a patriotic, not a religious, exercise.
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.” Do you remember reciting this in your classroom as a kid? Until 1962, you might have prayed this to start your day in school, but after the Engel v. Vitale case, educator-led prayer was banned from public schools and ruled as unconstitutional. The holding was that government directed prayer in public schools was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Since then, you may have seen student-led groups in prayer on campuses, but teachers risk their careers by doing so now.
Nearing the Thanksgiving holiday, how many remember working on a classroom play about when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, met Native Americans for the first time, learned from them and had their first Thanksgiving together? Perhaps macaroni wampum and paper-bag fringed vests were involved, along with colorful feathers glued to cardboard straps around your forehead, wearing buckles on black dress shoes and top hats? This was a time to celebrate and be thankful, and we didn’t concern ourselves with political correctness, inequality or injustice; it was just American history in 3rd grade.
At the risk of ticking off the politically correct mudslingers and haters, hear us out. There was a time in American classrooms when we were able to openly celebrate Christmas -- the birth of Christ -- and enjoy the accompanying traditions without worrying about offending those who celebrated Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, who didn’t celebrate anything at all, or tiptoeing around the usage of “Christmas” instead of “winter holiday.” There were Christmas cookies, Christmas trees, handmade Christmas ornaments (decked out in glitter and glue, decoupage, papier mache and tempura paint), listening to Christmas music (a la Bing Crosby), Christmas gift exchanges and gifts for your teacher, maybe even a Christmas program in which you performed a song or short play with your classroom and/or grade in front of the entire school, with your family and community in the audience as well. These days, it’s a winter holiday, and most hints of Christmas are scrubbed from the classroom. The sentimental and almost-magical feeling in the air that we experienced as kids has been removed to create a distant, sanitized, “non-offensive” classroom experience. To that we ask, which is the greater offense?
How many remember making homemade presents for you mom and dad in your classroom, and beamed with pride when you came home with “breakfast in bed” or “good for one room cleaning” coupons for your mother, or a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug for your father? Maybe you had the opportunity to write a couple of sentences about what you loved most about your mom or dad, maybe even getting to see it published in the local town newspaper? Your first published article, and you couldn't wait to show it off! These days, the family dynamic is vastly different from a few decades ago, and even this can become a dicey and tricky topic in the classroom.
Finally, one that might not offend anyone! The long-awaited last day or two of the school year, where testing was over, and exhausted teachers got to turn out their antsy students for the day onto the school’s lawn, track or nearby park. As kids, we got to participate in foot races, sack races, flag football, freeze tag, Red Rover, Simon Says, and many other games that may now make us tired just thinking about it! It was time for celebrating the end of the school year, being surprised at the teachers who were agile, laughing at the ones who preferred to just sit on the bench and watch, and just enjoying being a kid.
What classroom traditions do you remember from childhood? Share them with us!
And remember....everything is better with a cup of coffee in your hand!