November 16, 2012

Living in the Past

Sometime during my third grade year at Samuel P. Kyger Elementary school my life was changed.. Until then I was an indifferent student. I did not think much of school one way or another. I went because I had to.  There was nothing to like nor hate about it.  School just was. But a couple of things happened there in Mrs. Walters' class. We were introduced to the SRA system. We had to read a book and take a test on it. These were real books, not the picture books of the earlier years.  We read real stories with plot and characters. I did the minimum.

Then one day the teacher wheeled in the projector. This in itself was not unusual. She threaded the 16 mm film through the pathways, the lights were shut off and the blinds were closed. The familiar click click of the projector and the countdown sequence started. It was a Disney film.  It was called Johnny Tremain and it was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. I sat enthralled.  Paul Revere and Redcoats and history just became real to my little brain.

Imagine my surprise to find out Johnny Tremain was a book! I read it as fast as I could. I took the SRA test and scored a perfect score. I read the book again. Mrs. Walters directed me to similar books of historical bent. I discovered biographies. My teacher took to listing everyone's reading scores next to the SRA box.. We all knew who read the most books. It was going to be me. It was me. Reading opened a magical world. I could go anywhere. I could learn anything!

Over the subsequent years I read every biography and history book in the elementary school.library. I also became a regular at the public library.  Mom bought me books. I read and read, especially if it had to do with history. I am sure know I bored my family silly talking about this battle and that person. Soon I repeatedly heard the the same phrase in my ears -- "Put down the book, Joe, go outside and play". I took my book outside and sat on the step, the curb,  or the picnic table on the patio and read. Eventually I would join the other kids in baseball, or "army", or neighborhood mayhem, but if no one was around it was my books and me whiling away the afternoons.

I still love reading. I still love history. How wonderful my two favorite hobbies match so perfectly. So it was with great joy a week or two ago when I spotted the Newberry Award winning Johnny Tremain as the Kindle Daily Deal. For just $1.99 I scored the book that started it all.  I know it is a kid's book.  I am certain it will not bring the same wonder it did more than forty years ago. But a couple of bucks and an hour or two is a cheap price to relive a seminal moment from my youth, one that has formed my very being today.

6 comments:

Ralphd00d said...

Though I did not go to Kyger (Lincoln Elem.)I remember the similar type testing. History wasn't my favorite topic, but books were my best friends (and still are). I think at that age, I had advanced from the Hardy Boys and into the adult sci-fi by Asimov and Poul Anderson by then. I know 5th grade was when I got my first library card (able to check out adult books with it as well).

Oh, and I remember watching Johnny Tremain, on filmstrip, in school, too!

Anonymous said...

I also very fondly remember the SRA system (circa 1961). For me, it was great fun. I echo Ralphd00d.
-Steve_in_CA

Rita said...

I had completely forgotten about the SRA. Wasn't that were you could read at your own speed. Once you passed the quiz you could move on. No more being stuck reading the same thing as everyone else.

I still remember in first grade the teacher telling us specifically not to read ahead in our reading books. The last story was about a pony. I was a horrible student because I read ahead.

mts1 said...

Getting a kid hooked on learning seems to be like trying to swat around in a dark basement for the pull chain for the light, while barefoot on a Lego covered floor. But you find the kid's hook, and you have him.

I couldn't care less for school, and while I was cool with the game of getting the right answer in math, reading and writing were a daily war. That was girly stuff. Until I got into some "Moonbeam the Astronaut" book series on the 1st grade bookshelf. I inhaled them. Soon, the teacher filled out the rest of the series to use as rewards to get me to do the rest of my schoolwork. I was too much of a little man to be a bookish girly-boy, so even though I wouldn't come out of a Moonbeam book if the room was on fire, call me a reader and you'd get a whack.

My father also enjoyed math but was lost for reading until he discovered westerns, then he was hooked, But if it wasn't a western, it didn't exist. When his librarian chewed him out for reading nothing but those "stupid dime novels, and westerns at that," and challenged him to read Les Miserables all the way through (he was 12 by then), he said he'd do it if she agreed to read a Zane Grey novel. She learned westerns weren't all crap, and he moved on to Hugo, Verne, Dickens, and Dumas, etc. Hell, he had to move on - he depleted the western section.

I had a bud whose brother thought school was just for ruining the teacher's day, until he got the jones to become a jet fighter when he grew up. But if you want to be a jet fighter, you need to get good grades. Overnight he was a good student. Then he was made to wear glasses, and learned you can't be a jet pilot with glasses, and school went to hell, but anyway...

A friend told me yesterday his second grade son was good at math but failing reading. Getting him to read 8 pages a night was a chore. He found his subject, and actually missed the Bears game, he was so into the book (and football is his addiction). 76 pages in one night.

Ed Bonderenka said...

I ran out of SRAs in school.
But you described my childhood, Joe.
And the SciFi like Ralph.

Cappy said...

Always was a reader, but the SRA really stood out because you could advance at your own speed.

Having a different approach to math every year as we hurried to catch up to the commies was another matter.

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