Dear Old Golden Rule Days
by Janet Farquhar
Chapter 2 - Creative Activities
Before Sam's trial, and shortly after he decorated the school wall with paint water, Mrs. Day informed me that creative activities in the hands of an inexperienced teacher were a waste of time. If there had been no painting lesson he could not have poured paint on the school. She wanted me to drill, drill, and drill them till they were cross-eyed. It was the only way they could learn, she insisted. I thanked her for her advice and mentally vowed to have the children paint more. They had loosened up with me because of the painting lesson, and I wanted to build on that.
I sent some of the kids out to the pump for water and helped everyone mix colors and handed out paper. I told them to think of some favorite thing and paint it. They all sat and stared at me. Peggy, a pigtailed fifth grader, pointed to crayoned pictures of log cabins taped to the wall. They were all exactly alike with the same anemic coloring. "Mrs. Day," she informed me, "always put up something for us to copy."
I said I wanted them to paint the ideas inside their own heads, not copy someone else's. Sam's brother, George, began to apply brush to paper, and gradually, with encouragement, the rest of them followed suit. Except for my cowboy, Tommy. Crumpling up his paper, he shoved it in his desk. "Drawing's for sissies," he announced.
Our next creative adventures were in drama. During Sam's incarceration, he told me about hunting with his father, spontaneously acting out cleaning and shooting a rifle. It was so realistic I could see the rod move up and down the barrel, could see him cocking the gun and firing. This gave me an idea to use with the other children. I had him do it over again for them and asked who else would like to act something out. Several of them jumped in with skits of milking cows, slopping hogs or sewing seed.
One third grader had not relaxed like most of the others after the trial and did not participate. Eric was a poor reader, and I had asked him one morning to stay on the stage with me for extra help. He clutched his reader to his chest, a terrified expression on his face. He thought I was going to paddle him, as Mrs. Day must have. I told him I would not do that, to return to his desk.
A few days later at recess, he followed his pal Eddy up to my desk. Standing with his hands in his pockets while Eddy jabbered on, he kept stealing glances at me, and when Eddy finally wound down, he hitched his pants and asked, "Know what I done this weekend, Miss Farquhar?"
"No, what did you do, Eric?"
"I rode fences with my dad." He explained this involved tacking barbed wire back on the posts where it had come loose, or replacing broken posts.
I suggested he act it out for us, and when everyone was back at their desks, he and Eddy pantomimed digging a hole, planting a rigid Tommy in it and tamping down the ground around his feet. The children clapped enthusiastically, and Eric was one, big grin. From there on out, he no longer related to me as the wicked witch of the west. Still a bit wary, he was not quite so scared.
Before school started up one morning , his father came in the room. He was a balding version of his three sons, in faded blue work shirt, jeans and clodhoppers. After removing a dilapidated fedora, he welcomed me to the community, saying how much they needed me. He said if any of his boys were to sass me, I was to let him know and he would "give their behinds a warming they wouldn't forget." All this was delivered with a pleasant smile, which then faded while he instructed me not to allow the children to play fence posts, lawyers and such, or to paint stupid pictures. "Boys shouldn't be doing useless stuff like that. Mrs. Day never did nothing like that."
About to reply that Mrs. Day wasn't the teacher this year, I was interrupted as he barged right on. "I agrees. They should be learning their numbers and words, not playing around." Nodding, he replaced his hat. "Good day, Ma'am."
Watching his retreating figure, I thought of the scared face of his tow headed Eric. No wonder he was so fearful, with a father and a teacher warming his behind. I could not understand how anyone could physically assault such a little boy. I set my jaw. Just because his father didn't want me to, I would waste a part of the afternoon on art.
As we did not have much time, I decided to use crayons instead of paint. Peggy and Louise wanted to go outside to draw the mountains where the aspen were beginning to turn yellow against the dark green of the pines. When I gave them permission, they ran outside giggling. I watched them sit down on the ground just outside the arched windows.
Inside they were all busy scribbling away with their crayons, not needing to be coaxed into creating something. They showed their creations and everyone commented favorably. Everyone especially liked George's daisy design. Patty said hers wasn't as good.
"It's as good, Patty," I said. "It's just different. It's bright and cheerful, like you."
Laughter bubbled up from my little Indian, and she looked at her picture as though she saw something in it she had not noticed before.
The only pupil who had not shown her drawing was Julie. I asked my shy teddy bear in coveralls if we could see her picture. She held it up for me with two bright, brown eyes showing above the top of the paper. It was a swirling cosmos of mountains, sun , stars and trees in strong colors. I was amazed. "That's beautiful, Julie," I said. "Show it to everybody."
Everyone oohed and aahed and she about burst with grinning.
I went outside to see how Peggy and Louise were doing. They were sitting on the ground bent over their pictures, coloring away. While I talked to them, an overweight woman in a black Cadillac slammed her brakes by the edge of the road and yelled at Louise to bring her sister and get in the car.
Plump, longhaired Louise looked up at her mother in confusion. "School isn't out yet."
"How was I to know that," the woman barked, "with you sitting outside doing nothing?" Dirt spit from her tires as she tore off .
I turned and hurried back toward the school, muttering to myself. "I hope you drive yourself into a ditch, you old bag." That evening in my room, I thought of Louise's mother, Eric's father and Mrs. Day, and wondered how to handle misbehaving parents and interfering teachers.
To learn more about Janet's book, Taught to the Tune, click on: http://home.earthlink.net/~zenfive.
Chapter 1 - First Test
Chapter 3 - Music
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Taught to the Tune