Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Architecture of Wenonah Public School and Its Effect on the Young

Second Grade had a lot more challenges than First Grade. But before I talk about what we actually learned let’s talk a bit about how the school was laid out. Wenonah Public School looked a little like a barbell. At either end were the older parts of the school. I wish I knew which was oldest but honestly I don’t. I do know that the end closest to the Water Tower on the north end of the barbell held the Nurses office, the Janitors office, and the Library. When I first began school this was where the 7th and 8th graders had their classes. I was in the last group of children to go through a school that went from K to 8.
Because of population pressures a regional High School was built when I was in 6th grade. It would take the students from 5 sending districts and relieve overcrowding in Woodbury HS. We’ll get there eventually but for right now I’m jammed in a school with kids that are near toddlers and others that are teenagers. All of us dress the same.
The other end of the barbell held the 4th, 5th and 6th graders. In the middle were us schmoos. The kindergartners, the 1st graders, the 2nd graders, the 3rd graders. Because of the same population pressures we were often jammed into combined classes.
The baby boom was too much for Wenonah and too much for large swatches of America. Loads of us were jammed together with older or younger students just as in later generations they’d be jammed into trailers. It’s all the same.
You might be asking why they just didn’t build a bigger school. That’s a larger political question. New Jersey has this fucked up tax structure that basically funds a town’s school system with the taxes of home owners. What that means on a practical basis is that in a town like Wenonah with a number of older residents whose children were grown, coupled with a number of families with young children was that you create class warfare. Every year some knucklehead young parent would lobby hard for an addition or whatever and every year the old people would come out in droves to the polls to defeat it.
This continues even today. When I was living in Wenonah in 2003 there was a school improvement initiative on the ballot. My landlady Rachel asked me how I was going to vote and being a progressive, thoughtful man I said I was going to vote yes. She said I can’t afford to have my taxes go up and if they do so will your rent. Thank God in America your vote is your secret.
At any rate there I am in 2nd grade with a group of 15 3rd graders. This is the dawning of hierarchy. I start to understand I know nothing. The 3rd graders make it clear I know nothing. They can read and write and spell and multiply. I can print and read Dick and Jane and maybe add. I think I could count to 100. I was fucked.
Plus I’m tiny, skinny, and smart. A bad combo. Egghead. Even in 2nd grade I’m a marked man. I might as well have been wearing a target. The only nice thing was I discovered the school library. Next post: Revisionist, socialist literature in a tiny white Republican community and it’s effect on 2nd and 3rd graders or how I learned to love Clarence Darrow.


BLT said...

Hey Jack,

I think the fieldstone end of the school is the older end - a nicer layout with half of the building "wasted" by stairs

Bob Thomas

BLT said...

For folks wanting to see what the school looks like they can go to this link.