Those were the days, my friends

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I don’t know if children memorize poetry anymore in elementary school, but when we were children, we had to.

Mrs. Gainey, the fifth grade teacher at Wagram Elementary School, forced generations of children in our rural community to memorize poetry. She also made us memorize Psalms from the King James Bible.

I must say, although it was hard work at the time, I no longer hold it against her, because what we memorized in fifth grade, believe it or not, we all still know.

She didn’t change things up any from year to year.

What my older cousins had been taught was also taught to the younger ones as we came through.

I never realized what a favor she’d done us, but I must say that as I grow older and memorization becomes more difficult, I appreciate being able to recite some of the most beautiful language in the Bible from memory.

It doesn’t matter where I am, whether it’s dark or light, or whether the electricity is on or off.

It’s all there.

I can still hear her voice in my head. Now she had a keen unpleasant voice and talked through her nose. It was like being taught by a chain saw. It kept on and on and on until you learned the piece out of self-defense.

Also, nobody got to go out for recess until every single person in the class recited the poem. It didn’t matter if they were able to read or not.

Two students in my class, we now know, had dyslexia. But they both learned the poems, because we drilled them relentlessly at every opportunity. Mrs. Gainey allowed us time during class to do this.

Now one boy, whose family owned a peach orchard in the sand hills, missed a lot of school in the spring and again in the fall when he was needed at home to work.

He wore overalls and brogans to school every day when he attended. He was a smart boy but never a good student because he wasn’t in class.

Ardis was smart enough to get into the Air Force. Fortunately, he wasn’t killed in Vietnam and made a career out of the service, one of the few options for rural boys if they didn’t want to stay on the farm. And I’m sure he still knows the poem “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer.

If any of Mrs. Gainey’s former students are ever on a quiz show and need to know anything about the Bible, Longfellow or Robert Louis Stevenson, another of her favorites, they’ll make out like bandits.

We had the benefit of going to a very small school with really excellent teachers. We didn’t have computers in class. We had books, a library, teachers who were valued and families who appreciated the effort made to teach children.

I don’t know of a single student who ever dropped out of that school. They would have been afraid to because they knew their teacher would personally go to their house and drag them back into class.

We may not have all become rocket scientists, but we all knew how to write in complete sentences, had a solid understanding of math and knew right from wrong.

I know times have changed, but it is my sincere wish every child in America could go to a school like that.