Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Lately, there has been discussion about eliminating summer vacation and instituting year-round school. Students would still attend the mandated 180 days, but they would be spread out over the year. Perhaps, year-round schools are an idea whose time has come.

In the 50’s, when I was in grade school, I couldn’t wait for summer vacation; partly because I wouldn’t have to worry about getting biffed by Sister Bruiser for a while, partly because I’d have all-day recess, and partly because I wasn’t too thrilled with school. When the final bell sounded, we lined up by twos and marched out of school like a pint-sized parochial platoon preparing for maneuvers. Master Sergeant, Sister Bruiser, gave the moving columns of potential apostles a final inspection before discharging them to the outside world. As soon as we cleared “school property” we broke ranks and assumed normal kid conduct, pushing shoving, swinging book bags, and general rowdiness. Almost immediately, several boys began the sing-song end of school anthem.

“School’s out, school’s out,
Teacher let the monkeys out.
Some jumped in, some jumped out,
And one jumped in the teacher’s mouth.
School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out.
No more lessons, no more books,
No more teachers’ dirty looks!”

By the second “school’s out,” all the student parolees were caught up in the refrain. These were days before school buses, so neighbors along the way heard several dozen choruses before the pupil herd dispersed to individual homebound routes. This was also the pre-uniform, pre-permanent press, pre-automatic washer and dryer era in parochial education.

A few years before, Sister Superior tried to require all boys wear white shirts with ties to school. Several ironing board angry mothers immediately formed a not-for-profit organization and stormed the convent swinging Sunbeam irons, and throwing Argo starch on the front steps. Luckily the parish Monsignor arrived in the nick of time and quelled the uprising. The issue of white shirts on little boys was never mentioned again.

Back then summer vacation seemed like forever. A kid had from June all the way to September before he had to worry about school. A few days after we were let out, the nuns packed up and left for summer training camp at their Motherhouse somewhere down south. This meant we could play softball on the empty lot next to the convent without the intimidation of staring eyes of nuns behind curtained glass. This had to be what Jefferson and the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about freedom!

Not only had we been released from our scholastic prison, but the jailers left town, too. For three delicious months, kids didn’t have to worry about raising their hand before speaking, and they could use the restroom anytime they wanted—without hurrying.

In school, Sister always monitored the boys on their restroom break. She stood just outside the washroom door holding a stopwatch while her charges made their individual porcelain novena. If a kid didn’t come out within a pre-set time, the wayward boy came face to face with a scowling representative of the Salvation Police.

Her appearance usually generated considerable fear and panic, and many frantic boys suffered zipper-generated injuries. The sight of an ecclesiastical penguin standing at the threshold of the comfort station, while in the process of purging unwanted fluids is definitely one of life’s major challenges. One either learned how to multi-task, or one suffered the consequences. Most grade school boys had trousers with rusty zippers!

Besides summer vacation, the next most important thing was your report card—not the grades, but the comments Sister wrote. In those days, if you passed everything, Sister would write at the bottom of the card: “Promoted to grade …” This made it official that you survived and were moving up the ladder of scholastic salvation.

At the end of the fifth grade, my promotion to sixth grade must have been in doubt, because on my card, Sister wrote: “Watch This Space!” Academically, I was not a star. I excelled in only two areas: recess and praying. I figured as bad as my grades were I needed all the help I could get. Eventually, with Heaven’s intervention, I passed all my classes and was granted promotion.
I was not the worst student in class, however. There was one other kid who didn’t pass anything except the time he ate six Twinkies and passed gas. Unfortunately, that particular offering wasn’t part of the curriculum, so instead of extra credit, Sister gave him penance. She also banned Twinkies from the classroom!

As years accumulate, one notices change. One is that summers get shorter. Time really zips by; school is barely dismissed in June before kids start returning in mid-August. Other things have changed too. Report cards no longer are hand written; they’re computer printed. Like a long ago favorite snack, Mrs. Klein’s Potato Chips, reports cards are “untouched by human hands.”
Today most parochial kids, and some public school students, wear uniforms, and many ride a school bus. Singing “School’s out, school’s out…” on a bus just isn’t the same. As soon as uniforms became mandatory, nuns started dressing like civilians. Many schools have no nuns at all. Just goes to show that some habits are hard to keep. On the other hand, Twinkies are once more allowed in school. School officials figure the way education is going today, they want to give every child a chance to at least pass something!

School’s out for the summer! Enjoy.

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!