31 August 2013

Pulling Wagons and Playing in Sand

My mother moved about 10 months ago and I went to help her.  I actually arrived on the day she vacated her old apartment, the day before her possessions were loaded into her new one, so I wasn’t around for the packing up.  It ultimately took longer than we ever anticipated to complete the move (though part of that was because Mother had an accident which injured her leg).  As a result, we unpacked boxes and moved furniture around for weeks, putting away papers, family mementoes, and keepsakes along with the clothes, shoes, and kitchenware.  One or two boxes Mom kept aside for me to look through contained old letters, other documents, and photos going back not only to my childhood and my brother’s, but other family members’ including both of my parents’.  (As I’m sure you all know from your own experiences with this sort of activity, sifting through a couple of boxes like that takes days.  Aside from the sheer nostalgia those kinds of things evoke—one photo showed four members of my mother’s side of my family, sitting in descending generational order on the steps of my grandfather’s summer house in Deal, New Jersey: my mom’s grandfather, her mother, my mom, and, standing with Mom’s support, me at about a year old.  (There are two versions of that snapshot, but they are among the only pictures I have of my great-grandfather.  I don’t even remember him except from those old pictures—and my mother’s anecdotes.)

Among the photos, which went as far back as my mother’s and father’s early years and as far into the near present as snaps of me with the first dog I got after leaving the army and moving to New York City, were a couple of dozen letters, some from or to my grandfather from before I was born and some from my folks and me to him from the years my parents, brother, and I lived in Germany.  There were also a dozen or so various documents, such as birth certificates (my mother’s, my father’s, my brother’s, and mine), awards, certificates, diplomas, my dad’s Foreign Service application forms and supporting papers—and several report cards from my brother’s and my pre-grade school years!  Of all the old pix and papers, it was those ancient school reports that most fascinated me.  The other papers all contained interesting information, but those mimeographed forms seemed to tell a whole little story I was too young to remember more than just vaguely.  I don’t know if I can convey that fascination—maybe it’ll turn out to be one of those kinds of things that only works for me and no one else; maybe I won’t be able to articulate the feelings and, yes, amusement, I got from looking at those old reports.  I’ll try, though.  See if you can travel along with me on this little nostalgic jaunt.  (Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear . . . .)

First, they aren’t actually report cards.  The printed cards, a bifold document of stiff stock containing four pages to be filled out by our teachers several times a year for each grade, didn’t start until first grade, I think.  These reports are on regular letter-sized mimeo paper, typed and duplicated for the teachers to fill out on one side of each sheet, and stapled together.  Second, I don’t have a whole set for either my younger brother or me.  In fact, I only have three, one for me and two for my brother.  They cover the years 1951 and 1954-55.  I wonder how much has changed in the field of pre-school education in the ensuing 60 years or so.

Specifically what I’ve got is a “Developmental Record” for me in nursery school in 1951, filled out in February and May, when I was four years old, and two “Transition Reports” for my brother, one of which is dated 1954-1955 when he was five to six years old (and I was seven to eight).  (I believe both of my brother’s reports were from the same academic year, though the second one isn’t dated.  I know it’s the second one because he was an inch-and-an-eighth taller and three-quarters of a pound heavier than at the time of the other report.  “Transition,” as I’ll explain momentarily, was a grade between Kindergarten and first grade.)

I’m sure my folks kept all our report cards, along with other markers of growing up.  (There are lots of those yearly school photo portraits all over the apartment, some even framed!)  I once found a box my father had kept—he didn’t like people to know he was sentimental that way—in which there were stashed not only letters from me from high school and college, but papers I’d written and even some newspaper clippings from The Stars and Stripes I must have sent him when I was in the army.  But we moved a number of times over the decades and things obviously got lost in the shifts and these three reports seem to be all that’s left now.  That’s okay, because this isn’t about bragging over my good marks before Kindergarten and first grade; it’s about what the schools deemed significant to report on back in the middle of the last century.

When both my brother, who’s 25 months younger than I am, and I were ready to start school, my folks enrolled us in the nursery program of the National Child Research Center in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  Founded in 1927 with a grant from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, NCRC still operates a pre-school on Highland Place, the building, purchased in 1930, where I spent the school years of 1950-52 (and my brother followed in 1952-54).  As the school’s name implies, NCRC’s plan was the “implementation of appropriate cutting edge research” combined with “a curriculum rooted in early childhood development.”  I don’t remember feeling it back in those days—and I do have memories of National Child Research, as we called it (well, not I, of course, but the grown-ups)—but apparently we kids were all guinea pigs of a sort.  It wasn’t just “play school,” I guess—though the school’s current website does say it was “inspired by the playfulness of young children.”  (Okay, I confess.  I remember playing as well as going to a swimming pool and doing other pleasure activities.  Maybe someone was taking notes!)   I have no idea why my parents selected National Child Research for us, though I suspect there was some investigation on their part—and since my brother went to NCRC after me, my folks must have been happy with the treatment and the results.  Who knows, maybe I got a leg up. Of course, I had nothing to compare it to—and at three to five, all I knew was that it was school; I only remember that it was all right and I mostly liked it there.

Whether NCRC gave us that “leg up” or not, I have no idea, but our next stop was the well-known and highly-regarded Sidwell Friends School on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown, not far from Cleveland Park.  (By this time in our lives, my family lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where we moved just before the birth of my baby brother.)  This is the Quaker private school, established in 1883, where the children of presidents, vice presidents, and diplomats go.  Chelsea Clinton went there and Melia and Sasha Obama go there now; when I was a student at Sidwell, Tricia and Julie Nixon were schoolmates and among my classmates were the grandson of General George Patton and the sons of the ambassadors from India and Cuba under Fulgencio Batista (that was in the auspicious year of 1958-59, by the way).  I stayed there through eighth grade, the end of Middle School, when I went off to prep school in New Jersey in ninth grade and then to Switzerland for my junior and senior years of high school.  (My dad had joined the U.S. Foreign Service and, accompanied by my mom, was assigned to our consulate and then embassy in West Germany.  I’ve written some about this experience from my own perspective, most recently in “An American Teen In Germany,” 9 and 12 March.  My brother went to boarding school in 8th grade because of our parents’ departure.)  Before we could get to Middle School, though, we had to get into Lower School and Sidwell had a very strict policy for first grade: as I recall it, pupils had to be six years old by 1 September to start first grade.  Both my brother and I were still five when our first years at Sidwell started.  (My birthday is in late December and my brother’s is in late January.) 

Because this situation was not uncommon at Sidwell, however, the school had a remedy at hand.  Transition.  That’s what the one-year interim grade between Kindergarten and first grade was called then; I don’t think it even exists anymore.  (Sidwell’s website shows that five-year-olds go to Kindergarten now and the school offers a Pre-K class for four-year-olds.)  So I spent the school year of 1952-53 in Transition, as it were, and my brother did the same thing in 1954-55.  Because of that extra grade, I’ve always been one of the oldest students in my class, right up to college.  (In Transition we did first-grade work anyway . . . and then in first grade, we did second-grade work, and so on up the academic ladder.  As a result, I was not only several months older than most of my classmates in high school and college, but in ninth grade, I’d already done most of the work they were just starting.  This isn’t the place to get into this, but I got a damn good foundation at Sidwell, a combination of the first-rate academics provided and a curriculum that was a year ahead of most of my peers.  That extra year may have helped, too.)

NCRC is considered one of the premier pre-schools of Washington and Sidwell Friends has a nationwide reputation for both academic excellence and social progressiveness.  So it’s probably fair to assume that the points on which these two schools evaluated and assessed their pupils in the 1950s were deemed at the time to be important milestones of development and progress.  That’s why I found the categories listed in the report forms for both schools surprising and even amusing.  Of course, I have no background or experience in child psychology or elementary education—so what do I know, right?  Let’s have a look and see what teachers, administrators, educational experts, and parents found revealing at top schools in the United States in the middle of the 20th century.

Let’s start with the earliest grade, my nursery school report.  (I’m going to stick to the names the classes were called back in the period about which I’m writing.  If it makes you feel better, translate them mentally into the terms schools use today.  Knock yourselves out!)  Look, for the first point, at the activities I used for the title to this rumination.  Under “Physical Play” (a serious enough subject in itself), a subcategory of “Activities,” I was evaluated for how well—that is, in relation to my chronological age (3-4, you’ll remember)—I pulled wagons.  Apparently I was behind my age group for this, in both “interest” and “skill.”  I’m having a hard time envisioning what that means for pulling wagons.  I can understand not having much interest in pulling wagons—the little red-enameled, metal ones, I presume—even though I had one at home sometime around those years.  I suppose I just wasn’t all that thrilled with pulling wagons—but how do you assess that in terms of age-appropriateness?  I won’t even get into what it means that I was below my age group in the skill necessary to pull wagons.  It’s too shameful!

In the same main section, under “Constructive Play,” is a line to evaluate how I played in sand.  (I did better at this—above my age group.  I guess at four, I was more adept at constructive activities than purely physical ones.  I’m not sure that turned out to be accurate later.)  Now, here’s an overall question that comes to mind: while we were all playing in sand and pulling wagons (or not)—was someone out on the playground with us taking notes?  Well, maybe she was just observing carefully and made her notes later: Little Ricky (yep, that who I was back then—just like the Ricardos’ kid two years later) played in sand better today—but he isn’t pulling wagons as well as he should.  My image now is a team of young women, maybe wearing gloves and little pillbox hats like respectable women did in the early ’50s, sitting strategically around the playground watching their specific charges over steno pads through horn-rimmed glasses, frequently writing notations and then returning to scrutinize their little subjects.  We all thought we were just out playing—little did we know we were all being . . . DUM-da-DUM-dum . . . ASSESSED!  (I feel my development being retroactively stunted.  A delayed response to the observer effect, perhaps.)

Also under “Physical Play” came lines to judge “Carried or pushes large toys and furniture,” “Rides wheel toys,” and “Uses climbing frame, bars and walking boards.”  Now, I can make a good guess what “wheel toys” are and I assume a “climbing frame” and “bars” are some kind of jungle gym or monkey bars, but what’s with the carrying and pushing furniture?  I get pushing large toys, but did we also move the tables and chairs around from time to time?  (Once in a much later grade, the teacher told us she wanted to use the blackboard at the back of the room and asked for suggestions for rearranging the classroom so we could do that.  We all drew up plans, but I had the winning layout: I suggested simply turning the desks 180 degrees around to face the other end of the room—the simplest solution is usually the best one, after all!—but we kids didn’t actually move the furniture ourselves.  The building staff did that while we were home.)

The rest of this category consisted of simple activities like jumping, sliding, skipping, and so on.  (That image of a staffer taking notes is getting really silly at this point!  Ricky has improved greatly in his hopping.)  My best activity in “Physical Play” was running.  I suppose there’s some significance in that—I imagine the NCR people found some—but I can’t guess what it is.  In “Constructive Play,” after “Plays in sand,” I did best at “Uses puzzles, peg boards, nested blocks, etc.” but I was also judged on “Builds with blocks” and “Strings beads.” 

In the subcategory of “The Arts,” by which NCR apparently meant the visual arts (there were separate sections for music and “dramatic play,” among other performing and literary arts), the section in which I did best overall (is that surprising, looking back?), I topped out in “Models with clay” and “Uses pencils.”  (I presume I used the pencils to draw with, not poke my friends with.  The report doesn’t specify, though.)  I also did pretty well with “Pastes” and “Finger paints,” but I didn’t fall below my age standards in any category, including “Paints,” “Cuts with scissors,” and “Draws with crayons.”  (A budding artist, you might think.  Well, not so much.  I dabbled briefly with visual arts as a ’tween, but I never took it seriously—except much later as a consumer.)  In later sections, like “dramatizes music” (under “Interpretation” in the “Music” heading) and “Dramatizes” in “Stories and Poems,” I was no better than average for my age.  But when it came to “Imitative and dramatic play,” I scored almost entirely above my age group in categories like “Plays with dolls” (!), “Plays with housekeeping toys,” “Plays with trucks, cars, trains, boats, etc.,” and “Dramatizes adult activities: e.g., engineer, conductor, etc.”  (Thank goodness the report included those explanatory illustrations.  My imagination was running away with me!  I was having visions of the Page school in Auntie Mame.  Remember “Fish Families”?)  One category the teacher apparently had no opportunity to observe for me, more’s the pity, was “Likes to ‘dress up.’”  I wonder how I’d have done. 

(By the way, we did have dolls in our house when I was little, but they weren’t playthings for me or my brother.  I don’t have a sister.  My mom’s father made them—he had a doll company—so we had an attic stacked with boxed dolls as gifts for female cousins and the daughters of family friends.  Now, both my brother and I played with stuffed animals when we were little, but our most consuming play activity in those years was making “set-ups.”  There were basically two kinds, one starting with a set like Robin Hood or Fort Apache that our parent’s bought and which we’d soon hybridize by combining with anything, whether superficially appropriate or not, we could add to expand the basic set with more little figures or set pieces for our impromptu dramas.  It wouldn’t have been unusual to see Camelot knights or cowboys in the same set-up as Robin Hood’s Merry Men or Erector Set pieces at Fort Apache.  Uniformity of size didn’t matter any more than consistency in historical period or fabrication did.  The other type of set-up was more ad hoc: we’d build an environment outdoors somewhere—usually in our yard, but not always—with roads, ramps, hills, and so on, even buildings either borrowed from the store-bought sets or improvised from whatever materials were at hand, and play at logging, mining, building, using toy cars, trucks, cranes, steam shovels, and bulldozers, just as often mismatched as the figures in the indoor set-ups were.  (Nellybelle, the Jeep from Roy Rogers, was as likely to show up as the construction vehicles were!)  If there was building going on anywhere nearby, especially on our property, the sand piles made excellent foundations for set-ups!  Hey, some of this does line up, doesn’t it?)

Actually, the criteria in many of the next categories make perfect sense—the kinds of things I’d expect teachers to evaluate for pre-schoolers: how well I did in various aspects of music, including singing on pitch and knowing the words, keeping a rhythm; looking at and talking about books (no reading yet, though) and pictures; listening to and “originating” (not “writing,” you notice—I was still pre-literate) poems and stories; and several items focusing on nature.  Many of these last sections weren’t observable; I guess we didn’t have plants or flowers in our classroom, though the teacher could tell I “liked and was interested in” animals (I don’t think we had our first dog at home yet, however), “collected” “soils, rocks and minerals” and “noticed differences in size, consistency, color, etc.,” and was “interested and observant of weather conditions.”  There is one category in which I was judged but which totally confounds me: I was apparently at the appropriate level for my age for “observing” and “participating” in something called “Finger Plays.”  I have no idea what finger plays are!  (I can guess, but I have no recollection of such an activity.  As I said: no background in child psych or early ed.)

By the time the report gets to the end of the Activities section, covering such measurements as my aptitude with numbers, forms, colors, and speech and language (in all of which I was mostly above my age group), the criteria for assessment seem obvious: counting, distinguishing forms, knowing colors, vocabulary extent and use, ability to communicate, enunciation.  They all seemed standard bases for judging development of a three- to four-year-old.  I can’t imagine pre-schools don’t measure children’s progress in those fields today in pretty much the same way now as they did 60 years ago.  In the section called “Routines,” though, we return to the realm of . . . well, let’s call it “thought-provoking.”

Routines are the everyday tasks of living: dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and such.  It makes perfect sense to evaluate children’s developments in those areas, of course.  The mind boggles, however—or, at least, mine does—at the form’s criteria, or at least how they’re articulated.  We were judged on “Removes clothing at own age level,” for instance.  What could that possibly mean?  “Puts on clothing at own age level” is easier to imagine, but removing clothes seems pretty pro forma even for a three- to four-year-old.  How many ways are there to take off shoes, socks, and pants?  Trying to take the pants off over the shoes, I suppose . . . but that’s about all I can think of.  The same with “Gets clothing from locker at own age level”—again in contrast to “Puts clothing away at own age level”: putting the clothes away seems more complicated—there are more ways to do it—than retrieving them.(I was average or slightly above at these tasks.)  The same with “Assumes responsibility at own age level” for “Toileting”—which I assume means I didn’t . . . well, wait too long to see to it.  (Toileting?  Really?  Is that even a real word?)  By the way, the teacher had no opportunity to observe me for “Afternoon resting and sleeping.”  Too bad—I bet I’d have maxed that category.  I sure do well at it today!  It’s one of my best things.

“Eating,” though, was a different category in “Routines.”  I was adjudged pretty much average for “Appetite”—I guess I mostly cleaned my plate at lunch—and “Drinks milk readily.”  I was also in my age range for “Is reliable and independent”—though I can’t really picture what that would be.  I didn’t need someone to feed me?  The real surprise is “Cooperates in trying new foods”: I was a little above average in that.  It makes perfect sense, too.  My brother was a picky eater when we were little, but I was adventurous—and remained so through my teens into adulthood.  (But I do wonder what “new” foods I was offered at NCR.  I mean. I don’t imagine they had a gourmet chef in the lunchroom making duck à l’orange or sweetbreads.)  My mom likes to recount that she could almost always get me to eat something new if she gave it a strange, fancy name.  I ate snails—escargot or Schnecken (because I first had them in a German restaurant when my dad ordered them)—when I was pretty young.  (In the years we lived in Europe, one of the most fun parts of traveling around was trying the local foods and beverages—yes, including beer, wine, and liquor because, remember, there’s no drinking age in Europe except in the U.K.—wherever we went.  Our pre-dinner respite during our three-week drive around Spain, for instance, was usually fried calamari rings and some kind of sangria—we tried different recipes, including red wine, white wine, and brandy—preferably served on a deck, terrace, or balcony.)  Checking out various regional cuisines was—is, since I still love to do it—as much a part of my travel experiences as seeing historic and cultural sights.  So if I was a bit advanced in trying new foods at three or four, I guess it stuck. 

Sections A (“Activities”) and B (“Routines”) were evaluated according to the pupil’s age level: “Average for his chronological age,” “Below average,” or “Above average.”  (There were also entries for “No opportunity to observe” and “[A]ctivity is too advanced for the child at his present age level.”  I was apparently too young to be assessed for skipping to a musical rhythm—though I was average for my age at galloping in time to a musical beat.  Go know!  I was also too young to “beat a steady rhythm” on “Rhythm Instruments.”  To this day, I’m not fond of drumming; you don’t suppose . . .?)  In section C (“Social attitudes [sic] and Social Behavior”), the form changed.  Under each subject for evaluation, the teacher had a sort of multiple choice of three or four evaluations of my “attitude and behavior,” selected simply with a check mark. 

(A brief note about gender bias.  You will have noted, I imagine, that the NCR record form uses the masculine pronoun for all pupils.  Though NCRC was and is co-educational—there were girls in my classes—the form follows the practice common through most of the last century: using masculine pronouns to refer to people whose gender isn’t known.  I presume this practice will have changed in the ensuing decades, but rhetorical sexism wasn’t an issue in the 1950s.  You’ll see that I also occasionally refer to a pupil as “he” in what may seem to be the same practice.  In my case, however, I’m referring either to myself or my brother—two boys.  Don’t let it throw you.)

The categories in section C are all the kinds of areas I’d expect child-development experts to look at so they’re less amusing or surprising than sections A or B—but that doesn’t make them less interesting, especially to a non-expert like me.  The first three categories, for example, are “Self-Reliance” (criteria: “Marked initiative, enterprising,” “Initiates own activities,” and “Dependent on suggestion of others”; I was in the middle group), “Kindness” (“Unusually sympathetic, helpful, generous,” “Normally helpful, conscious of the needs of others,” “Aware of, but disregards the needs of others in his environment,” and “Unaware of the needs of others in his environment”; I was in the second group), and “Sense of humor” (“Spontaneous: eager to enjoy and share humorous situations,” “Sees humor in situation when attention called to it,” and “Slow in responding to humorous situations”’ I was in the first classification).  Now, that last category is a little ironic because I once had an acting teacher tell me in front of the class that I didn’t have a sense of humor.  (It’s been a continuing joke between me and some of my friends for years now.)  Other categories for judgment are “Attention,” “Group Play,” “Ability to play alone,” and “Response to authority.”  As I said, all the kinds of traits you’d expect child-development assessors to examine in a place called the National Child Research Center.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 21st-century pre-schools use the same ones and pretty much the same criteria, even if the language might have changed in the last 60 years. 

By the way, that last category (“Response to authority”) was one of two where the teacher felt it was necessary to combine two criteria and make some hand-written adjustments on the evaluation form.  One interesting aspect of this category is that the evaluation would so depend on how the evaluator views the value of abiding by authorities.  In a country born out of resistance to authority, there’s an inherent streak of respect for people who stand up to bosses, establishmentarians, protectors of the system.  Whistleblowers, people who speak truth to power, individualists, and iconoclasts are heroes in our popular entertainment—even the outlaws in many cases (think of Jesse James or Butch and Sundance, perhaps even Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey in The Shield, and the current Ray Donovan).  At the time I’m writing this, the death of newswoman Helen Thomas is being mourned as the passing of a stand-up journalist who didn’t brook evasions from people in power (while at the same time, Edward Snowden, the NSA-leaker, is largely being vilified as a traitor—so there is a contradictory impulse at times).  So the first criterion in this category, “Reasonable,” can be seen as a true positive trait—which is how I suspect the NCR teachers saw it—or as a “go-along-to-get-along” cop-out.  I was adjudged “Usually cooperative, when unreasonable can be diverted,” then the teacher added “but” and checked the next line as well: “Resentful, negative, argumentative, etc.,” continuing in her own annotation: “at times.”  Could I have been cooperative when I thought the authority was right (as much as a three- or -four-year-old could make that judgment), but resistant when I felt the authority was wrong or unfair?  Remember, I came of age in the ’60s, the era of protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience.  Maybe I just started early.  (I was actually suspended in high school because I flouted the authority of the autocratic headmaster-cum-school owner—who had a problem with American independence of thought, something in which my European schoolmates didn’t often engage.  When I got to college and the draft was looming, I decided to join the ROTC program because, among other reasons, I knew that as a private in the army, I’d always be on the edge of getting into trouble with the regimentation and strict authority.  I felt I’d be safer as an officer—and, after the fact, I think I was right.  Could any of this have been predicted from my behavior in nursery school?)

My brother’s Transition Report was somewhat different than my NCR Developmental Record.  In addition to the fact that it’s a different school and my brother was older at the time he was in Transition (5-6) than I was in nursery school (3-4), the Sidwell form is narrative instead of boxes to be filled in or checked off.  The two forms aren’t the same, either—perhaps Sidwell changed the format in mid-term—and the first term report is three pages long (one of which is just signatures) while the second term is only one.  (Because the Transition reports are for my brother and not me, I won’t be as forthcoming about the evaluations themselves.  I can reveal how well or poorly I did in school, but it’s not my place to do so for my brother.  I may have to reveal some results, however, in order to comment on the criteria since it’s all in prose.)

The first-semester Transition Report, dated only 1954-1955 at the top, is divided into major categories for evaluation.  First is “Physical Development,” which includes my brother’s height, weight, and attendance record.  It also includes the teacher’s assessment of his achievement in “Rest,” attesting to how well he kept quiet  and slept during, I presume, naptimes; and “Lunch,” which reports the pupil’s interest in food (confirming my brother was, as I said earlier, a fussy eater) and how readily he drank his milk.  This section also includes a report on the pupil’s “Motor Control” based, apparently, on his physical activity on the playground.  (The comments concerned my brother’s level of activeness and his use of “both large and small muscles.”)  Now, I’m sure that child-development experts will say that observations about how a pupil stays quiet, sleeps, eats, and drinks milk are significant markers in his growth—but that doesn’t keep it from being amusing when it appears in such serious tones on a school report.  Comedians for years have joked that “I flunked recess” or “Lunch was my best subject.”  Those were jokes and meant to be . . . well, flippant.  But it seems that at Sidwell Friends, it wasn’t far from the truth.  I mean, maybe no one could actually fail lunch or naptime, but he could do poorly.

The next category for assessment is “Social and Emotional Development,” clearly important areas of progress to be observed.  It includes the teacher’s judgment of my brother’s general personality and character, his relationship to adults as well as his classmates and peers, how he handles leadership, discipline, cooperation, kindness and consideration, and other inter-personal traits.  Once again, though some of the terminology may have changed over the years, I’d expect the focus of this aspect of a 21st-century report to be pretty much the same as my brother’s Transition Report in the mid-’50s.  The same’s true of the last evaluation section, “Mental Development.”  (The heading on the page is followed by two lines apparently intended to prompt the teacher to make some specific responses in her evaluations: “First Grade Preparation,” which the teacher, Ann W. Brooks, left blank, and “Kinaesthetic: Auditory, Visual, Language,” to which Brooks--possibly Miss Brooks?—responded in the main statement in the section.)

(A note about the use of the word “kinaesthetic” above.  I suspect it should have been “kinaesthetics,” which means the ability to feel the movements of your own limbs and body, but I’m not sure what the applicability is here.  Kinaesthetics—also spelled kinesthetics—has something to do with the ability to learn new tasks, usually physical rather than purely intellectual, such as touch-typing and driving a car.  Both of these require people to perform actions with their arms, hands, legs, or feet while watching something else: tapping the keys of the typewriter while looking at the notes being typed from or manipulating the pedals and the steering wheel of the car while watching the road ahead.  I’m not sure if the use on Sidwell’s report form has another application—in the areas of hearing, seeing, and speaking—and though I’m sure that watching how a child’s ability to become aware of the way his body parts function is important, I’d have thought this would be something of greater concern at a younger age than five or six, by which time I’d have figured any problems in that development would have become clear.)

Now, I’m going to break my self-imposed moratorium on repeating what Brooks says about my brother—because some if it’s just so damn cute!  For instance, she reports, “He has a good background of information about life around him, he has an excellent memory and will say ‘you can’t trick me.’”  I can just about hear him say something like that!  (Of course, when he’d say it to me, it wouldn’t have been in school, so he’d probably have been using . . . ummm, stronger terms, shall we say?)  Later, Brooks comments on my brother’s ability to observe things and his range of interests.  “Ricky has been a help to him and he will often say ‘Ricky told me that.’”  First of all, how come my brother gets his full name in the report, but I’m still “Ricky”?  He had a childhood nickname just like I did!  (I don’t remember Brooks, but she very likely had been my Transition teacher, too.)  Second, I sure don’t remember specifically helping my little brother, though maybe I did just in the course of things.  Third,  I’m surprised to read that he acknowledged it to his teacher, even in Transition.  In a very few years, you can be sure he’d never cop to getting any help from his older brother.  He was the original “Mother, please!  I’d rather do it myself” kid!

(Is anybody catching all these early TV and old movie refs?  The Lone Ranger, I Love Lucy, Dragnet, Auntie Mame, The Roy Rogers Show, Our Miss Brooks, an Anacin commercial?  They seem appropriate somehow.  But, then, I’m a geezer.)

The second-semester report starts with the same “Physical Development,” but leaves off the “Rest,” “Lunch,” and “Motor Control” entries.  The rest of the report is several paragraphs of prose.  Brooks mostly attests to my brother’s improvement over the previous term (covering the deficiencies she noted in his resting, drinking milk, and eating from the first semester).  In both the positive assessments and the recognition of weaknesses, the teacher uses the criteria I’d expect from a school: interactions with adults and other children, ability to understand and follow directions, following through with work, knowledge and use of facts, numbers, and words, facility with visual stimuli, and so on.  Of course, Brooks ends by recording that my brother had been a good student in Transition and predicting success in first grade.

And isn’t it wonderful to step back (to those thrilling days of yesteryear) when that was all that really mattered—doing well in first grade?  After being healthy, safe, and happy, that was the top of the list when you’re six or seven (or the parent of a six- or seven-year-old)—to “do good work in First Grade.”  Nothing else mattered, after all.  In a few years, things would begin to get complicated—the right friends, cool clothes, a cool hairstyle, the car your ’rents drove, which clique you belonged to; then all hell would break out: high school!  But for a while, it was enough to be good at first grade.

And it all started with running, jumping, skipping, and hopping.  Doesn’t it always?

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