Today was a beautiful late summer’s morning in Massachusetts. Suddenly the traffic has intensified – in an instant. This is because in many towns today is the first day of school. I delighted in passing house after house where the parents had lined their children up on the doorstep to take cell phone photographs. The boys wear clean khakis, their hair combed out. In my day we had a lacquer that we wore to school. It basically pasted down your hair and “come wind or wrack” (Shakespeare again) nothing would move a hair of it. The little girls wear pink dresses and seem so much more willing to accept the experience. They all wear what Shakespeare referred to in the “ages of man” soliloquy a sunny morning face. I have heard that parents slow the whole bus route down to snap images of little Johnny or little Suzie one leg up onto the bus.
But it is all so delightful, a rite of passage for the twenty-first century. It is such a quintessential subject for the cellphone. Just take an image or little video and send it off to grandma. I thought for a moment about fading Kodacolor prints from an earlier age, my earlier age. I am so fascinated about how this record will be saved, sorted, and selected by future archivist.
But, needless to say my mind then wandered to wonder about first days of school a hundred years ago. And a wonderful example of what I found is Figure 1 from the US National Archives. It shows one room school house, constructed of sod, in 1895 Oklahoma. It is Woods County, Oklahoma Territory to be more exact. Standing in front is the teacher and all the children. The picture is like the cellphone images of today. Yes, someone had to set up a significant camera to take the photograph. Everyone appreciated the freedom of being outside for a few moments. Everyone itched to get on to recess. And quite probably, the photograph was quickly forgotten. But school is where we read our first poem. I remember that so well. It was by Robert Frost. And school was where I first read Shakespeare. It was Julius Caesar.
So we may envy the freshness of experience of the smiling faces of this morning. “oh, the places you’ll go.”