Friday, March 12, 2010

When Big Parts of Your Past Are Closed Down

This past week it was announced that the Kansas City, MO School System will close down 29 of its 61 schools.

In this group of closures is the High School I went to Hickman Mills.

What is interesting about this is the following about my youth:

        Westridge Elementary School CLOSED
        Baptiste Junior High School CLOSED
        Hickman Mills High School CLOSED

The numbers are devastating:

  * Kansas City has 61 schools
  * 29 schools will close by fall
  * 700 jobs will be lost
  * 25 million dollars will be spent on the transition
  * KC had 75,000 students
  * KC now has less than 17,000

I went to 6th grade at Westridge, all three years at Baptiste and one year at Hickman Mills during a five year stint my father was assigned to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base which is also CLOSED.   The shopping center near our house had so much crime that ALL THE STORES CLOSED.

When I took my family on a trip about ten years ago, I took them to Trenton, Illinois and Kansas City, Missouri to show them where I lived.  We did this during the summer.

In Trenton, 30 years after my parents left, NOTHING HAD CHANGED.  The people who purchased my parents house were still there.  All the neighbors were still there.  The population of 2,100 had not changed. It was simply surreal to go back to a small town and it was as if time had stopped.

We go to Kansas City, Missouri.   I take them to Westridge Elementary School and it is closed.  I take them to Baptiste Junior High School and it is closed.  We go to Hickman Mills High School and it is open.  I decide to take my family inside.   One of the stories that my boys did not believe was that teachers were allowed to hit you with a board in Kansas City, MO.   So, I asked some of the older teachers to tell my sons that it was true that you teachers used to be able to hit kids.  The teachers at Baptiste Junior High called hitting kids with a board "swats".   The number of "swats" you would get was typically 3 or 5 depending on the "crime".   Mr. Bennett, the music teacher, used to pull kids out and give them one swat if they were not singing loud enough.   I witnessed this many times.

The swats I got were for fighting in gym class with my best friend.  He did a power drive on me and nearly knocked me completely out and I got swats for it.  The other time I got swats was for refusing to speak to the Principal Mr. Shipley when he asked me to identity who the smokers were on a field trip.  I got three swats for both crimes from Vice Principal Mr. Hamm.   Mr. Hamm was a large man who probably was about 230 pounds versus Mr. Shipley's 165 pounds.   When I got swats in gym class, I was wearing shorts that had less thickness than a kleenex.  Mr. Hamm did not hit me on my zero percent fat rear end, but instead on my ham strings.  I have to be honest, it hurt like hell.   Many of the teachers had their own paddles.  I remember Mr. Cox, the science teacher, had a custom paddle with holes in it.  He said it allowed him to swing it faster.  He kept this big paddle on his front desk every day just to remind everyone to not screw around.   What Mr. Cox did not know is that we paid attention because he was a good teacher, not because we were afraid of his paddle.

I did watch Ron Britt's father throw Mr. Hamm up against a wall when he came in to school to clearly send the message that if Mr. Hamm ever touched his son again that he would "kick his sorry A$$".   Ron Britt's father was absolutely right.

Anyway, back to the scene at Hickman Mills High School.   The teachers there looked at my three sons and said, "Absolutely kids used to get swats if they were misbehaving.    It was very common.  They no longer hit kids in Missouri, but Missouri was the last state to outlaw corporal punishment."

What is interesting regarding Corporal Punishment is that according to WikiPedia:

Corporal punishment used to be prevalent in schools in many parts of the world, but in recent decades it has been outlawed in most of Europe and in Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries (see list of countries, below). It remains commonplace in a number of countries in Africa, south-east Asia and the Middle East (see list of countries, below).
In the United States, the Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright (1977) held that school corporal punishment does not violate the federal Constitution. Paddling continues to be used to a significant extent in a number of Southern states, though there has been a sharp decline in its incidence over the past 20 years.
 That night I went to a bar in Kansas City with my best friend when I lived there.   There was no one in this bar and pool hall.  It was a large bar and pool hall so I asked the person behind the bar, where was everyone.  I will never forget her answer, "Two people were kill last night next door, so attendance is down.  Can I get you a beer?"

There  was an article in the paper that listed the neighborhood that we lived in was ranked #2 in total crimes for the 180+ districts in KC.

The best summary line of that trip was my middle son Michael who said about Kansas City, "this explains a lot about dad...."  :-)