So sensitive

In fourth, fifth and sixth grades, our gym teacher made us do, besides the 50-yard dash and as many push-ups as possible, a 600-meter run as part of the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Each year, more and more kids got sick from the run. Some would feel nauseous, others would throw up. One year, two girls fainted, and another – Pam N. – had an asthma attack. In eighth grade, Miss Fromm, our science teacher, poured something into a test tube at the front of the room and steam came out. After a few seconds, the kids in the front of the room started coughing. Then, the kids in the back started coughing. Then, we all ran to the back of the room and began wheezing on top of the radiator, gasping for air from the horizontal push-out windows. Miss Fromm smirked, shook her head at our wimpiness, and led us outside for a walk around the school. In seventh grade, our social studies teacher, Mr. Richards, announced one day that his favorite students were Matt Berkowitz, Aaron Benay, Greg Non, and Jonathan Hayes. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he played favorites, but at least they were shy kids. Mr. R. should have stuck with them. He made a show sometimes of hugging certain girls in the class. I think one or two of them even sat in his lap. In third through sixth grades, Mrs. Richards, Mr. R.’s wife, conducted an annual Christmas assembly. We sang three Hannukah songs and 15 or so Christmas songs. Even though several of the songs were about Jesus and a third or more of the kids were Jewish, no one complained. “Oh, come, let us adore Him, Chri-i-ist the lord,” we’d belt out at the top of our lungs without thinking about it, our minds focused on days off and Slinkies and Merlin and the Incredible Domino Rally. Why didn’t our parents complain when our science teacher tried to kill us? What about our gym teacher? Why didn’t anyone falsely accuse Mr. R. of sexual assault? How come none of the Jewish parents chewed out our music teacher for leading us in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Glory to the Newborn King)”? Maybe we’re just way too sensitive now. Maybe we weren’t sensitive enough then. Maybe these things are still happening in schools, and it’s only one in 12 incidents that makes the news, so we don’t know about the rest of them. Maybe it’s all of the above. I don’t remember anyone in my classes ever handing in an essay about guns or murder in the schools back then. But then again, how would I have known? – Caren Lissner


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