By the end of Grade 7, school was my element. I loved my teacher, the flaymboyant Mr. A., and the feeling was mutual, I had mastered the highest leaps in ‘Yokey’, at recess, no mean feat for such a vertically challenged pre-teen. and was particularly adept at labeling every country on the world map (there were fewer, in those day, I admit, especially in Africa) and filling them in with little logos for sugar beets and wheat, wherever appropriate.
I had quickly memorized the required 500 lines of poetry;
“John Gilpin was a citizen, of credit and renown,
A train-band captain, eke, was he, of famous London town”, etc.
I had also learned the meaning of the word 'eke'.
I had done a massive research project on ‘Indians of North America’, supported by information gleaned from my father’s vast collection of National Geographic magazines and our own personal set of Encyclopedia Britannica, all displayed with pride in our living room, a decorating decision which, no doubt, would horrify anyone working for HGTV these days.
My little world was about to come apart…split in two by one of those typically arbitrary bureaucratic decisions made on high, without any thought to the little people affected. In the mid-fifties, hot winds of educational change were sweeping the country, blowing up from south of the border, as they usually did. The pattern is familiar to anyone involved in education…..Americans develop a wacky idea, try it out for a few years, ruining countless lives, admit failure and move on to the next scheme. But before they do, they present it at some educational conference or write a book about it, market it to the Ontario Ministry of Education, and run off with the profits, laughing into the night.
The scheme, at this time, was to separate pubescent children from the pre- and post- adolescent demographic and provide a protected and specialized program, more suitable for their impressionable age. I suspect the real motivation was to remove us from the most vulnerable of the school population in the lower grades and protect us from the most dangerous, in the senior levels, but this could not be openly acknowledged. Besides, in the Fabulous Fifties, as they were called, there was lots of money to throw around, in education. So two Junior High Schools were to be created, on opposite peripheries of our district, and I was to miss the final reward, so to speak, of finishing off my primary years in Grade 8, in the large classroom next to the Principal’s office, where, so it was rumored, you could hear the bad kids being strapped, when occasion required.
This was not the worst part, however. Word got out that a line was being drawn through the neighborhood, five houses away from our bungalow, and all the students to the east of it (that would be all my friends) would attend Ledbury Park, a former public school being tarted up to accommodate them, while all the kids to the west (that would be me and my sister) would traipse miles away to a brand new edifice being created in our honor.
You can bet that the appeal of new gyms and freshly tiled cubicle showers, special music rooms and even a cafetorium, was completely lost on us. We were devastated. Unlike today, when the slightest whine from a parent sends administrators running to accommodate their every wish, the bureaucracy was completely disinterested in my mother’s anxious inquiry about bending the rules a little, to quiet the hysteria in her household. She would go no further, since there was no further to go. No one sued the school for trifles like this in those days. Not like now.
Our fate was sealed and we would go our own way, alone, together, in the fall.