Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Recess: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While we were doing as we wished in recess, we bonded with our friends, made new friends, and let ones go when we outgrew them or they outgrew us. 

And yes, we bullied. We shamed and ostracized. We entered into the early stages of having girlfriends or boyfriends. We got into fights. We helped our classmates identify themselves as either joiners or loners. We formed groups, cliques, cadres, coteries, clans, packs, and pairs. 

I was bullied by a new kid named Charles McIntosh. He would threaten me in class, then try to find me on the playground. For a while, he forced me into letting him cheat off my spelling test. One day I thought it would be fun for me to misspell all my words, wait for McIntosh to turn in his test, then correct my own. 

It was fun, but when he found out, he confided in me that he was "gonna kick [my] scrawny [butt] during recess." Luckily, my friend Richard Williams kicked McIntosh's [butt] first, so if you're out there, Richard, thanks again.

Richard, by the way, could beat up an angry mama grizzly if he had to.

And for my departed friend Tommy Ray Crews, may you rest in peace, thank you for doing it another time. To his friends, Tommy Ray was a muscle-packed gentle giant, but he had no problem dishing out a dose of violent justice in recess when the opportunity arose.

There were other fights, of course, but most ended quickly with one of us breaking them up. (When teachers broke up fights, they often made the combatants kiss each other in front of the class.)

Like most kids I knew, I was also not above stepping up the social ladder by stepping over a friend, you know, by trading an old friend in for a more popular model with more prestige and popularity. 

Near the end of second grade, I felt my then best friend -- also named Charles -- was holding me back from advancement, so I quit talking to him during recess. That way I could spend more time and be seen more often with Danny Buchanan who was famous for having very athletic brothers although he himself was rather tubby and still is.

My abandonment left Charles completely friendless, so he used to stand alone under a massive sycamore tree, among its massive fallen leaves, and he seemed to me to grow paler, and his dark eyes grew wider and darker the longer I ignored him.

This apparent broken-hearted sickness only made me want to pick on him. This is how pecking orders are stabilized. 
Danny Buchanan, a better friend

Finally, he could take no more and he struck out at me, slugging me in the ribs with his soft fists, but my friends and I merely ridiculed his slugging technique and continued our growing friendship. 

I eventually apologized to him (because my parents forced me to), but we were never close again. Obviously, I now feel horrible when I remember my behavior, but I won't pretend to remember a Papa Roy who never existed.

We were no angels, just small human beings, and recess gave us the time and the big open space to prove it. 

And once our teachers rose up like cows, they herded us -- sweaty on hot days and our noses running and our faces pink on the cold ones -- back to the predictable order of our classroom.

So that was recess in my time, back when Eisenhower was President, and people still had polio and no computers or cell phones. 

All the typical childhood cruelty I witnessed and took part in back then probably still goes on today, but it's done via social media, making it painfully public and permanent. And since most schools have done away with recess, it's more often done inside, under artificial lighting and in a climate-controlled unnatural atmosphere. 

I have no hard evidence that my generation's recess experience was better and more healthy than today's. I'm not one of those old coots who say, "Back when I was a boy, things was better! People did right in them days!" 

So what do you think, dear reader?

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