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School days

“School days, school days, Dear old golden rule days.” —William Denight Cobb (1907)

Two generations in America, my parents’ generation and my own, began every public school day by singing silly songs like “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” ‘Polly Wolly Doodle All Day,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.” Sometimes we sang patriotic songs like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” and, in season, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”

Singing every morning probably didn’t make us better singers, but it was fun, and the words are permanently etched on our hearts.

“School days, school days

Dear old golden rule days

Readin’ and ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic

Taught to the tune of the hickory stick

You were my queen in calico

I was your bashful barefoot beau

And you wrote on my slate

‘I love you, so’

When we were a couple of kids”

If modern kids opened a 100-year-old time capsule that included the lyrics of “School Days,” they would need an interpreter.

What’s a golden rule? Is that about the saying that the ones who have the gold, rule? What’s the significance of teaching classes with a hickory stick? Did kids get their legs switched if they gave the wrong answer or didn’t say, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am?” What’s calico? What’s a beau? Were barefoot boys the boys too poor to own shoes? What’s a slate? Why write on slate instead of paper?

Conversely, think how bewildering it would have been for them to look into a crystal ball and glimpse a 2021 school day, with the masks and social distancing, the Chromebooks and Air Jordans.

One thing, however, has remained constant: one kid writing to another, “I love you, so.”