Aaron Miller: School days, then and now

I spent my first years in formal education at Morton Elementary School in West Lafayette, Indiana. With the help of some great teachers, I honed my skills in math and reading. My spelling still isn’t that great. There, I learned about science and social studies while watching filmstrips. I wrote with grease pencils. The smell of mimeographs filled the air.

Morton was a diverse place. My class included students from Israel, Lebanon, Poland, South Korea and Africa. They were the children of Purdue’s international students and staff. Our unofficial theme song was “It’s a Small World” from the ride at Disneyland. It was great to have friends from all over the world.

The art teacher, Bernie, was close to retirement. At the start of each art class, he instructed us to get a piece of paper from the recycle bin and draw whatever we wanted. I loved art with Bernie. I checked out Ladder Company 108 about a thousand times from the small library. My parents patiently read it every time I brought it home.

The principal, Mr. Curtis, was an old-school tough guy. He bailed out of a crippled bomber over Europe during World War II. He spent the rest of the war as a guest of the Nazis in a POW camp. So he wasn’t really bothered by the antics of a few wannabe punks. The spectacle of Mr. Curtis directing fire drills, yelling into a bullhorn with a bright red face with sweat pouring from his forehead, was awesome.

Morton was an aging brick building. It was small, old and outdated. We ate lunch, played basketball, and put on plays in the same room — the cafegymatorium. The school didn’t have a kitchen, so they brought in cold, bagged lunches. Once a week, the entree featured peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. The bacon was so cheap, thick, and fatty that the grease soaked through the bread. This gastronomical nightmare was usually accompanied by three-bean salad. The mushy, tasteless beans floated in a plastic cup of oil. By the end of lunch, garbage bins overflowed with mountains of unopened three-bean salad cups.

Whether you went to grade school here in Columbus or somewhere thousands of miles away, you probably have many fond memories of elementary school. Some of them are probably pretty similar. But my memories don’t include active shooter drills or fearing that I’d get shot during nap time. Back then, teachers did not have frank conversations with their students about getting shot or dying in kindergarten. Instead of learning how to run, hide, fight, I learned to play the xylophone in Mr. Valentine’s class and how to jump rope with Coach Custer.

Those were the days long before Columbine, where our schools were open to the community.

Old Morton school wasn’t a fortress. It didn’t need to be. It was a playground, a conference center, and a concert hall.

Morton closed many years ago, falling victim to consolidation. That’s progress, I guess. I am sorry that elementary school isn’t like this anymore. Now, it includes the prospect of being murdered. Like everyone else, I am heartbroken and angry when I see the news of another senseless school shooting. But sadly, I am no longer surprised. Our society is at fault. That means we are responsible. We are accountable. And that means it is up to us to stop it.