Third grade was fun, for the most part. We had a nice teacher and the things we were learning were pretty cool. New words and learning math was a bit trying at times but overall it was a good experience. I remember one ‘red letter day’ when Bell Telephone brought in real telephones so we could learn how to use them. We felt really grown up as we learned how to dial the numbers on the latest equipment. Along with reading and writing we were exposed to things out in the real world. Another part of our learning was about how to get along out in public. We had a safety program that taught us to stay away from fallen power lines and how to contact the right people when we saw danger. There was a big poster on the wall with kids at a crossroad. The words read, “Stop, Look, and Listen.” Look both ways. Then look again. Railroad tracks were also a hazard we had to deal with, especially since there were tracks everywhere in our town. There were even tracks within two blocks of our school in two directions, so we all had direct experience with them.
I also remember some of the pictures in the safety booklet about being careful around the house, on the playground, and everywhere else. “Don’t touch this” was the caption on pictures of broken glass, hot pans, and frayed electric wires. There were pictures of power saws, razor blades, and strange dogs with bared teeth. One shocking picture had a kid with a missing finger. The title read, “I wasn’t watching — and there went my finger!” It was pretty disturbing for an eight-year-old, but I remember it decades later so I suppose it accomplished it’s goal — scaring us to obey the rules.
I have to admit my ignorance, because I’m not sure how much safety is taught in today’s school system. Hopefully, there are good messages that help keep today’s kids safe. I have some doubts, though, because of what I see every day. It’s especially apparent in small towns across the Midwest and beyond. I see bare sidewalks as people walk down the middle of the street. I’m not sure if it’s an act of rebellion or just a case of monkey see monkey do. Just last week there were twelve young people walking out in the street as cars slowed and stopped to avoid them. There were nice sidewalks on both sides, but these people chose to use the centerline as their path. It’s the same with bicycles. Now that the economy is deteriorating, there are more people using pedal and electric bicycles in the streets. I am all for conserving gas and saving money. It’s also good that we are not wasting resources. The part that bothers me is that they, too, seem to follow the same path — which is down the centerline. And on the wrong side. And through the yard into the street and between cars that are following the rules of the road. It grates on my third grade training. They told us that the streets were dangerous, and we must use the sidewalks. Maybe it’s some sort of display of bravery — like diving off a bridge into shallow water, or walking through fire. Or maybe it’s a way of asserting dominance. Somehow, I don’t think two tons of a delivery truck is scared. Or perhaps it’s just cartoon training — after all, Popeye could always punch Brutus into next week and two minutes later he was okay. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a way of avoiding stepping on a sidewalk crack. That was always a no-no just like breaking a mirror.
I’m sure I don’t get it, but then again I don’t understand how a text message is more important than watching the road while driving. Or why people can put on eye makeup, sing along with the radio, check the radar map on the phone, and eat a breakfast biscuit while driving to work. As for me, I still don’t trust that driver coming down the street to see me as I step my foot off the curb, so I still Stop, Look, and Listen. Maybe I’m weird or old fashioned, but I don’t bounce back like Brutus.