by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
Almost nightly we hear news reports about the failing educational system that some states or cities are experiencing. Each time I hear this and the subjects the students are learning or not learning, as the case may be, reminds me of the rigorous studies I had as early as fifth and sixth grades. However, because of the wonderful teachers I had back then in our Bronx public school, the courses and topics had been presented in a way that was interesting, exciting and made us want to learn more. History lessons were described in such a way that it felt like a story being woven where you wanted to hear the next part of the tale. Were they able to survive colonial life? Were the explorers going to make it across the wilderness or sailing around the globe to safely arrive on their journey to discover new worlds? One of my favorite topics was when our teacher introduced us to mythology, emphasizing both the Greek and Romans. Hearing how they explained things the ancient world didn’t comprehend, pre-scientific discoveries, made their reasoning more creative than the actual cause found centuries later. It was fascinating to learn that the Greeks and Romans had gods with similar “powers”, but called different names. For instance, the god of waters and seas was believed to be Neptune by the Romans. The Greeks had a similar god with the same role, but called him Poseidon. (Think about the film, Poseidon Adventure, which takes place in the ocean.) Likewise, the King of all gods for the Romans was Jupiter, but the Roman believed their King was called Zeus.
Speaking of the Roman Empire, another subject from that period I thought interesting was Roman Numerals. Back in the day I felt like it was learning a secret code, so different from our numbers learned in kindergarten. To this day, whenever I see something written in Roman numerals like the date of a building’s construction on the facade or at the end of a film describing the year it was made, I quickly try to decipher its numbers. For your review: The symbols are I = 1, V= 5, X = 10, L=50, C=100, D=500, and M= 1,000. Roman numerals are still used in many forms today in astronomy, mathematics, super bowl game years, education, military, chemistry and law to name only a few examples.
It was mandatory that all fifth graders know the names of all the states and their capitals. To fulfill this requirement our seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Paoletta, told us to pick a “study partner” that we would share this learning assignment with as we stood in front of the class. My good friend Dianne and I took on the tasks and studied together after school. Alphabetically, starting with the letter “A” one student would name the state and the other would have to respond with the capital. Another rote lesson was to know ALL the presidents in order, starting with the obvious, George Washington. Trust me, to this day I can still name all of them practically rapid fire until I get to the names of those presidents that came into office long after I graduated from grade school and stopped these recitals. For those I have to stop and think and recite at a much slower pace. Indeed, those were the good old days of learning!