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The theater of learning is simply endless

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

We came in through a back door on that first day and stepped down two steps into the classroom in the basement of the old school, a big brownish, stone elementary building that had been the high school when my mother went there. We weren't too far from the janitor's room.

There were large windows along the outside walls but the view we kindergartners had of the outdoors was impeded some by a protective metal grid on the outside, at least as I recall, to protect the glass from kids on the paved playground.

There was a cloakroom, though none of us wore cloaks.

In the winter the classroom proved to be a warm inviting place and became a pleasant memory. While I did not know it, I was starting to find my place in the world, and that it was to be an ever-changing place.

The change would not always be a physical one insofar as I lived in the same house for the first 20 years of my life, but who I thought I was would change almost in what seems today to have been rapid sequences in a film. Seems like not long after kindergarten I was a reporter writing a story about a new, open-classroom high school that merged my borough with the neighboring one.

As kindergarten pupils, we drew, we listened to music, rested, learned some about words and reading. I can't remember what all we did cover.

Was it third grade when we were so proud to be carrying home the plastic recorders (flutes) in the soft felt bags so we could practice where our fingers should go? Wonder if any of my classmates still play a recorder? Some certainly became good musicians on other instruments — trombones, drums, trumpets and guitars I recall offhand.

Each year, there was the school term, September into May, requisite holidays, field trips, plays and musicals, assemblies, football and basketball games and endless classes (some easy, some hard, some exciting, some boring). The venue changed from the elementary to the next door high school and there came a time when my daughter went to kindergarten in what had been my high school. In the high school, we changed classes, but not all of us went to the same ones. There were study halls and special things you could do. I was on stage crew and appeared as somebody's father in the junior class play.

One of my fond memories was sitting in the library on a winter's day, surrounded by more books than I could ever read (not that I wanted to read all of them) and feeling the warmth of a little cloud-filtered sun coming in the west side windows. Makes me yawn today just thinking of it.

Which of us knew as we were making our progress through 13 years of classrooms, making friends, laughing at some teachers and perhaps fearing others (one wielded a yard stick like a weapon), learning who to trust and who not to trust, that this just-over-a-decade period would someday seem like a blip on life's radar screen?

I think now that the adults back then kept a secret from us.

They let us think that learning came in a nice, neat package. It started with a bell (or whatever the heck that noise was in the high school) and ended with a similar sound, that it began in fall and ended in late spring and could be found in books and lectures and the occasional film. That life was curriculum and extracurricular and that everything else was wasting time.

We had to learn on our own that it was not exactly true.

My learning outside the classroom came with TV (not quite what it is today) and in films seen in movie theaters and in reading about Shakespeare and other playwrights and reading their works and realizing the value of artistic portrayals of our lives together.

Since those days I have learned the truth in “life is what happens to you while you are making plans” and lots of other things you have learned and that I need not bore you further with here.

I know that there is no one currently living within those 13 years of school that would want to consider any of what I have written about today, and I would be the first to understand that. But maybe you — you astute and no doubt wiser adults — might dare to suggest to the youngsters in your lives that learning must never be confined to classrooms, that the whole of life is an amphitheater of learning in which the seats and the standing room faces in all directions and even in the dark there is something on which to focus.

This theater of learning includes the whole of the known universe and is simply endless.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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