• Virginia Tolles

In Defense of Old School

It doesn’t take long for a catch phrase to become as stale as yesterday’s donuts. Remember “state of the art” and “paradigm shift”? Well, here’s another one: “old school” as in “Eew! That is so-o-o old school! It looks like my grandmother’s house!”

My Grandmother's House (2020) / Google

In the first place, I have warm memories of my grandmother’s house. How about you? Me-ma’s 1940s living room suite was invaded by Pa-pa’s 1960s recliner. I’m laughing here. At least, it wasn’t one of those oversized Naugahyde jobs. It had lovely fabric and wooden arms, even though the fabric didn’t go with the 1940s fabric, and the style was contemporary in contrast with the 1940s Duncan Phyfe design. Still, it was my grandmother’s house. It was comfortable, and it had the beautiful staircase, where we loved to bump down the steps on our posteriors, and it had the upright piano, where we loved to play (read “bang”) until the adults couldn’t take it, anymore. It also had the aromas of good things to eat wafting in from the kitchen, where my grandmother presided over her Chambers gas stove. To this day, I love those old stoves, even though I never could figure out how to raise the broiler lid.

In the second place, a lot of wonderful traditions came from the era that is now deemed to be the old school. We had the Ten Commandments to guide us as we tried to decide how to treat people in difficult situations. Don’t kill them (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17). Don’t become involved with those who are married to someone else (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18). Don’t steal from them (Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:19). Don’t lie to them (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20). Don’t covet what they have (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21). So important are the Ten Commandments that they are listed twice in the Bible and are carried throughout the scriptures.

Can you see the crime rate going down? Definitely! With the lower crime rate, we had the freedom to walk to school and even walk down the middle of the street at night, listening to WLS out of Chicago over someone’s transistor radio. Okay. I’ve told you how old I am. Keep reading, anyway.

The only drug problem in our school was related to three girls being caught smoking in the restroom; they were suspended for three days. That was the end of the drug problem. Why? Because, when they got home from school with their three-day suspensions, their parents gave it to them in spades! No one worried about whether racial diversity had influenced the principal in his decision to punish the girls. After all, anyone of any background might have been caught smoking in school, and the penalty was the same for all guilty parties.

My favorite feature of the “old school” is that we dressed and presented ourselves to our best advantage. We did not wear rags and tatters or plunging necklines or too-high hemlines. Our mothers would have called us back to change before we left for school. If we actually managed to make it to school dressed inappropriately, the principal would have sent us home to change. He did, too! No exceptions.

Most of us did not need to be sent back. We enjoyed dressing properly. Our ensembles coordinated. Our hair was coiffed to perfection. Our makeup was as daring as our mothers would allow us to get away with. Fingernail polish did not make it out the door, at least not anything more daring than clear polish. We wore flats and low-heel pumps – slightly higher heels for church and special events. They, too, coordinated with our ensembles.

One of those old-school sayings had it that, when we look our best, we do our best. I’m convinced that it’s true. Surely, if I get up, get dressed, and fix my hair, I quickly move on to doing my work and doing it well. If, on the other hand, I stay in my night clothes and unkempt hair, I find excuses not to get busy. The Bible addresses that one, too: Do the work that has been given to you, and do it cheerfully (paraphrased from Colossians 3:23). That’s not easy to follow when we’d rather do what we want to do, but it’s essential to staying on track.

So, before we knock old school, let’s check it out. Kick the tires. Drive it around the block. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be said for “old school.”

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