Tribute to a red brick schoolhouse
Goodbye Abner Gibbs Elementary -- and your real-life Norman Rockwell world. A new, 'better' school for 600 kids will replace you. Sounds like a factory to me.
Abner Gibbs isn’t going to live to 100 – falling short by a year or two. Such a pity! Another victim of the bureaucrats.Skip to next paragraph
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Abner Gibbs Elementary is what used to be known as a “neighborhood school” of 200 to 300 kids. The principal knew every child’s name – and also knew the pupils’ brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Neighborhood schools were always about intimacy. As such, they well served older, Main Street towns like Abner’s Westfield, Mass., often for more than a century.
Betsy Gaylord, who taught there for years, said, “Abner Gibbs was more than an elementary school. It was a community.” It was like that in 1947, when I went there, and still is.
City officials promise something newer, bigger, and better: a 600-student consolidated elementary school, a library, a science lab. “Magnificent” is what they’re calling old Abner’s replacement. Still, 600 students in one elementary school sounds like an assembly line to me.
Mrs. Gaylord scoffed, “If they tear down that building it’s a shame. I wish they would ‘get it.’ It’s the teachers that make a school, not the age of the classroom.”
She has a point. Abraham Lincoln was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Just after World War II, there were about 25 kids per grade in my Abner Gibbs years, Grades 2 through 6. My two best friends did OK without gold-plated desks. One went to Yale, the other to Princeton.
My talks with several experienced educators turn up the same conclusion: The larger and less personal the school, the greater the likelihood of bullying. They also said teaching tolerance is easier in small neighborhood schools – and bullying easier to spot. Perhaps it has something to do with the bigger the herd, the more likely you are to get trampled.
I remember the first Jew I ever knew was my fourth-grade teacher, Hannah Goodman. We didn’t know much about Jews, but they had an appeal to 8-year-olds: Miss Goodman got more holidays than the rest of us.
Every morning, she would lead the Lord’s Prayer starting with the first sentence and letting the gentile kids finish it. I can still see her slender, tanned hand over her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. All the boys were in love with Miss Goodman.