One thing I’m glad to have never experienced is a school lockdown drill. Or a real lockdown, for that matter.
Safety must not have been a concern back when I was in high school, as I don’t recall anyone being seriously injured in a violent incident. On the flip side, very few of my classmates seemed very interested in safety. As I recall they quit having fire drills there for a while.
See, the evacuation zone was the school parking lot. The school parking lot was full of cars. Cars could be used as a means of transportation to, say, drive to the lake and go for a swim. As such, only about half the student body came back from a drill.
Funny thing is, in those days the majority of the pickups in the school lot had a rifle hanging on a rack. They weren’t considered threats, because they weren’t used as threats.
That’s not to say schools in the 1950s, 60s and 70s were entirely bereft of terror. There was one source that still makes my hair stand on end when I think of it today.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us discuss Driver’s Education films.
“Highway of Agony.”
“Wheels of Tragedy.”
For four decades or so, titles like those – yes, they’re real – would appear on a blackboard or projection screen once the lights went down and the clackety-clack of the film projector fired up.
The acting was bad, the narration was preachy. The lessons offered were simply common sense – don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, don’t be reckless. And remember that the guy in the other car may be reckless, drunk, speeding or just plain stupid.
But the wrecks. Lawsy.
Missing legs, missing heads, bodies cut in half, bodies missing half a head, burned bodies. And it was footage of real people in real wrecks.
Some kids would throw up, some would faint dead away. And those were the football players.
Some of the more sensitive souls would simply bolt the room. Some of them can probably still be found out there in the woods today, curled into the fetal position deep in the underbrush.
I’m still mildly surprised entire generations didn’t swear off driving after being exposed to that stuff.
Of course, we live in an age where children are raised marinated in media. Not so long ago the public school might be the first place a youngster was exposed to any kind of visual stimulation.
You never knew how they’d react.
I recall a story of a mountain first-grader who was being raised in an isolated cove getting his first such experience with the visual arts. It was a filmstrip version of “The Three Little Pigs.”
Filmstrips were essentially a series of slides projected one after another, sometimes synched up with a soundtrack on a tape player. They were cheap, durable and could provide a quick lesson. On the flip side, they were handy in killing some time when the teacher didn’t have his or her fastball working on a given day.
So this mountain kid – I picture him in my mind barefoot and in overalls – sees his first filmstrip, and he is absolutely mesmerized with the timeless tale and bright colors. Really smitten, completely into the experience, leaning in wide-eyed to soak in the tale.
When the pig’s house of straw is blown down by the Big Bad Wolf, he gasps audibly, still rapt.
When the pig’s house of sticks is blown down … well, the kid is on to the game, and doesn’t like where it is headed one bit.
He leaped up and shouted “WHY THAT SON OF A – “
I’m pretty sure that was the end of the filmstrip for that young lad.
I wonder if he ever heard how the story turned out.
Buchanan is editor of the Sylva Herald.