Reminisce and restore

Posted on January 25, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , |

There’s no way to know how many of the 3.7 million readers of the magazine Reminisce live in Arkansas. But with our state’s nature and demographics, I’d venture to say we’re well-represented.

The bimonthly periodical calls itself “America’s Family Album,” a reference to its user-generated content format in which people submit photos and accompanying stories from times past for inclusion.

Reminisce categorizes those submissions by decade generally (it lumps 1900-1920s together) up through the 1980s.

Considering I don’t recall ever hearing about the magazine till last week, I was surprised at its readership. Its paid subscriber base lands it at No. 95 on the list of the largest magazines by circulation in the U.S.

In a guessing game about the top five magazines, I doubt many would win. A pair of AARP publications (The Magazine and Bulletin) crown the list, followed by Costco Connection and GameStop’s GameInformer. It’s only in fifth place that a popular old-name magazine appears—Better Homes and Gardens—and then the next five are all familiar titles: Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, National Geographic and People.

Reminisce is published by Trusted Media Brands Inc., which until September of last year you would have recognized as the Reader’s Digest Association.

I came across Reminisce by looking over a hard-bound anthology the magazine puts out. My uncle had bought it as a gift for a far-off relative, but let me borrow it for a few days first.

History by snapshot and anecdote is always interesting. The entries come from all over, representing all the states and all the communities from urban and suburban to small-town and rural. There’s no preconceived purpose, no grand scheme to shape times or events. Like a true album, the photos themselves tell most of the stories. It’s a picture book worth many thousands of words.

The book divides its pictures from the past into 10 easily identifiable chapters, covering predictable areas like childhood, travel, love, home life, work and holidays.

One of the fascinating facets of flipping through 200 pages, spanning more than 80 years of amateur photography, is seeing how prominently the common thread of human nature presents itself. A smile is as broad and bright in 1916 as it is today. A wedding kiss is as passionate, children playing are as cute. Scenes and fashions change (boy, do they) but the looks people give don’t. A lover’s gaze, a joker’s hearty laugh, a father’s beaming countenance, a mother’s tender eyes; across the decades and across the states, the core expressions are constants.

I paused in the “Growing Up” chapter to pay particular attention to the “School Days” section.

Just as some things have stayed the same, others have changed radically—and not always for the better.

Last month, right before school let out for Christmas, a student at North Little Rock High School belligerently disobeyed his teacher. After refusing the male teacher’s order to go to the hall, the 18-year-old male student challenged the teacher (“I dare you,” he said, as the teacher reached to push the office call button).

The student then lit up a cigar in class, walked up to within inches of the teacher, and provocatively blew smoke right in his face. The incident was filmed by a classmate.

There’s no way to know how many of the more than 593,000 viewers of that video posted on YouTube are from Arkansas. But given the news coverage, it’s reasonable to assume many are probably from somewhere else. Throughout the 10-second video, other students are heard giggling, applauding and whooping jubilantly.

Incredibly, the teacher—who deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor for restraint—maintained a professional demeanor throughout.

The so-called student (reportedly tossed from class three times already this school year for causing trouble) maintained a disrespectful attitude throughout, smugly saying “I’ll be back” as he was hauled out of class.

He shouldn’t be.

Asking teachers to impart learning without the authority to exact discipline from students is asking too much. Education isn’t a right without responsibility (no rights are). And students who would rather disrupt class than learn don’t belong in classrooms. Where else they belong is a matter for society and government, but not for schools, which ought to just kick them out.

Discipline is a requirement for all learning. Too many non-teachers, and especially irresponsible parents, would rather pretend otherwise.

Just looking at some of the teachers in the old photos from Reminisce, I believe that if a similar situation had occurred in the time of Teddy Roosevelt or Ike, things would have gone down differently.

Not only would the teacher have felt completely comfortable responding in a more physical and forceful way, but most everybody would have sanctioned and supported that response.

Keeping an undisciplined, disruptive kid in class doesn’t make him better. Just like in the video, it makes all the other kids worse.

We shouldn’t just reminisce about how orderly American schools once were, when literacy was higher and crime was lower. We should actively seek to restore that environment.

When we do, we’ll see a lot of improvement in other areas as well.

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