Our Centennial City...Lakewood 50 years ago... School Movie Day! (Morals, Manners, And A-Bomb Mayhem!)

Real reals? Not these examples, but school films often conveyed eye-opening topics. (Photo by Gary Rice)

OK, we've all been to school and know how classes work. Whether the teacher initiates a discussion on a lesson or there's classwork to be done, the thing about schools is that they want you, the student, to be engaged in the learning process. That was pretty much the way schools worked, except for those of us who nodded off, daydreamed, or were otherwise occupied with passing notes to the object of our desire sitting just a few seats away. Of course, once in awhile, the teacher would pick up such a note from some poor unfortunate writer, and then? Let's just say that the outcome was not pretty.

There were, however, three important school days when our spirits were inevitably brightened by circumstances beyond our control. One of those days involved heavy snow and the announcement that our school district was closed (which, in Lakewood's case, was all too seldom!).  Another favorite day was when we walked into the classroom and saw a substitute teacher. Immediately, that circumstance ensured that a new, often surprising, and utterly interesting classroom dynamic would come into play. The third day, of course, was "Movie Day"!

"Movie Day" was announced by the presence of that huge 16mm projector, sitting on a rolling steel stand, at the back of our classroom. We ALWAYS stared at the film reel attached to the front of the projector first, hoping that it would be a large reel! Small spools meant that there would still be time for teacher-talk. Big reels meant an all-period movie, and it was always a double bonus if "Movie Day" also happened to be "Substitute Teacher Day"! The only problem with movies was when some sourpuss teacher told us to "write down 10 facts about this movie and turn our papers in at the end of the period." That might have been an "educational" task, or may just have been to keep the spitballs from flying too much, but one way or the other (particularly for those of us who did not multi-task well), it could quickly put a damper on an otherwise delightful "Movie Day."

I'd better stop for a moment here and give a real shout-out to substitute teachers. In the first place, when I got out of college, that was a job that I held for several years! "Subbing" is not an easy job either. Usually, there were lesson plans to follow and materials available, but sometimes there were not. For that reason, subs usually had a "bag of tricks" to help them get through those situations. I will state here my belief that most subs are well-trained, and more than competent in their jobs. At the same time, yes, there were those other ones, were there not? (smile) For those subs, "Movie Day" could be a ready-made disaster-in-the-making!

Sometimes, if you were a sub, you could see a disaster in the making coming..."Mr. Rice! Mr. Rice! I know how to run the projector!!! Let ME do it PLEEEEZE!" Subs sometimes knew how to get that projector going, and sometimes not. Of course, I go back to the day when the film had to be carefully threaded along and through a "film path." Only later would auto-threading projectors come along. At the same time, you always had to remember to attach the leader of the film onto the take-up reel. This was not always done, with the resultant 3-foot-high pile of celluloid ending up on the floor by the door when the bell rang for dismissal.

It was the material on those films, however, that some of us will never forget. Some of it was so outdated that endless chuckles ensued during the viewing. The poor subs would try and shush us so much that they sounded like old wheezing steam radiators. Then there were those "atomic era" films telling us that by crawling under our seats and covering our heads, we could possibly escape injury during an atomic bomb blast. Still other films chided us about proper morals, dating etiquette, good manners, and how to scrub behind our ears and brush our teeth: "Remember children, brush up and down, not side to side!"

There were those science films about dissection too. The squeamish among us became even more so when those objects of dissection were actually placed before us. In my day, I think they were earthworms and frogs, but I've conveniently erased that trauma from my personal memory bank. It could have been worse, I suppose. Other school districts dissected cats, and I understand that some high schools still do!

There were films in the school library that covered nearly every topic. By far, the films that were most discussed by students back then were the Driver's Education crash-up films containing graphic shots of accident victims. I will NEVER forget watching a particularly gory film during Driver's Ed while the kid next to me was sneaking bites from his ham sandwich. Yes, several squeamish kids had to leave the room, but young Mr. Appetite was amazingly unfazed. Those old shop class safety videos could be equally shocking, particularly in that time before computerized movie and video games created the all-too-real gore that so many young people take for granted these days. There were also those blurry wartime documentaries, as well as those travel films that took us under the seas and up to the tops of the Rocky Mountains. Sometimes, these were even in color, which was quite a treat for many of us who still had black-and-white TV at home.

Last, but not least, were those films that we saw in high school Health class. Some of those, while seeming to be somewhat "square," nonetheless had good advice. Some kids simply laughed at the messages those films attempted to convey, only to discover later in life how important those messages were.

Interestingly enough, some of the old school films can still be seen on the Internet, if you would be so inclined to relive your youth. "Duck and Cover," for example, was produced in 1951 by the federal government to inform American children how to drop to the floor and hide their heads from an atomic bomb attack. "Signal 30" was a graphic 1959 film about highway safety, produced in cooperation with the Ohio Highway Patrol. Time can indeed bring an interesting perspective to films like these.

"Movie Day!" One more memory about our Lakewood schools! What was YOUR favorite "Movie Day" memory?

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Volume 9, Issue 8, Posted 9:37 PM, 04.16.2013