I have no idea why, but I got to thinking about second grade today.
The teacher’s name – we’ll call her Miss Daniels. She may have been Mrs. Daniels, but I don’t think we were old enough or hip enough to appreciate the difference between “Miss” and “Mrs.”, and “Ms.” would not be invented until many years later.
Back then, although Miss Daniels looked to me to be as old as time itself, my guess now is that she was into her sixties, which, if one does the math, would put her birth some time towards the end of the nineteenth century (Oy!).
I recall that when it came to numbers, she absolutely would not permit us to say “zero,” and heaven help the kid who said “O” (as in “oh”). Instead, when reciting a number such as 302, we had to say, “three naught two.” If you said, “three zero two,” Miss Daniels would be in your face with an attitude just south of that of the Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, and if you said “three oh two,” you would pray for a swift death.
Not surprisingly, we quickly learned to say “naught” instead of “zero” or the dreaded “oh.” A Second Grader doesn’t argue with a second grade teacher, particularly not Miss Daniels. Besides, we figured she was the teacher and had to be right. We must have been knuckleheads for ever thinking that the proper term for the cipher “0” was anything but “naught.”
Problem is, apparently she was the only person in my school (in the town? county? state? nation? world?) to use the term “naught” in that fashion, as I learned just one grade later.
Teacher: Class, it is important that you know the room number of this classroom. James, I’ll bet that you know what the room number is. Would you please tell the class what it is.
James (i.e. me): Its two naught one.
Teacher What did you say?
Me: Two naught one.
Teacher: (Rolls her eyes, thinking that this is another product of Miss Daniels’ tutelage) Children, if you want people to understand you when you tell them to what classroom you have been assigned, please say “two oh one.”
I was certain that Miss Daniels would come charging into the classroom and deliver an ass kicking to this heretical teacher, but it didn’t happen. I don’t believe that since the second grade I have ever (until today) used the term “naught” to describe “zero.”
When she wasn’t giving us mental beatings over the occasional forgetting to say “naught” instead of “zero,” she would read us Bible Stories, each of which was followed by a bit of an animated sermon. Did I mention that this was a public school?***
I’ve saved the best for last.
As you know, in second grade, kids begin losing their baby teeth. A loose tooth is something that needed regular wiggling in order to coax it loose from its pediatric moorings. Problem is that, if Miss Daniels spotted you wiggling a loose tooth, you got to stay after school while she would grab your tooth with a hanky and pull the farookin’ thing out! I know, because she nailed one of mine.
I saw her pluck one poor bastard out of line just as we were leaving for the day. Earlier I had seen that he has a loose tooth, so I knew what he was in for. Resistance was possible, but not without a bit of a physical tussle and being berated as a “baby.” I’m certain that I didn’t mention Miss Daniels’ curious amateur dental practice to my parents, for I doubt they would have approved.
Somehow she managed to squeeze in the time between Bible thumping and tooth extractions to teach us readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (as long as we said “naught”).
And that, dear friends, is what second grade was like in the Dark Ages.
***I know that there are those today who would say, “What’s so wrong about reading Bible Stories? Hell, now they’re teaching young kids how to put condoms on cucumbers! The schools could use a bit of Bible Study.” I’m not religious, and I’m not interested in participating in a church-state debate, which I often think devolves into the world of silly. Trust me. This woman was wayyyy over the top. In fact, I learned the word “proselytizing” in the course of overhearing an argument between my parents when they learned of the time in school that was devoted to studying the Bible.