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Friday, November 4, 2022

Where did all the patrol boys go?

I went to grade school at Garfield in Moline, Illinois, and for the sixth grade my family moved.   I transferred to Lincoln and automatically became a patrol boy.  Patrol boys served as crossing guards at the street intersections around the school.

At that time, kids went home for lunch, except those few who brought their lunch in a brown bag because no one was at home during the day to make lunch for them.   The elementary schools did not have food service facilities back then.  So kids made the trek to school and back twice a day.  The patrol boys' job was to see that the kids safely crossed the streets at designated crossings.  The patrol boys had to be on duty before school and when school let out to oversee the crossings.  They wore white canvas Sam Browne belts to designate their authority and responsibility.   There were so 

many crossings around Lincoln that it took all the boys in the sixth grade class to cover them.   I was elected lieutenant of the patrol, which may sound like an honor, but really wasn't.

There were two officers for the patrol, captain and lieutenant.   The captain was in charge of the morning shift and the lieutenant the afternoon.   Being in charge meant that you had to check the crossings before students started arriving to be sure each crossing had a guard.  If a guard didn't show up, you filled in for him.  If more than one guard was absent, you had to report it to the principal's office so that substitutes could be arranged.   Thus, the officers had to be the first students to come to school and, often, the last to leave.  No kids really wanted to be an officer.   It was considered a sucker's job.

Eventually, the crossing guard role was taken over by adults who are paid.  But back then, there were no organized activities for elementary students that interfered with crossing guard schedules.  And kids didn't resist or complain much about being crossing guards because every sixth-grade boy did it.

Likewise, there wasn't much problem with getting kids to follow the patrol boys' directions because they were taught it was all a matter of safety, and standing in line a bit and following directions was just something you did to make it through the day so that you could do what you wanted.  If some kid reacted with that no-one-tells-me-what-to-do attitude, he would be reported and his parents would be asked to make arrangements for him to get to and from school so that he wouldn't interfere with other children's safety.  Discipline had a totally different aspect then, because the elementary schools were neighborhood institutions.  School was a integral part of daily life in the neighborhood, and was not separated from the relationships and interactions that comprised neighborhood society.  If a kid acted like an asshole in school, he would be known as an asshole throughout the neighborhood.  School consolidation changed the social role played by the elementary school.

Girls were not at that time involved in the patrols, although I recall that one of the grade schools in town did not have enough boys to fill the roster and included girls.  My female classmates were content, however, to expend their time and energy on other pursuits.  They did not have any patrol boy envy.

By the time my children came along, patrol boys had gone extinct.  Those lines of children straggling along the sidewalks around the schools have largely been displaced by hordes of automobiles searching for places to drop off and pick up children.  

Folks generally accepted the custom that they would contribute to the tasks maintaining the safety and well-being of the community.  That attitude extended to the military draft when we were inducted into military service.  But I recall vividly when during a social occasion shortly after I was released from active duty in the Army, I asked a man if he had served and where.  He rather snottily replied that he knew what he wanted to do with his life and it didn't include floundering around in the military service.  It became a bit of a vogue of the time to regard those caught in the draft as feckless dupes who had no purpose in their lives.  We veterans learned to be very circumspect about talking about our military experience.  Among many people, it was not something to be proud of.  

Among a class of conservatives,  public service is regarded as designating an inferior servant class of people.  That class of people thinks the only use for terms such as equality, justice, and honor is to dupe the gullible into thinking they live in a democratic society.  Meanwhile, those conservatives set up a system of privilege and power to keep that servant class in its place.  In their authoritarian hierarchy of fools, even a bumbling moron like Donald Trump can rule.  A large segment within the GOP accepts the abrogation of democratic rule as a means to gain  and stay in power.  In their minds, the serving class doesn't count.  And that means the patrol boys and those who get conscripted into service, those whose service protects the ruling class.

The problems arise when the patrol boys and the enlistees realize they are protecting those who think the protectors don't count.  The protectors decline to protect those who discriminate against them, and democracy must deal with some harsh matters of inequality.  And the question is raised:  can democracy survive?  There are no patrol boys who have reason to protect it.


All Mammal said...

Just being aware of the advantages of being born in the Unites States as a white male and acknowledging the deficiencies in opportunities available to the rest of the people because of their gender or religion or race or nation of birth is powerful and using it as an advantage to demonstrate fairness is worthwhile. The voiceless don’t tend to forget that awe they felt when they saw a respected white man stand up for them openly. It is honorable and influences the entire community to puff out their chest a little more and feel pride in their environment. That courage spreads. When we have people willing to step up, it lets the oppressors know there is a witness with consequence and they better conduct themselves with civility. It reminds me of seeing a picket sign during a BLM march that read, “White silence= violence”. I encourage the resurrection of Patrol Boys because the little/old ones still need those good, strong boys to help keep them safe crossing the street. The young men who don’t have time to help will be passed over without the volunteer experience on their transcripts or resumes.

Jerry K. Sweeney said...

For all my sins, I've always thought Robert Heinlein had the right of it when he devised a system for voting in his novel Starship Troopers.

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