Darrell Huckaby - Fifties become fodder for the classroom

I love teaching school. I am in my 35th year and still look forward to getting up and going to work every day. And I guess when I reach the point where I don't, I'll just stop.

One reason I love teaching so much is the kids I get to be around. There are some great kids in my school and I get to spend 90 minutes with 180 of them on an up-close and personal basis over the course of every two school days. Name another job where you get to spend that much quality time with that many quality people. There may be other jobs where you do, but I bet the list is pretty short.

The other reason I love teaching is because of the interesting things I get to study with my students - and I say study "with them" because I learn as much as they do each and every year.

My primary subject is advanced placement U.S. history, and what better way to spend one's days than sharing the history of this great nation - guts, feathers, and all - with intelligent young people who can come away with a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations of this wonderful nation.

I also teach current issue - ditto the above statement - which is particularly enjoyable during a presidential election year. Last year, I actually taught a course - in a public school - on the impact of the Bible on art, literature, and history. How cool is that?

This year, I have discovered another cool elective. American History through film. What a concept. We get to study our nation's history by watching movies. Plus, since it is an elective course, we have a lot more time to dig deeper into certain areas of history and skim over others. We can pick and choose and actually learn for the pure joy of learning. What a novel concept! It would be nice if it were to catch on.

My classes and I are not attacking our study of history chronologically. We are doing it thematically, which means we spend a lot of time learning about a particular era - like say, the Great Depression - and then move along to another. Eventually we will put all the pieces together.

Actually, most of my students have already had AP U.S. history, so they know the chronology already. Now they are getting enrichment.

But I told you all of that to tell you this. We are currently knee deep in a study of the 1950s, and I have never had more fun in my life. I am all over the '50s. Mickey Mantle and Mickey Mouse. "I like Ike" and "I Love Lucy." The Korean War and Sputnik and McCarthyism and the Civil Rights Movement. There are movies about all that stuff.

Not to mention hula hoops and Elvis and Barbie dolls and Marilyn Monroe - and all that great music. Every day is like a trip down memory lane, and this week we are examining classic '50s television.

I got to tell my students about the "good old days," when we all had black-and-white TV sets - if we had one at all - with rabbit ears and tinfoil for better reception, or an antenna on the roof. And they were amazed to learn that we only had three channels from which to choose and we actually had to walk across the room to change channels. They were also shocked to learn that stations signed off the air after the news, and none of them had ever seen a test pattern until we Googled one up on the computer.

We have had a ball watching "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Dragnet" and "Father Knows Best" and other such classics. The kids of the post-MTV generation can barely conceive of a day when husbands and wives couldn't be shown in the same bed together - remember the twin beds on the Dick Van Dyke Show with the night stand in between? I guarantee you, if I had been married to a twenty-something Mary Tyler Moore, there would not have been a night stand anywhere near us.

They also couldn't conceive, in a day when Victoria's Secret commercials show as much skin as we used to pay 10 bucks at the 10th Street Art Theater to see, that Lucy couldn't be shown from the side while she was "expecting" Little Ricky.

And all these revelations led to hours of wonderful debate about whether television has changed morality or rather a change in morality is reflected in modern television.

Like I said, we're having a ball and, at this rate, I may teach forever. And next week we're going to try and figure out why "Amos and Andy" was too racist to be shown on television but "Sanford and Son" wasn't. I can't wait for that conversation.

Y'all excuse me if you will. I have to go and make popcorn for Monday's double feature.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.