Please help me. I think I'm going insane. Or maybe it's too late. Or maybe the world is insane.
I'm having trouble juxtaposing a recent news story in the Wall Street Journal with a picture hanging on my wall.
The news story was about the steps that some school districts are taking to cut down on truancy. One step is to install laundries where students can wash their clothes. The districts believe that a reason students skip school is that other students make fun of them for wearing dirty clothes. The article didn't say whether the students wear bathrobes while washing their clothes at school
The picture on my wall is of my father-in-law as a kid, along with his younger brother and about thirty other classmates, standing in front of a one-room schoolhouse in Westline, Penn., which is a small hamlet in the northwest part of the state in the middle of the Allegheny National Forest. Now 88, my father-in-law lives in his boyhood home, a very modest frame house that until a few years ago did not have central heat. I'll be visiting him at the end of the month and will try to survive without cell coverage.
When my father-in-law was a kid, the main industry in the small hamlet was a charcoal plant, where his dad worked. Note to urbanites who have only seen charcoal in their Weber grills: The making of charcoal is extremely messy.
Two other industries in the local area were oil production and timber, both of which were also very messy and dangerous.
Poor Swedish and Italian immigrants worked in these industries without the glorious benefits of the EEOC, OSHA, EPA, Department of Education, Health & Human Services, cellphones, TVs, and automatic wash machines and dryers. Nor did they attend diversity training to learn how the herring-eating, lily-white, Protestant Swedes could get along with the garlic-eating, swarthy, Catholic Italians. They figured it out on their own, just as they figured out how to establish voluntary community and fraternal organizations without going to college and being immersed in platitudes and cliches about an artificial version of "community." They also learned English on their own.
By today's standards, the immigrants were living in poverty, a word they didn't use and a thought that didn't cross their minds. They thought that they were living in nirvana, compared to the conditions and opportunities in the mother country.
Anyway, back to the picture. The kids in the picture are wearing what looks like homemade clothes, or hand-me-downs from older siblings, or clothes bought through the Amazon of the day, the Sears Catalog. No Air Jordans can be seen. No logos. No short skirts or shorts on the girls. The teacher has a high collar and long skirt. She looks kindly but not someone a kid would want to mess with. No doubt, she was not carrying a teacher union card. No doubt, she was beloved by the community and reflected the local values, mores and norms.
Oh, the kids look well-scrubbed and appear to be wearing clean clothes.
So, am I insane to wonder how the nation got to the point where public schools have free laundries for students?