When I was in the fifth grade I had a teacher who was a private pilot. He was a gruff, cranky old guy, at least to my 11-year-old brain. He was probably 45 and overworked with a classroom of kids, but those were the days when kids were durable. There was little to no coddling of the children. I think paddling had only been outlawed but a few years before I started grammar school, and I distinctly remember one teacher having a paddle in his classroom with the implied threat of its use.
Punishments were meted out regularly and fairly. Parents were involved and generally gave teachers the benefit of the doubt when it was a question between the child and the teacher as to who was telling the truth. It was not uncommon for teachers to actually hug their students. Parents didn’t presume that every teacher was a child molester. On the contrary, they pretty much believed that teachers were champions, and a misbehaving child was dealt with swiftly.
I was reminded of all of this over the past weekend when a friend asked me to accompany him on a flight to Palm Springs. He’s a pilot and we would be flying a little four-seater that he rents. I’ve known him long enough that I trusted he knew what he was doing. He has flown with several of our friends and they all survived, so I felt safe.
It helped when he informed me that he obtained his license originally at 17 and had recently completed his commercial pilot’s license. That meant he had a solid decade and a half of flying experience, and the commercial license is not an easy thing to do, which definitely made me feel more comfortable with him.
We were at Santa Monica Airport on Saturday and he asked me when was the last time I was in a four-seater prop plane. I told him of the time my fifth grade teacher took a group of us kids flying. I recall the excitement of takeoff, and being allowed to “fly” the plane. Being at the controls as a child gave me such a rush and sense of empowerment that I’ve never forgotten.
Today he would probably not be allowed to do that and I can only imagine the types of allegations that some overly paranoid parent would make, but in those days people understood that adults were to be respected and children tolerated, at best.
The experiences of flying as a kid, both as a “pilot” and as a passenger, were some of the many events that helped make me an independent child and taught me how to act in an adult’s world.
When my parents divorced, my father moved to Los Angeles from Northern California and as a boy I was regularly put on a plane and consequently I developed a sense of independence. It was a great learning experience and helped me learn how to navigate the world.
I mention this because on Sept. 10 the Friends of Santa Monica Airport are presenting a day at the airport from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the observation deck. There will be pilots to talk to, air traffic controllers to ask questions of, and I’m sure there will be food and educational activities. It could be a great way for kids to be introduced to the joys of flying. There’s more information available at www.fosmo.org.
My parents didn’t shield me from the world, they pushed me out into it; granted they were in the wings if something were to go wrong, but that would usually be me not behaving correctly rather than someone attempting to kidnap me.
The goal then was to teach kids how to fly solo in this world. Parents and teachers worked hard to give kids wings, rather than to shield them from an endless parade of fears and entitlements. I am grateful today to them and that teacher who helped me learn that taking flight and being independent were good things.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.