In Praise of Windows

San

Sanders Farm

Third grade.

We rode buses to the newly built school on the edge of town.

It was our first experience with a seventies “open floor” plan, with only partitions separating classrooms. In spite of the tide of gold industrial carpet receding as far as a third-grader could see, and the wall-panels that stood taller than the teachers, and the pocked white ceiling tiles—all meant to muffle sound, the noise was incredible. We could hear the fourth-graders chanting multiplication tables, and they could hear the fifth-graders’ classroom radio tuned to the pop station—a sign that their teacher was hip.

But what bothered me most were the tiny, stingy windows, one or two per room, tucked away in the corners.

We had spent kindergarten through second grade in Meadowlark School, in classrooms where the windows started at our waists and stretched to the ceilings. They were like a drive-in movie screen always showing the same feature: “The Seasons of North-Central Montana.” The dreamers in the class, like me, never tired of watching the show. Grass and trees separated the school’s East Front from the alley. The West Front looked out over the vast asphalt playground. West-siders could watch clouds boiling up, snowstorms rolling in, and wind pushing the empty swings.

At the new school (ironically named “Prairie View”) we could only see out if we “had” to sharpen our pencils. We snatched our landscape in glimpses.

Outside, the weather went on without us. We dreamers turned our attention inside, watching the social tides pulling our classmates back and forth—this girl swept suddenly into the popular pool; that boy caught in an eddy of universal disdain.

Whenever I pass an elementary school with its windows paneled over “to save energy,” I mourn again those Meadowlark days.