Filing this here, for now, because I don't know where else to file it:
I have been wondering how odd one aspect of my childhood was. Which is: I was pretty happy in elementary school. First, second and third grades were a pleasant time for me, and I remember it as a pretty supportive, happy environment.
I lived in a town with two elementary schools. After my parents divorced, and my mother got a job across town, my sister and I moved from our local elementary school, where I had gone to kindergarten, to a different school across town. I don't remember much about kindergarten, but I have a pretty good memory of my first three years of elementary school.
I never remember serious bullying in elementary school. I mean, I remember times when there was name calling or schoolyard taunts, but I don't remember any systemic exclusion. I also don't remember anything even close to physical violence, outside of a collision during a game of tag or something. I don't remember there being any teachers that students were afraid of, and I don't remember the teachers ever being cruel to the students. I had a few problems with my third grade teacher, but in general, I remember the teachers being almost syrupy in their treatment of the students.
I also don't remember any discrimination and racism. This was a school in a town of about 3000 people, what was at the time a small town surrounded by fields, that was just beginning the process of exurbanization. There were two black students at my school, and they were brothers. There was a few Asian students, and a few Hawaiian students. I am assuming there were some hispanic students, but I can't remember them at my school. I never remember that being an issue, among the students or teachers. The two groups that were sometimes laughed at were a group of Finnish immigrants that practiced a conservative religion, and Jehovah's Witnesses, who couldn't participate in our holiday activities. But even that was transient. At that point, I don't remember religious fundamentalism being an issue. I never remember my teachers communicating their religious beliefs. (I would encounter it, in its glossiest form, a few years later, and in a different city, when my sister participated in an Assembly of God church.) This was also reflected by how our teachers taught history: I remember learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement every year, in clearly hagiographic terms. I also remember spending a long time in third grade learning about Native American culture, and visiting with Native American leaders, in a way that was sensitive and respectful. I have sometimes heard people say that as young students, they encountered teachers who taught racist history, or who used more or less coded racist language. I never saw it, I never saw head shaking or eye rolls about "those people". My schooling was a time when I learned to be respectful of other people, in a safe and respectful environment.
I am not naive, so I know that I might be looking at this through rose-colored glasses. I know that behind the seeming acceptance, there probably was a lot of discrimination. Maybe some of my fellow students had teachers who were actively racist. Maybe the acceptance of our school's diversity was only because it was not enough to change the general composition of the school: a single sprig of parsley on a gigantic baked potato. And the more complex and systemic issues that faced minorities in the rest of the country were probably beyond comprehension. But at least on the surface, the baseline of how I remember those formative years, was as a time and place where I respected others, and they respected me.
This is in great contrast to some sectors of the American commentariat today, who view the idea of abusiveness as almost nostalgic. Along with eating a diet of baloney sandwiches and leaded paint chips, and playing in a shed full of rusty nails, constant verbal abuse and physical fighting are supposed to be something that we should look back at with happy thoughts, as something that put hair on our chest or something. And I literally don't know who came out like that. My formative years weren't at some type of experimental Montessori school (that would come later), but at a middle-middle class school in small town, and that was where I learned respect as a basic value. And I wonder just how uncommon this was?