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An education in goin' old school

By Leslie King
CNN Headline News

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(CNN) -- There are lots of ways to tell you're officially old. There's a "Sixteen Candles" remake in the works. Madonna's writing children's books. And you go to a David Byrne concert to find yourself surrounded by 50-year-olds. OK, that kind of makes sense since Byrne's hair is now completely gray.

My sister Liz and I got the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime time warp a few weeks ago when my 13-year-old brother Joe graduated from sixth grade. (Long story short, my dad remarried and had a kid at 50. Joe and I are 21 years apart.)

Sixth grade revisited

Our elementary school has changed a lot since our days of falling asleep in chapel. For one thing, my physical education teacher is now the assistant principal.

In sixth grade, we ruled the school. The sixth grade even had its own wing of the building, so you didn't have to go to class with the "little kids."

But Liz and I took one look at Joe and his friends running around before the graduation ceremony and realized that we were so young. We watched him hoping we could catch him long enough to explain how his world was about to change radically. We also wanted to prepare my dad for Joe's journey as he grows into his own person. As for Joe, he just wanted to get to the party.

School's out for summer

And what a party it was. Let me just say that when we graduated from sixth grade, it was like, "Here's your Bible, congratulations." And you had some friends over to your house for a slumber party.

My brother's graduation was like a mini-prom that your parents are invited to -- which already had half the kids mortified. But the DJ got them all out on the dance floor, and that's when they finally got to cut loose. Boys on one side and girls on the other, of course.

My sister and I had to rein in my dad for the few slow songs they played because he was circling poor Joe and this girl snapping close-ups. We convinced him to preserve the moment from a little farther away.

Pop quiz

When Liz and I went to get food, we were treated to the ultimate time warp moment. We ran into our sixth-grade math teacher, Mrs. Allsman, in the buffet line. She was still teaching. At the graduation ceremony, they announced she was retiring this year. This is the woman whose steely gaze you did not want trained on you. But now she looked like a sweet grandmother. She rushed up to us and excitedly asked us about our lives. (Her son was in my sister's class.)

And 20 years after we spent countless days gossiping and passing notes while she was trying to make us understand algebra, we got to apologize for all the grief we caused her. My sister even confessed how much she coveted Mrs. Allsman's trademark red grading pencil. I used to make up fake tests just so my sister could grade them at home (with red pen). I think I got better grades on those than the ones in school.

Anarchy in the U.S.

Fall will be interesting. Joe will be going to my junior high that's also attached to my old high school. Going to school with 18-year-olds makes you grow up fast.

He's already decided he likes "old school" punk. How's that for making me feel old? But I took a certain pride in being able to buy him the first staples in his punk collection -- the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Pixies.

The last time I bought those albums I was in the seventh grade. I told Joe anytime he wants to spike his hair to come see me.


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