Education Matters: Recalling Christmas gifts past

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

One of the more unusual Christmas gifts I've ever received came from a student several years back. It was a 2-foot high Bing Crosby in a Santa suit with a pipe in one hand and a microphone clutched in the other. Touching a button at his feet gets Bing's knees bending, hips swiveling, head moving side to side and an oversized jaw dropping in unison to a familiar voice singing familiar songs.

All of this is highly entertaining for the first 10 performances. At approximately 100 renditions of "White Christmas," there comes over me a seasonal urge to strangle Bing or, better yet, offer up another Yule log for the fire. But that will never happen given the exalted status of "family tradition" the little fellow has attained.

After Christmas, when spirits wane and batteries fade, he is carefully packed away in his own little padded box and stored in the garage for 11 months, after which time his return engagements are guaranteed in Christmas perpetuity — or as long as his voice and working parts hold out.

This Christmas Bing has gone through two sets of batteries, with his newest admirers being my two 1-year-old grandchildren, each delighted in their ability to animate him, pushing his button over and over and over again. Both the boy, Kai, and the girl, Siena, are just beginning to stand on their own and when they do, they are eye level with their mechanical friend.

Seeing the two of them dipping their knees while the crooner sings "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is very likely the cutest thing I have ever seen, and it's also a beautiful reminder that a sense of music comes upon us all very early in our lives.

When I think back to other memorable Christmas gifts in my life, the first that comes to mind is a wrapped package twice the size of a 7-year-old boy and it sat under the tree for two weeks before Christmas. How well I remember the agony of not knowing, mixed with the ecstasy of anticipation. What I learned when I finally unwrapped the present, which turned out to be five large Tonka trucks, was that nothing of this earth could have possibly matched my soaring expectations.

When I was 10, there were two six-shooters with leather holsters and a whole box of caps that I was instructed to open away from the family. My great Aunt Flora had joined us for that Christmas and was very much opposed to little boys playing with toys that simulated killing weapons. I could not for the life of me understand such an objection and was happy when she left, freeing me up to swagger about the house and general neighborhood packing my pistols and practicing a quick-draw that grew quicker each day.

Aunt Flora would find her views well represented in my objection to today's graphic videos that children play, making my six-guns look like tame old relics. The violence we imagined back in the day has been replaced with a realism that engages kids in an orgy of blood and gore that leaves nothing to the imagination.

I can't really say that these games are making kids any more prone to violent behavior than I was by toting my cap guns, but I am left wondering what the next generation of killing toys will be like.

My first new bicycle (not a hand-me-down from an older brother) came on a rainy Christmas morning with the day spent riding it in the house, then out in the garage and finally out in the rain — just me and my three-speed Huffy.

I couldn't wait to ride it to school when the holiday was over and park it in the racks right along with the big kids. That old bike and I must have put on a thousand miles together, traversing every street in this good old town of Montrose. I know that it carried thousands of newspapers (including this one) on its handle bars back in the years when local deliveries were made by young boys with paper routes.

Today, if you visit any grammar school in our school district you will find only a handful of bikes,s and I find that sad. I find it sad that kids today are more sedentary and getting fatter as a result, and that their movements are more restricted in a world more fearful and distrustful than the one I grew up in.

But hey, it's Christmas Eve with our thoughts more properly turning to the present (and presents?) than the past. My thanks to my student, Angela Sanchez, for her gift of little Bing that just keeps on giving every December, to my family for Christmases past and many more to come, and to all things that open our hearts and generate good will throughout the year.

Merry Christmas to you all.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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