Education – What matters (first in a series)

It’s been a hectic week. School is starting up again and there is that mix of excitement and stressful aversion about what schools demand. I remember clearly that sense of butterflies my stomach and wanting to see friends I hadn’t seen over the summer. I loathed and liked what school would demand and allow me to do, to show what I could do.

After twenty-five years of teaching, work with creative and challenging students, the school year still begins with that excitement. School is full of so many expectations and filled with so much promise in what it holds for every child, and for every teacher, too. The reason for this is often forgotten in all the talk about testing and all the talk about money and cuts.

What happens in every school is education — young people learn what it is to find their way in the world. They learn in a deeper sense what it is that the world exists for and what it is that individual with all his or her differences exists for, they learn what they uniquely can contribute and find a sense of purpose. We exist here to learn how to make this strange place and this strange existence work, for us and for everyone around us.

School is about each person being challenged to emerge with their own particular gifts and weakness and to figure out how we all fit together. Too often however we get lost into thinking that school is about me. Just about me and how I will get ahead of everyone else, how I will do better. When we focus on ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ we can accomplish so much more as a community than we could individually.

I’ve been visiting with teachers as they prepare their classrooms and unpack the books or supplies they put away for the summer, and they are also excited about starting the new school year and anxious for those fresh faces, ready to learn. It is a wonderful and hopeful feeling. This is where, across this country, in every town and neighborhood, the hope for our great nation resides. We can hold on to that hope as long as we don’t think too much about increased class sizes, dwindling education funds, accountability and tests, or increased mandates and demands, because we know these teachers have a sense of their profound purpose and the students are excited to begin something new — they are continuing in the path where others have gone before and forging new ones in their individual ways.

I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “Democracy by Example”, by Larry Seaquist that addresses the impacts of “education reform” and our decreased investment in our children. He says:

Education: The absolute heart of our international success has been our schools. Our children have been well educated, our universities the world’s top schoolhouse for advanced study. Not any more. Sham reforms leave vast numbers of young

Americans uneducated, permanently locked out of productive careers. Partisan posturing over pseudo counter-terrorist measures is locking out tens of thousands of fine young foreign students. The American example of how to design a nation-building education system is fading into third-world disarray.

Many are anxious about whether or not our education system can do a good job. School administrators struggle with balancing the budget in uncertain times, and yet assure parents that they are getting everything they could possibly want from the schools they sent their children to. Unfortunately, nothing is certain. Contrary to what we might hope, there are flawed teachers and flawed students, and yes, even flawed parents — we are all human. But when we commit to learning from each other and improving the environment students learn in, we will all do a better job for them.

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