Before I leave Thanksgiving behind for the year and move on to Christmas—oh dear, I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, although we did pick up a 7 foot tree at Costco last weekend—I have one more thing to share with you.
In the first five years after college I was a school teacher: I taught three years of third grade in a school that served a very rural, impoverished population, a year of pre-K at Florida State University’s parent cooperative nursery school while I got my master’s degree in early childhood education, and a year of fourth grade in a brand new pod-style school in Tallahassee’s first year of integration. Given my idealistic nature, introverted personality and esoteric interests, I found these jobs to be incredibly demanding, exhausting, and just plain hard. How do teachers do it year after year? My admiration for them is boundless.
Anyway, my experiences during those years left an indelible impression about the crucial importance of a good education in the early years and the extreme difficulty of providing it. Ordinarily I’m a very tolerant person, but one thing I cannot tolerate is the ignorant attitudes of people—too often politicians, by the way—who cannot see beyond their narrow self-interests to face the reality that the future of our world rests on our success or failure to educate our children, all our children, as well as we possibly can.
Example: One of the first priorities of governor Rick Perry of Texas is education. He says the first thing he’d do as president is abolish the Department of Education because he thinks it’s redundant and he wants states to have block grants to use however they want. While this sounds good on the surface, reporter Joy Resmovits notes that in practice it means that without federal regulations, states would have fewer incentives to distribute federal dollars in ways that benefit children with special education needs, the poor, and minority students. These are the children I taught. I know how desperately they and their families need all the help they can get, and I’m all too aware of the blinders worn by people who want to deny them this basic right. Overhaul the Department of Education? Sure! Abolish it? No way!
America is far behind China and other countries in student performance, yet as Resmovits notes, some people are so caught in the belief that federal government is evil that they want to cut its role in education regardless of the consequences. There are no simple answers to this problem, but really? Isn’t shutting down discourse at the federal level about education a bit extreme? Would it not be a step backwards into our cultural shadow of ignorance and prejudice? Is there no room for partnerships between federal and state governments? I’m not talking about partisan politics here. Many people in Perry’s own party disagree with him. I’m talking about setting aside our personal biases and agendas and instituting effective educational practices from the bottom up that will benefit all children and everyone’s future.
But enough about our shadows. What I really want to do with this post is look at the bright side of education. As I’ve noted before, my grandchildren are very fortunate to attend a truly excellent school that stresses the importance of diversity and puts its money where its values are in a variety of ways. The following video about a very special Thanksgiving celebration for the third-graders is one example. It features the people and customs of the Muscogee tribe of Native Americans. I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and thank you to all the teachers who show up every day and give so much of yourselves to our children. Your legacy will last long after most politicians are forgotten!
I too have suffered from despair since childhood. It began at the age of 11 when my father died. To this day there are many occasions in my daily life when I cannot get excited about something because I know it will not last and my pleasure will not last and I will die and nobody will care and nothing I have done will make any difference, and so what?