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August 16, 2005 > Editorial: School bells are ready to ring

Editorial: School bells are ready to ring

This time of year is busy. As summer ends, parents and educators are preparing for the new school year. Preparation for parents usually means shopping trips for clothes and supplies as well as last minute outings to complete the summer season. For educators, the agenda is a bit different. Schedules and classrooms are checked to make sure students are greeted with a confident sense of order. Administrators are already working on site and teachers, some of whom have already visited classrooms, will soon join them.

Each school year begins with hope and promise. The slate is clean for all to fill during the year. With this reinstatement of classes comes a continuing political debate over the boundaries and duties of public education. National programs such as "No Child Left Behind" and state squabbles over how to adequately fund the need for a future generation of well educated captains of industry, science and the rest of our social structure will again take front stage. Rhetoric and slogans are often used as an effective tool to motivate the faithful true believers to emotional heights and have made their way onto the airwaves as political opponents gird for battle. Lost in this tangle of truths, half-truths and downright shameless lies is the central tenet of dispute - creation of a thoughtful, well-organized and rational generation that can be trusted to guide our communities, nation and world through complex and difficult decisions.

It is impossible for everyone to agree on everything and our democratic system is an example of the chaos of dispute rising to the challenge of current events of historical importance. While schools have and should shoulder blame for shortcomings in their structure and competence, they are not alone in the process. We, the community, are also partners in this enterprise and need to take an active role. Many organizations have done just that and work diligently to support and supplement our educational institutions. Political wrangling will often overemphasize shortcomings and vilify opposition, but, hopefully, most people will understand that these simplistic sound bytes are not a true reflection of the process. The truth lies in the classroom.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), a respected behaviorist, is known for proposing the theory of hierarchy of needs. Needs ascend from physiological (food and water) to safety to love, then esteem and finally to self-actualization. Maslow claims that in order for people to move from one level to the next, the needs of the lower level(s) must be satisfied.

Community groups have rallied to provide food and shelter for children while schools attempt to identify those in need. Beyond this basic level of subsistence, schools are charged with the task of providing a safe and benign environment; establishing an acceptable identity for youth. Once safety is established, a caring atmosphere can lead to a high level of self-esteem and the ultimate "self-actualization" where learning and personal growth take over. It all sounds good, but competing societal forces are constantly breaking this chain, trying to move our youth in different directions. The result is a constant tug-of-war between educational forces.

Teachers are caught in the middle of this struggle and can fall victim to battle fatigue. A system that constantly seeks simple answers to complex questions is usually no match for political and emotional distortions. Garo Mirigian, the highly respected principal of Centerville Junior High School said (Schools Prepare for '05-'06 on page 1), "Those of us who are in the trenches, so to speak, see a child's progress with so many more facets that just a test score." What can we, the public, do?

Just as with city government, the public must play a watchdog role on school systems. However, in order to comment intelligently on a subject, you have to know about it, not from commercials, emails, sound bytes or political slogans, but in person. Visit your local schools and ask teachers and administrators how you can help. Watch classes in action and find out what really goes on. Let educators at all levels know that not only are you interested in observing, but want to be supportive of their efforts. Schools cannot be allowed to exist as foreign countries with fenced borders in our midst. They are a critical element of our communities. This is true for those who have children in attendance and those who do not!

Once the entire community (individuals, groups, businesses) connects with schools on a regular basis, suggestions for improvement and change can be introduced. Discussions of sensitive subjects such as tenure, student achievement, salaries and sabbatical leave for primary and secondary teachers can take place. For instance, what would happen if primary and secondary teachers were so highly paid that competition allowed only the best and most qualified to enter a classroom? Tenure could be a thing of the past and professional pride would extend to a strict code of conduct by students and professors (I use that term intentionally). Each professor would be eligible for a sabbatical leave every 7th year to work in the private sector and recharge their enthusiasm battery while connecting with the business community. Is this real today? No. Can it be a goal for tomorrow?

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