By Arthur H. Gunther III
ANYWHERE, USA — It’s back-to-school, and while many cliches can be uttered about that, the fact is this is like spring planting. The renewed hope is there that the new field of fertile, young minds will see germination in gained knowledge, reasoning and a healthy outlook on life. Hope they have fun, too.
Teachers will tell you, and you will recall yourselves that each school year and each collected class is different. The feeling is not last year’s, the classroom is physically apart from others, the mix of students may have been altered and the teacher is probably new to the group.
And the world has changed, and the individual student’s self and environment, too. Likes, dislikes, friends, needs, desires, what has happened over the summer, how the community has morphed, and the state, the nation, the world — all this bears on the back-to-school moment of any particular year.
This means some students will fare better than others, and some will do very well, others not and probably the majority will be fine. The chemistry of the new school moment will help decide, though free will, as free as it may be, can turn the tide, too.
Nationwide, school budgets continue to be slammed. Inflation in supplies, health care and other benefits, utility charges and the costs of this program or that seems 50 to 100 percent against the recorded U.S. rate (August) of 2 percent. Doing more with less is yet another challenge for teachers, students and parents in this back-to-school moment.
And then there are the tests, the push to have students meet some sort of standard, though those who set them do not seem to agree on what they should be. In-the-trenches teachers will cringe at lost time “teaching to the test” and will wonder why so many non-educators, or those so long out of the classroom, decide on the test. Yes, standards are required, goals must be in place, but the best teaching comes from teacher to student and student to teacher. Too much gets in the way — parental over-managing, distracting environment at home and in the streets, extra-curricular overload, too hands-on administration. Teachers should be trusted more to teach and given the support to do so.
Good luck to those going to school 2013, particularly the ones just beginning the journey in kindergarten. When you first get ready to sow a field, you till the soil well and then you fertilize. You don’t simply cast seed willy-nilly on hard pack. In this nation of the growing rich, the accumulating poor and the disappearing middle class, not enough attention has been paid to preparing schools and our young for the first years. Will the crop be what the children need, what the nation requires?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org