A certain excitement fills the air at this time of year. It is time, after all, for students to get back to classroom learning and all that this process involves. Learning has no age limits, of course, but late summer/early fall prompts us to think of kindergartners taking their first steps into formal education, primary and secondary students continuing studies and degree-seeking collegians getting back into preparation to become productive adults in their chosen careers.
Particularly in the earliest years of formal education, the emphasis is as much on socialization — getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with and relating appropriately with others as anything. Socialization is a skill that enables us to function at a higher level in our world. It helps us value others and treat them with respect. Everyone is better off when he learns getting-along and problem-solving skills early on.
Socialization isn’t simply a getting-started skill; it is a state-of-mind and attitude that every person is wise to hone up until her last breath. Wisely, it is encouraged and developed at every level of formal education, whether public or parochial. It is important in other educational settings such as homeschooling, too.
Ask students why they are anxious to end summer break and get back to school, and a large number will respond that they want to see their classmates again and make new friends.
To be sure, school has changed over the years.
Today’s social media tools encourage immediate communication that can be very forgiving of simple skills like spelling, punctuation, capitalization and communicating in full sentences. English teachers and writing instructors must cringe these days as they grade papers.
Those of us who grew up typing using most of our fingers are downright amazed when our preteen grandchildren zip out messages using only their thumbs at a more rapid pace. Little show-offs!
Some of us oldsters are still resentful that simple calculators were outlawed from mathematics classes in our early school years because using them to do simple (and more advanced) math presumably would have kept us from learning how to add, subtract, multiply or divide in our heads (or on paper). At least, that was the thinking back then.
Some of us remember quizzing our own children unmercifully (okay, maybe not that intensely) when they insisted they needed to take calculators to school. Increasingly today, schools are suggesting (or requiring) students to use tablets like the “iPad” in their educational pursuits.
The changes are not necessarily bad; they are simply different. In fact, most are necessary.
The world and the body of known knowledge are significantly larger and more complex in this generation than in even the immediately previous generation. We all function in a society that is influenced by many cultures, many languages, many religions, many new discoveries and many other things.
Educators must work harder than ever before to stay up to date on information, to keep up with and respect diverse student bodies, to do their best to keep the peace, and to manage the special needs of students and their families. A now-defunct automobile brand once developed a slogan to introduce its newer models: “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This ill-fated slogan could be modified to describe schools and virtually everything else in our culture.
The implications are enormous.
Appropriate parental and community involvement in local educational processes are needed more than ever. Many churches and other groups have discovered the joy of mentoring students (1) to help them keep up with their classmates and, sometimes, (2) to help them catch up. Mentors help students gain confidence in learning and to learn the importance of helping others in addition to receiving help themselves.
We must be interested and involved in school board decisions and school emphases. We would do well to stay informed; the success of students depends upon it.
Many congregation and community groups help meet the needs of schools by securing student and teacher supplies for the school year. Public school teachers routinely find themselves digging into their own pockets to secure supplies their students need. When this happens, it underscores the commitment of educators. But this situation ought not to exist. Churches and others can — and do —help.
People of faith need to pray for teachers, administrators, school boards and students. This isn’t our mother’s world; educational challenges are different. Some are new, and they are more complex. The stakes are the same: The health, security and general well-being of each new generation, and the future of our nation and the world is at stake.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.