Kindergarten and Beyond…

Granddaughter Anna started Kindergarten this week. It’s one of life’s big milestones, like  first steps or first words. But Kindergarten is more than just a milestone, it’s about education. It’s the door to knowledge and adventure and socialization and community. Certainly Anna’s education began the day she was born. The difference is the fact that Kindergarten is formal education provided by professional teachers. And everything from this day forward will be on her “permanent record”.

Ready to learn!

Ready to learn!

That seems like a tall order for a little person. But I’m confident that she will succeed and thrive. Anna is bright, loving, inquisitive and kind. Her school is filled with loving, caring educators who put the children in their care above all other concerns. And she has parents who will support her and the school in their shared goal of educating Anna.

Still I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about all this BIG GIRL stuff. Maybe I’m being too sappy and overly sentimental. I suppose all parents (and sappy grandparents, too) are entitled to a few tears on the first day. But that should quickly give way to the excitement of new adventures in learning for our children and grandchildren.

Anna has already learned so much in her five short years. Her knowledge will grow exponentially now that she is in school. And soon I will be struggling to keep up with her. I just hope that she can teach this old dog a few new tricks along the way…

Peace,

Denis

School Daze

Growing up there were two choices in my little world: both were Catholic schools. In my hometown there was also a Lutheran school, but it seemed foreign and exotic and I never knew anyone who actually went there. And Public School was taboo and frightening. We simultaneously prayed for and pitied the Public School kids but mostly we feared them.

St_Peter_Grade_School_1960Such was life in a small town in the 1960’s. There were as many as 40 kids in a single classroom. We sat in long rows. We took turns. We did as we were told. We attended Mass daily. We were (mostly) quiet, polite and respectful. We studied hard. We burned off excess energy on the asphalt playground. We helped clean chalkboards after school for fun. And Sister kept order and discipline at all times.

Nostalgia has a way of white-washing and sweetening our memories. But Catholic school in the 1960’s was far from idyllic. Learning disabilities were discounted or ignored (kids were either smart or stupid). Physical abuse went unreported. Bullies controlled the playground and bathrooms. And although Sister was always right, she was under-valued, under-paid and likely took out her frustration on the students in her care.

My granddaughters are now in school and tremendous advances in education have been made in the 50+ years since I started elementary school. As a society we are more aware of bullying (and have adopted zero-tolerance policies), we embrace and celebrate diversity, and learning disabilities are diagnosed and accommodated.

One granddaughter attends Public School, the other attends Catholic School. Each attend quality schools with small class sizes and safe classrooms. Both have sound nutritional and physical programs, as well as art and music at their respective schools. And both have attentive and engaged parents who value education.

Yet I’m in a bit of a daze. Teachers in 2013 still seem to be under-valued, under-paid and under-appreciated. Our children are in the hands of teachers who are often struggling to make ends meet. Not surprising that gifted teachers often leave their careers for better paying jobs in the corporate world. As a society it seems we pay more attention to the kind of athletic shoes, iPhones or fashion that our kids are sporting then to ensuring that they are being educated by well-paid, well-trained teachers.

Let’s invest in our future. Let’s appropriately fund our schools. Let’s support educators. And let’s thank the ones that taught us by working for a better life for the ones that will teach our future generations. I was blessed to be taught by Sisters who loved God and their communities and sacrificed their lives that we might learn. If you want to be nostalgic think of a teacher that you loved (and who loved you). And then pay that love forward to a future teacher who might just improve the lives of your grandchildren.

Peace,

Denis