“Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on.”
– Robert Frost
As another school year ends, local parents might ask themselves: Are the schools in Columbia County as good as they say they are? Are we, and our children, getting our education money’s worth?
No school system is perfect, but if there are regrets for choosing to educate children in this county, they are mild and few. Year after year, Columbia County schools continue to accrue high marks. Still, as we often hear, where we live or the quality of the schools we attend is only part of the education story.
Robert Fulghum stunned the literary world a generation ago with his bestseller, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Principles such as sharing toys, cleaning up your mess and putting things away, he wrote, were lessons learned early that have guided him throughout his life.
Naturally, when new – and profitable – ideas fall on public ears, spin-offs such as the following from the pen of British author Frank Brothers also hit the marketplace. With his paraphrased, tongue-in-cheek title, All I Need to Know About Life I Learned from a Cow, Brothers wrote:
• There’s always a lot at steak.
• Chew your food at least 200 times before swallowing.
• Don’t be just one of the herd.
• Don’t be bossy.
• Graze your way to the top.
• It’s butter to have milked and churned than never to have milked at all.
I’m not clever enough to come up with anything close to a Fulghum/Brothers creation, and I don’t mean to use their humor to downgrade the education process in the least. But these gentlemen have made me think about some of the lessons I, too, have learned from unlikely teachers, even outside of school.
My son was 5 years old the year our neighborhood service station gave away small, green goblets with every tank of gas. Though I should have given my slightly clumsy lad a plastic cup that day, I gave in to his plea to use the new glass we had just brought home. He had hardly reached the den, however, before he dropped and spilled his drink and broke the glass.
I can still hear myself scolding him for making a mess – and the sobbing reply that melted this mother’s heart: “It was such a pretty glass.”
The lesson? Fractured feelings are a lot more important than broken things.
That wasn’t the first time this child was the teacher and I the student. Sometime earlier, whenever he and his older brother started playing their favorite game, the older one would yell, “First!” followed by the little one’s equally enthusiastic, “Thecond!” It never entered his head that when there are only two players, “thecond” means last. He needed no coach to tell him it mattered not that he won or lost, but that he could play the game.
The other son, with more learning potential than he often exhibited in school, failed English in the fourth grade. How, I sputtered, could he fail a subject he’d always aced?
“I didn’t pass in my notebook.”
“And why didn’t you pass in your notebook?”
“Why should I write down what I already know?”
I wondered who the failure was after that: the child, the one-size-fits-all teacher, or the parent who once thought report cards were the only measure of educational success.
Sometimes it takes a while to absorb those kindergarten principles, to learn from other creatures – especially from children – or to reach the level of the anonymous graduate who said: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the book, As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)