Business Casual: Ring in the New Year

No silly hats or confetti required: The new year starts for me the month the school year begins – regardless of what the calendar specifies.

For ritual, you can have my share of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with whoever is trying to replace Dick Clark. I’ll take a box of crayons, a cool lunchbox and a burst of energy.

It’s been a while since I have had a school-age child in my house and a very long while since I was a student myself, but I still love the whole back-to-school spectacle and the fresh start a brand-new academic year presents.

Even though school-supply displays in stores catch me by surprise every year, I’m ready by now to say goodbye to summer and prepare for fall – the best season of the year.

For all the attention that troubled school systems and bad-apple teachers and administrators get, there is a lot of magic that happens in the classroom. If you’ve had the pleasure of watching a pre-schooler carefully printing the letters of his or her name and explaining the process to you, you know the feeling. Or an elementary-age kid zipping through a stack of library books and asking for more, a middle-schooler discovering that algebra actually makes sense, a high school student figuring out that Shakespeare’s plays are just as relevant today as when they were written.

And it may not be as reliably cute, but the magic continues into higher education. Many of us have had the experience of our very own college freshman, several weeks into an introductory psychology course, explaining our personality quirks to us over Thanksgiving break.

Of course, in between those magical moments are some struggles, some tears and some missed assignments; but that’s part of the whole education experience, too.

At the post-secondary level, there has been a great deal of concern lately about the cost of education, which is formidable and deserves attention and good solutions.

But there is also a disturbing undertone that seems to question the value of a college education. That one scares me to death. Surely learning can’t be anything but good at any point in a person’s life. I understand accountability and return on investment and preparing for the world of work. But I don’t understand anything that undermines the importance of knowledge.

By all means, let’s have specialized educational options that address students’ needs, abilities and interests. Let’s have workforce development, innovative programs that help students educate themselves for a productive future. But let’s not get so practical that we color everything gray and leave art, music and literature out in the cold. Learning can and should be uplifting – and fun – not just grim training for something in the future. As one of the best educators I know says, “School isn’t just preparation for life. It is life.”

Now that the recession’s effects are receding, there is heartening news that the state’s tax revenues are increasing (up nearly $43.3 million in May over the same month last year). Let’s put a big pile of that money into furthering education at every level. The legislature did allocate some $500 million for teachers in its 2016 budget – a good start, but not a good place to stop.

Many businesses in the state are contributing to educational efforts (Georgia Power, Delta, Coca-Cola, among others). Let’s celebrate those companies and encourage others to follow suit.

My personal back-to-school wish list is short and simple.

First: Expand, don’t shrink, art and music programs at all levels; encourage more businesses and private citizens to help with the funding.

Second: Keep the main thing the main thing. Concentrate on teaching and learning. Find ways to evaluate, but avoid the excesses of over-testing.

Third and most important: Take care of the good teachers. Appreciate them, thank them, listen to them, pay them well. They have had it pretty rough over the last few years – the good ones often lumped in with the not-so-good.

I realize the items on my list are easy to come up with, hard to implement – but it is, after all, a wish list.

Finally, to celebrate the back-to-school season: A big juicy North Georgia apple to all the fine educators who will be writing their lesson plans and prepping their classrooms and welcoming students this month. Happy New Year to you.

Categories: Business Casual