September 15, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Ah, the smell of erasers in the morning!

Some of the “grands” were discussing the new school year, the equipment they needed, how they would get to school and back, etc.

Suddenly, their dad declared that no matter what their arrangements were, they were lucky because they didn’t have to walk several miles home from school every day as he did.

Of course, everyone laughed heartily. In the entire past century of family history, only my own father had actually walked miles to school and back, and in heavy Wisconsin winters at that.

Although our son thought it made a good story to gain some points with his kids, he really meant that he used to walk home from the city bus each evening. More often than not, he’d hitchhike those few miles anyway.

Once, he and his brother got into the back seat of a vehicle driven by a couple of young men who seemed festive, to say the least, and proved to be totally stoned. The men offered them a toke, but the boys declined and somehow made it home alive. They thought it was hilarious, but to me it was more alarming than struggling through harsh Wisconsin winters on foot.

The “grands” rattled off the technological equipment they’d need for their studies, including many things I’ve never heard of, let alone know how they work or what they’re for. Blackberries, laptops, digital calculators, where does it all end? I recalled the humble school necessities of yore: the rulers, the paste, the scissors and crayons.

Fondly, I thought of the Batman lunchboxes, the ruled notebooks, the zippered pencil cases.

My personal favorite, now found only in antique stores, was the pencil box, usually made of sturdy cardboard with a lid that snapped shut. The two-tiered ones were the Mercedes of the line, holding colored and lead pencils, erasers and a protractor (look it up).

Textbooks are certainly different now as well. Dick, Jane and Spot no longer cavort through mundane activities, such as skip-ping rope, chasing a ball, wagging a tail. Now we have more with-it tykes in designer outfits kicking soccer balls and surfing the Internet for research. The dog is optional.

Extracurricular lessons and activities of all kind now occupy those who used to be weed-chewing cloud-gazers. Since no one’s at home after school, kids go to sports practice or tutoring or language lessons. Leisure time, if any, means video games, watching TV, instant messaging with pals.

Well, times change. Get over it, Granny. The important question is, are the kids learning anything? Do the trendy new methods produce literate, responsible graduates?

According to current statistics, maybe not. Schools appear to be in trouble all over the country. Meanwhile, Catholic schools, whose cost per pupil is significantly lower than that of most public schools, can take pride in the job they’re doing. Their graduates test better and go on to higher learning more frequently. Why is that?

It’s because a good education is not dependent upon money or technology alone. It’s the result of committed parents and teachers who support and motivate kids to be their best in every way.
Whether religious or secular, that’s the grace that truly inspires students to fulfill their potential as God’s creatures.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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