A dear friend who happens to be a longtime educator in our community has a warning for the decision makers in our public schools. He asks, “What is it you remember about attending junior high or high school?” He believes that very few of us would answer, “Moving from required class to required class in an orderly manner while debating strategies on how to best perform on our standardized tests.” That is precisely, however, the way that school boards and administrators are viewing our public schools these days.
Like me, my friend was not a great athlete, nor was he the star in any production, but his memories are dominated by athletic events and other extracurricular activities that were a vivid part of his educational experiences. He laments the fact that budget preparers are discussing the cutting or possibly even elimination of some athletic and extracurricular activities with the justification that these programs are “nonessential.”
Living under the credo, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” I’ve always worked for balance in my life and encouraged those under my tutelage to do the same. An understanding that all academic study is interrelated, an appreciation of art and music, strategies learned in working together for a common goal, such as putting on a theatre production, and lessons learned on the athletic field are all hugely important in the development of the human intellect.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of a stringent academic program in our schools, one that challenges kids at every turn and encourages them to question and explore. The system we now have certainly does not accomplish this, but instead searches out the lowest common denominator so that we can cheer everyone passing the latest SOL test (Thanks, mom, for teaching me what SOL really stands for!). That, however, is a fight for another day.
Instead, today I send out a plea to all of you to support the total education of our young people. Rick Gray has it right, in that this is of immediate importance, because once a child loses out on specific educational opportunities, they tend to be lost forever. For those of you who do not have children or who have grown children, I warn you that your property values are very much dependent on the decisions we make now relative to education.
English, math, science and history do make up the building blocks of our education. The mortar that holds them together, however, can be found on the stage, in the art gallery, at the chess club meeting and on the athletic field. I’m not sure that all of our School Board members and school administrators understand this basic truth. I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zones and communicate with your elected officials. As citizens of Chesterfield County, we must demand the very best and most complete education for our precious young people. Anything less may spell doom for a county whose very foundation has been built upon its pride in the school system.