Here is an article I wrote for the paper and was published in the Decatur Daily and the News Courier.
Public education evokes a wide array of thoughts and everyone has his/her own unique perspective based mostly upon personal experiences. People who understand what it takes to maintain a republic understand the value of an educated citizenry, in fact Thomas Jefferson put it this way, "I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it."
Public schools are expected to do many things that are sometimes are forgotten in the discussion surrounding public education. Most everyone agrees that a strong foundation of academic subjects should be taught; although many experts have differing opinions concerning the exact material deemed general knowledge for everyone. To some, the purpose of public education is to teach only the academic material specified in a state curriculum. Public schools, however, teach much more than the traditional reading and writing.
Public education students learn many lessons as they pass through the halls of their respective schools. Mark Twain said education was “that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.” Certainly realizing the need to have more knowledge and the love of learning should be cultivated in schools. A love of learning will lead to a lifetime of learning, which is the goal of most every educator. So many things our students gain from a public education are not academic, but life skills which can turn out to be some of the most important things we learn.
Public school students learn many things such as cooperation, compassion, charity, teamwork, and respect for authority through the positive activities students do every day that many times go unnoticed, but still contribute to the greater good of society and their own education. Public school students throughout the country raise money and awareness for a variety of noble causes during the year. Limestone County Schools certainly has its share of benevolent students that give of themselves every day to help out society and their fellow man. Someone has said, “You will never stand taller than when you stoop to help a child” and students at Ardmore High School exemplify this sentiment. Members of the Jr. Beta Club helped coordinate the “Soles4Souls” campaign which collects money to pass along to needy recipients. The motto for Soles4Souls is “Changing the world, one pair at a time”. Students collected shoes and worked with the national organization to help needy people receive pairs of shoes they would otherwise not have. Ardmore High School is a small school in a rural county in Alabama and the number of shoes collected will not compare in numbers to those collected in a large metropolitan area. However, like Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
A group of students recently initiated an effort to combat the problem of childhood obesity and approached their principal with an idea to do something about the problem. The students proposed to secure community resources to help prepare a program for students to raise awareness concerning this issue. The students are planning a program to address the issue and intend on advertising the program during the preceding weeks to spark interest from their fellow students. The beauty of this program is that it is totally student initiated and mostly student run. Activities that have been staples for years like canned food drives and collecting Christmas gifts for needy children sometimes seem “routine” and many of us take them for granted. However, these programs are more important than ever, and it is refreshing to see a creative group of young people pull together to try and solve a difficult issue.
Service projects and charitable endeavors are so widespread today in schools that listing all of them would be virtually impossible. Some people may question how much good a small group of students in a small community can actually do, but as the young man in the famous story of the starfish said as he threw a single starfish back in the ocean with the beach still littered with thousands of starfish, “I made a difference in the life of this one.” This is the lesson students learn as they engage in service projects through their school activities. In addition to this lesson, students learn many others such as leadership, teamwork, self-denial, and the joy of helping others.
The job of a teacher is sometimes viewed as the person assigned to help a student learn the necessary academic material and if it stopped there, what a noble profession it would be. Anyone that has been a teacher or been around teachers can tell you that teachers do so much more to help a student’s overall education. Teachers are many times called upon to help with the “incidental learning opportunities” that take place in school such as helping with charitable causes. Teachers teach these incidental lessons by using the best teaching method of all which is “do as I do”, or follow me. Teachers have learned the lessons of giving back and try to help students they work with learn the same lessons. Most of the time there is not extra money for doing these tasks and the time spent doing these take away from their own time with their families, but this is the nature of public service. Students work hard in all the school service projects, but there is a teacher behind the scenes putting in hours of time to help things go smoothly.
Many times participation in groups, clubs, or organizations is seen as just something to keep students interested in school, which is a noble purpose in itself, but it is much more than that. Being a part of a team is a skill which will serve a person throughout his life as he joins the work force and develops interpersonal relationships with others. Learning to sacrifice one’s own rights for the good of others is a noble lesson that will reap great rewards in the course of one’s life. Public education has its problems, but so long as caring professionals work with outstanding students, no problem is too large to be solved.