I can hear their groans already. With school back in swing this week, many Nebraskans are returning to the old routines: The alarm clocks blaring at ungodly hours of the morning, the continuous anxiety of making sure homework is accomplished, the long nights spent cooped up at the school. You know, the best parts of school!
While it’s easy to joke about the stereotypes, the fact remains that this time of year – the beginning of school – remains one of the best times of the year. There is the opportunity for students to start fresh, to get a clean slate and choose who they will be this year. A certain excitement pervades the halls as students consider the possibilities of what this year could be like. Even we teachers have been known to crack a smile or two as some students return and other new faces appear.
I’ve always felt a sense of optimism at the beginning of the school year. Every one is a chance for our students to grow intellectually, emotionally, and physically (the last of which they always do in shocking fashion). This year, the students have a chance to learn more about the world around them and to gain an appreciation for how it works.
As a social studies teacher, I love watching my students grapple with challenging issues, learn to understand multiple points of view, and build confidence in knowing how they can be active participants in our democracy.
George Washington once said “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.” While I’m not sure that all of us are worried about our youth being “manly,” we all agree that if we want our society to succeed, we have to focus on a good education for our children.
And this is a community effort. What I love about schools (whether public or private) is that they are an integral part of their communities. The community provides input through electing our boards of education, attending performances and activities, monetary donations, assisting with homework, chaperoning trips and dances, and so much more.
Schools, in return, provide so much to their communities. They are a host of social gatherings – a place for people across racial, economic, or other demographic divides to come together and unite around a common cause. They provide for their community in the form of fundraisers and community service. They present individuals with a possibility to advance beyond their current station in life and achieve that almost-mythical American Dream.
Now, I’m not blind in my optimism. I am aware of the many problems that lie at the heart of education. How do we best prepare our students for the jobs available in a more automated world? How do we make sure that all students – regardless of background – have the chance to succeed in school? How do we make sure that students are taught the right values that will make not just good workers but good people?
All of these are questions with no single clear answer, but they challenge those of us who want what is best for kids to make sure we are involved in our schools in a positive way.
So go ahead, grimace as you pull yourself or your child up before the sun rises. Moan as you double-check that absolutely everything is ready for the day. But as you do these, remember that you are giving yourself and your kids the best possible chance for creating a world we all want to be a part of.
Jordan Martin teaches social studies at Wilber-Clatonia Public Schools. He also moonlights as an assistant one-act drama coach in the fall and a speech judge in the spring. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.