Skool Daze

Suzann Darnall

It is back to school time for my grandchildren. In fact, back to school for most everyone but me. My husband is an assistant principal, so he started back to work nearly a month ago. The teachers at his school started back recently and their students begin on Monday.

Also, both of my adult daughters are preparing to begin online college courses through a program called Pathways that is offered through BYU-Idaho. They are both very excited to continue their education at an oh so affordable price.

Four of my five grandchildren are school-age. Only our littlest granddaughter, who is three, is not yet attending organized education. Our oldest granddaughter will be in 5th Grade this year, the second oldest granddaughter is starting 4th Grade, while the next two kids, a grandson and a granddaughter, will both be in 2nd Grade.

We are blessed that all of our grandchildren are exceptionally intelligent. They are all well immersed in learning long before they set foot in a classroom. We are a family of readers, and quite inquisitive, so they all learn their letters, numbers, and words before starting school. They all learn to read quite young and all adore books. Our daughters, their mothers, were the same way. Still are!

Our greatest concern with our grandchildren is not that they will not learn because things are too hard, but that they will become bored, lose interest, and not learn because the curriculum is not challenging enough. Too much of the day-to-day teaching in most classrooms is geared to teaching students the information needed to pass standardized tests used to rate schools and/or decide if students pass or fail. And, in my opinion, the levels of learning required are set at such a low bar that not only are gifted children bored beyond belief, it is barely challenging to an average student.

Society in general, and the realm of education specifically, needs to learn that not all children fit into neat little boxes that we can interchange at will. There are as many levels of intelligence as there are hair colors, eyes colors, skin tones, and personalities.

Mary might be a gifted child, while Barry may be a slow learner, and Carey is probably an average student. But too many times they are lumped into the same classroom and expected to study the same subjects at the same pace. Which usually means that it is geared to Carey's speed, that leaves Barry lagging behind missing out on the information, while Mary is bored and frustrated, losing interest in what's happening in the classroom. The even worse option that sometimes occurs is that everything is slowed down for Barry's rate of learning, which leaves both Carey and Mary not getting all the information they need to excel to their possible potential.

I do not claim to know the solutions. But, I do know that much of the modern "fixes" I am hearing about in the news are not gonna do it! But, I do have one very good idea that can't hurt. I think we need to reintroduce two very important things back into our schools: Common Sense and Common Courtesy.

I think the Common Sense needs to most be practiced by those coming up with the curriculum. Teaching kids can be really simple if you do it step by step, line upon line, beginning to end.

First kids need to learn basics like letters, numbers, and colors. Keep it simple. Then, move on to learning words, add in printing plus drawing, and start counting. Reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic come next . . . if the basic skills have been learned and built upon in the previous steps. From there, the sky is the limit!

I always stress that reading is probably the most important tool we can give a child when it comes to education. I used to be a reading tutor when I was in high school. I also helped teach my siblings to read and taught my own children, as well as helped introduce my grandchildren to books. In addition, I encouraged my Japanese students to read American books or magazines when I was teaching Conversational English classes in Japan. I even learned how to use comic books to assist my elementary age girls' Sunday School classes to improve their reading skills. 'Cause getting kids to want to even try to read is the first step!

If we teach someone to read they can, even on their own, learn almost anything else they are interested in . . . provided there is a book or website on the subject. But, deny a student that ability and we put them into a very small enclosed space that generally does not allow their minds to expand and discover properly.

And, yet, I have found that many students do not know where their high school or city library is located and have never read a book for fun. Others are incapable of enjoying a book because they are actually shaky on even alphabet recognition and can't spell at a basic level, making reading a hardship they cannot endure unless forced to do so.

So, let's encourage our educators to truly return to the basics when setting up their core curriculum. The old-fashioned basics of letters, numbers, and how they are used will give our children such a huge advantage when it comes to the more advanced subjects including social studies, history, math, and the sciences. All beginning with using a little Common Sense when starting out, plus building upon what they know and learn.

The second ingredient I think we need to add, in large measure, back into the mix for education is Common Courtesy. It is all too sadly lacking in our modern society. And, in my opinion, would go a long way to fixing many ills in our schools, families, neighborhoods, and communities . . . perhaps even across the entire nation.

Common Courtesy goes beyond saying such things as "please", "thank you", "you're welcome", "yes, ma'am", and "no, sir". Not that those are bad places to start!

Common Courtesy is about good manners, good sense, good behavior, and good deeds. It is about showing respect and being kind. It is about being honest and truthful. It is about respecting other people and their rights, as well as respecting both private and public property.

So, as families across America face the First Day of School, some for the first time, some for the last time, let's try to make it the start of a very good year. Let's be involved in our children's education. Let's give our educators and our students the tools they need to succeed. In addition, let's hold government, communities, schools, AND students accountable for pushing education and self in America to meet sensible standards that truly prepare for life.

Oh, and by the way, I happen to be old-school enough to believe there is nothing wrong with expecting kids to actually have to know the right answer in math or the correct spelling of words. I don't think it is unfair to give failing grades for poor work or praise for high achievement. Leveling the playing field only makes sense if you are talking about smoothing out the bumps on a football field or tennis court. Mainly 'cause the leveling they have been using up to now just seems to mean making mediocrity acceptable . . . which it really isn't! Not if we want our children and our nation to be able to lead on the world stage.

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