I realized something at dinner Wednesday night. Sitting at the table with my four children, spending an hour urging them eat their food, pleading and yelling for the green beans and other healthy food to disappear, I found that I was watching a metaphor in progress.
You see, my kids have been sick lately. All of them. For what seems like a very, very long time. So when I went to the grocery store this weekend I took special care to spend a little extra money to get healthy food that they would, theoretically, enjoy.
Everything in theory sounds great, doesn’t it?
Earlier that morning I had been sitting at The Island School with Principal Rosa Ramos. She is a straightforward, honest woman with an authoritarian tone and an earnest attitude toward education. She comes across to me as a true educator, one who realizes how important a good education is.
It’s not just teaching the children a lesson plan, she said, but giving them the tools to think for themselves, and to understand why they were being taught. To go further, she wants them to understand how those lessons would help them so much later in life.
I realized at the dinner table that night that it wasn’t going to always work to say, “Eat it because I said so.” You can take the freshest, healthiest food in the world and place it in front of a child and that doesn’t mean they will eat.
You can also take the most tried-and-true lesson plan in the world and “feed” it to children, but that doesn’t mean they will respond in a way you want them to. That’s because you have to make them understand why it’s important to learn it, not just that it has to be done.
I realized that if teachers felt the way at the end of a school day that I did by the end of that meal, it’s a truly thankless job sometimes.
So I explained to my children why I needed them to eat that food. In order to have healthy bodies and minds, one must supply it with healthy food. It may not be as fun as McDonalds, just as sitting down to homework isn’t as fun as sitting down to a video game.
But asking someone, “Do you want fries with that?” at the age of 40 isn’t much fun, either. And that’s where education comes in.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of highly-intelligent people making money in the fast-food industry. I’m truly not dogging the profession, as I’ve had more than my fair share of those types of jobs myself. I am lucky enough, though, to have been given an option as to what I want to do, and that’s because of a decent education.
I realized during that conversation, with Mrs. Ramos how lucky we are as Island School parents to have her. It’s not just because she’s a strict disciplinarian, but because she is in the business of teaching children how to think. Her students know if she asks them a question, she wants a thinking answer … not just a rote one.
There are many, many school systems in this country, in this state, even in this region, that are not so lucky. They have teachers that teach by the book, sure. The same old lesson plans they have used for 20 years or longer are used. That doesn’t mean that they work for every student, though.
The teachers at The Island School work very, very hard to make sure they do their best to reach every child, to see what their limitations and areas of excellence are, and to apply their own brand of teaching to help the kids fully understand what it is they are being taught. They don’t just hand them a test at the end of a chapter and tell them to take it.
I truly love the idea of teaching children how to think. I was one of those kids who wasn’t afraid to ask a teacher, “Why? Why am I learning this?”
As I recall, that especially applied to math. I remember telling my fifth grade teacher that we had these new-fangled electronic thingies called calculators. If I could find an answer on my calculator in mere seconds, why then did I need to learn how to do it in my head?
I think I was too young to understand at the time, but when she told me that mathematics were the building blocks of logical thinking I thought it sounded like an abstract concept.
Until I flunked algebra in high school, that is. Then it seemed a bit more sound. The straight-A student I once was suddenly had a whole world of wrath to take home, and it wasn’t pleasant.
Danielle Fournier is a math teacher at The Island School. During a profile interview with her last year for the Beacon, she explained that she, too, had almost failed algebra in high school. Hearing her describe the mental barrier she faced when confronted with X=Y problems made my brain hurt in an all-too-familiar pattern.
But she found a teacher that broke through that barrier, one who not only helped her understand the basic concepts of algebra and beyond, that teacher made her love math enough to want to teach it to others.
I am still contemplating hiring her as a tutor. For myself, that is, not the kids. She gave me hope. Isn’t that what education is all about? To be told as a child that there is a limitless capacity to what we, as humans, can do because our brains have that same limitless capacity?
When we’re children we want to be astronauts, or scientists, or other great things. We want to change the world. Somewhere along the line, though, that vision is often altered and reality sets in. Like the teacher I had in high school who told me that I would never be a veterinarian because I couldn’t do math. Another dream crashed.
The Island School has a really amazing faculty who truly want those students to understand it’s OK to question, it’s OK to dream of doing great things, and it’s OK to think outside of the box. We also have an incredible group of parent volunteers, who do everything from monitor lunch activity to helping out in the classroom and the school office.
And, finally, we have many, many educated and talented people from within our community who come to the school and teach the children about anything and everything in the world. From Mr. Winterer, who not only reads stories to the children but will stop to mesmerize them with a tale from his own life, to Mrs. Kruder who teaches them the basics of manners and etiquette and why those things are so important in our lives. Our Island School students have been around the world to China, to Vietnam, to so many far-off places that other students would never have first-hand exposure to, and it’s all because of the unique blend of people that have chosen to devote their time to children that, many times, aren’t even their relatives or known to them personally.
At the end of next week, on January 20, everyone on the island will get a chance to attend the newest installment in the Film Forum series, sponsored by the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center. Two movies will be shown, one from the perspective of teachers, the other from the viewpoint of parents and students. I have only seen one of them, called “Waiting for Superman.” I like to label it as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, and even if you don’t have school-aged children in your life it is worth pondering. After all, all of us went to school at one point or another. “Waiting for Superman” follows several students and their parents through several scenarios, be it through inner-city schools or through up-and-coming charter schools. Michelle Rhee, a progressive teacher and thinker, has a lot of input into the film and I love her line of thinking.
I’m not going to rehash the whole movie, I’ll let you research it for yourself. My point is this: Whether your children or grandchildren attend school here, or anywhere else, even if there aren’t any children at all in your immediate family, you have to be worried about the future of our country. That’s what this forum is about. Our children are, in many cases, being cheated out of an education that could save their lives, as well as ours. If they don’t get the education that they need to succeed, to be confident, and to want to excel, we are essentially doomed as a nation.
Please consider attending the forum on January 20, and watching the two movies that go along with it. Also, please consider giving some of your time and knowledge to the kids at The Island School. Whether you weave rugs or have run a Fortune 500 company, whether you only want to stop by one time or once a week, there is always something that our children can learn from you.
And possibly something that you will learn from them.
Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon newspaper.
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