Lori Falce: Is your kid just a piece of wood?
The saddest commentary on our education system that I have ever heard didn’t come from a politician or a pundit.
It came from the woman who taught my sister in kindergarten.
“Everyone brings us their children like lumps of wood for us to carve into something. They all want us to give them back a cherry bedroom suite. Sometimes you have to accept your kid is just a pine bench.”
Worse was that she wasn’t just a retired kindergarten teacher. She was the president of the school board.
It was said amid a push to increase AP classes and dual enrollments of kids who were getting college credit while in high school, as well as the constant push for more and higher proficiency
For me, the tragedy wasn’t in the comparison of the beautiful showpiece to the functional workhorse.
It was the word “just.”
My district at the time was struggling with identity in a way lots of schools still are. Do we want our kids to go to college with all those opportunities but also obstacles, like crippling student debt and no guarantee of work after graduation? Do we want them to go to trade school or safer community college? Should they go right to work? But if they do, what safety net do they have to catch them when a seemingly solid job evaporates?
There is a reason not to only to take any of those paths but to be proud of them.
The word “just” stole that.
My son is my block of wood, and he won’t be the product of just one school or one teacher. Lots of tools will go into helping chip away at this and polish that along the way to finding exactly what is inside of that tree trunk. He could be anything from attorney to zookeeper. (My money is on zookeeper.)
He has chances. He has choices.
What he doesn’t have is an obligation to be what someone considers the lowest common denominator.
We need people who want to work with their hands and their backs and that doesn’t preclude using their brains. “The Democratic Party has lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before,” former Mahoning County, Ohio, party chair David Betras said to The New York Times.
I would argue that we have to stop thinking that how dirty you get at work has anything to do with intellect, and we have to stop thinking that kids who aren’t going to college don’t need to have an education that challenges them, opens their eyes and expands possibilities.
Someone driving a truck may have just as much use for a foreign language as someone who works in a bank. A plumber may need the skills to run a business.
Maybe that’s “just” being a pine bench instead of a polished showpiece.
Or maybe my sister’s kindergarten teacher was just wrong. Maybe a kid is never “just” anything. Maybe that’s the lazy way of looking at a kid’s potential.
And maybe our educational system “just” isn’t up to the task.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].